How To Prevent Fabric Shrinkage In The Washer?

Upset young man with a shrunken blouse isolated on white background

Have you ever noticed your shirt becoming smaller than you first bought it? The problem might have to do with the fabric. Shrinkage is inevitable, but being aware of its causes can help you reduce its likelihood.

The causes of clothes shrinkage

Shrinkage has three types: consolidation, felting, and relaxation.

Consolidation shrinkage is a combination of heat, mechanical action, and moisture. This combination causes the fiber to create tensions, which appear on manufactured woven or knit fabric. When fabric releases the tension, it begins to shrink. A perfect example of this is tossing your silk garment into the washer using a heavy duty laundry detergent and washing it with hot water, setting the washer to the heavy duty cycle. When you place the shirt on a dryer on high heat for approximately 30 minutes, you will notice a dramatic change in size. There is shrinkage in both width and length. Even the finish of the fabric gets damage with this washing technique.

Felting shrinkage happens in fabrics made from animal hair like wool. When you expose this fabric material to excessive heat and moisture, the scales along the fabric’s surface become compressed and meshed together. When washing sweaters, be sure to read the care label to prevent shrunken sweater syndrome.

Relaxation shrinkage occurs when you expose the fabric material to excessive moisture or liquid. This mistake affects the fibers, especially if you place the fabric in tepid water as it causes the fibers to relax when it absorbs the liquid or moisture. Absorbent fabrics like cotton, silk, or linen are vulnerable to this type of shrinkage.

Cotton, linen, and wool are all considered natural fabrics and are more prone to shrinkage than synthetic fibers like acrylic, nylon, and polyester. Synthetic fibers are known to be stable because the materials are heat seat, a process that you cannot perform on natural fibers. You apply this technique on the knit or weave to become more stable.

If you purchase garments made from natural fiber, be sure that they are ‘preshrunk’, a method that exposes the fabric to consolidation shrinkage before it is cut and sewn.

Fabric shrinkage explained

Shrinkage refers to a change of a garment’s dimensions. The change can either be positive (when there is growth in measurement) or negative (when the fabric loses its size, usually smaller or shorter than the original measurement). While it is normal for the fabric to lose its thickness over time, it does not necessarily mean that the fit will be affected. The change in dimension of a fabric or garment is due to energy, force, or the changes in the environment. These factors cause the garment to relax.

Whether the shrinkage results in changing the width or length of the fabric, there is still an effect on the fit of the garment. The amount that the clothes shrink or stretch can depend on the fiber content of the fabric. It can also be the garment’s construction methods or the type of weave used. The characteristics of fabric will depend on the chosen fibers and weave. T-shirts and denim jeans are made from cotton fibers. Although denim looks heavy, it is because of the twill weave where it comes from. T-shirts, on the other hand, have knitted fibers, which is why they are light and soft.

Knitted fabrics are more prone to shrinkage than woven fabrics. Although the latter does not easily react to stress, it does not necessarily mean that they are immune to shrinkage. The extent of shrinkage depends on the amount of fabric stretched if it was preshrunk before the garment was created. Even the type of finishes will also play an important role.

Dealing with shrinkage when doing laundry

Knowing the reasons why garments stretch or shrink is important in extending the life of your clothes. Many factors will come into play, but being aware of the common causes of shrinkage will ensure that you retain the shape of your jeans, shirt or dress. Another way that you can control shrinkage is by taking the time to read the care labels and employing the right laundry techniques.