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Exploring Fabric Care: Prevent Clothes from Shrinking

Jan 29, 2024

A view of the inside of a washer as clothes are being washed considering the care of the fabric.

There’s nothing more disheartening than pulling out your favorite shirt from the laundry — the one you waited all week to wear — only to find it shrunk to a size too small. Your shirt is ruined, your day is ruined, and you deal with the fact that it’s your hard-earned money down the drain.

So what went wrong in the wash? It was just a shirt after all … right?

There’s a reason why there are such specific instructions included with each piece of clothing you buy. Understanding fabric care is crucial not just for the longevity of your clothes; it also plays a vital role in maintaining their fit and comfort. This guide delves into the intricacies of different fabric types, identifies common causes of shrinking, and offers thorough advice on how to prevent it.

Understanding Different Fabrics

Fabrics fall broadly into two categories: natural and synthetic. Natural fibers like cotton, wool and silk are renowned for their comfort and breathability — but they are also prone to shrinking. On the other hand, synthetic fibers such as polyester and nylon boast higher resilience to shrinking, but they may lack the comfort of natural fibers. Recognizing the type of fabric you’re dealing with is the first step in preventing unwanted changes in size and shape.

Causes of Shrinking

Shrinking typically occurs due to a combination of heat, water and agitation. Natural fibers, particularly when subjected to heat, tend to return to their original, pre-spun state, causing the garment to shrink. Mechanical agitation during washing can further exacerbate this effect, often leading to the unwelcome surprise of snug-fitting jeans and unintentional crop tops

Practical Tips to Prevent Shrinking

Read Care Labels Carefully

The care label inside your clothing is there for a reason: It offers specific instructions tailored to the fabric’s needs. This might include recommended wash and dry temperatures, as well as the appropriate washing cycle. By following these guidelines, you not only reduce the risk of shrinking but also ensure the garment’s longevity.

Remember, the care label is your first and most reliable reference for maintaining your clothing’s size and appearance. Let’s go through a few of the most common “special” care instructions you may encounter:

Cold Water Wash

Hot water can be a fabric’s nemesis, especially when dealing with natural fibers like cotton and wool. These materials tend to shrink more easily in warm or hot water. Using cold water not only minimizes this risk but also conserves energy and prevents color fading. It’s a simple yet effective way to keep your clothes in their original condition.

Gentle Wash Cycle

The washing machine’s gentle cycle is designed to provide a softer, less aggressive wash. This is particularly important for delicate fabrics which can be damaged by too much agitation. A gentle cycle uses slower spin speeds and a shorter wash cycle, reducing the stress on the fabric and helping to maintain its shape and size.

Use a Gentle Detergent

The type of detergent you choose plays a significant role in fabric care. Harsh chemicals found in some detergents can weaken fabric fibers over time, making them more prone to damage and shrinking. Opt for gentle, eco-friendly detergents, particularly for fabrics like wool, silk and delicate synthetics. These detergents clean effectively without being too harsh on your clothes.

Hand Washing

For those truly delicate items, hand washing is often the safest route. It allows for a gentle touch, with the ability to control water temperature and handling. This method is especially recommended for materials like lingerie, silk and lace, ensuring that they are cleaned without being subjected to the rigors of a machine wash.

Air Dry When Possible

Air drying is arguably the kindest method to dry your clothes. It eliminates the intense heat and tumbling action of a dryer, both of which can contribute to shrinking. If using a dryer is unavoidable, opt for a low-heat or air-dry setting. Always reshape the garment before laying it out or hanging it to dry.

Lay Flat to Dry

Certain items, particularly sweaters and other knitwear, benefit greatly from being dried flat. This method prevents stretching and misshaping that can occur when hanging or when subject to dryer heat. Lay the garment on a clean, dry towel and reshape it to its original size and form.

Avoid Direct Sunlight When Air Drying

While air drying is gentle, direct sunlight can be harsh on fabrics. Prolonged exposure to the sun can lead to fading colors and can even cause some fabrics to shrink or degrade. It’s best to dry clothes in a shaded, well-ventilated area to avoid these risks.

Special Attention for High-Quality Fabrics

High-quality fabrics are an investment in your wardrobe and deserve extra care. Using garment bags in the wash, opting for professional cleaning for particularly delicate items and choosing gentle, fabric-specific detergents can significantly extend the life and appearance of your premium garments.

Avoid Overloading the Washer and Dryer

An overloaded washing machine can create a surprisingly hostile environment for your clothes. The lack of space can increase friction and pressure on the garments, leading to stretched or misshapen fabric. It’s important to give your clothes enough room to move freely, ensuring a thorough clean and reducing wear and tear.

Shopping Power for Appliances with Acima Leasing

Of course, taking care of your garments means having a great washer and dryer to do the job and have the settings you need. That’s where Acima Leasing can take care of you! Embrace the convenience of having a lease-to-own solution available with more than 15,000 local and national retailers to find the appliances you want. With lease-to-own you can enjoy flexible payment options, making it easier and more manageable to shop for a quality washer and dryer — without using credit*.

Now you have a few more fabric care tips and options to help you shop if you need to look for a new washer and dryer. Caring for your garments properly not only maintains their size and shape but also contributes to a more sustainable approach to fashion. By treating your clothes with the care they deserve, you’ll ensure that your favorite pieces last for years to come.

Common Questions

Does fabric softener prevent clothes from shrinking?

Fabric softener doesn’t directly prevent clothes from shrinking. While it can make fabrics feel softer and reduce static, it doesn’t influence the fabric’s tendency to shrink. Proper washing and drying techniques are more effective in preventing shrinkage.

Are there any specific laundry settings that are best for preventing shrinkage in most fabrics?

A cold water setting for washing and a low heat or air-dry setting for drying are generally the safest options for most fabrics. These settings minimize the risk of heat-induced shrinkage and are gentle on a wide variety of materials.

Can preshrinking fabric at home help in maintaining the size of clothes?

Preshrinking fabric, especially natural fibers like cotton and wool, before sewing or wearing can be beneficial. Washing and drying the fabric before it’s made into clothing can reduce future shrinkage, maintaining the garment’s size after subsequent washes.