How to Keep Cotton from Shrinking Using 2 Effective Ways

Cotton is a soft, breathable fiber that’s usually blended with other fabrics to make clothing. The most common cotton blends are cotton-polyester and cotton-lycra. While the exact percentage of each fabric varies by brand, you can be sure that any article of clothing that contains cotton is susceptible to shrinking when subjected to heat. The question is how to keep cotton from shrinking 

The best way to prevent shirts from shrinking is to wash them in cold water and let them air dry. If you don’t want to hand wash your cotton shirts, washing them on a gentle cycle with cold water can help prevent shrinkage.

How to Keep Cotton from Shrinking

Cotton shrinks when it is exposed to heat. Dryers apply both heat and tumbling action, which can cause the fibers to shrink. It’s best to avoid using too much heat when washing and drying cotton clothes. 

Continue reading this article and learn how to keep your cotton clothes from shrinking in the wash-on during drying in the tumble dryer.

Does Cotton Shrink Every Time You Wash It or Dry It

Cotton can shrink every time you wash it and dry it if you expose the garment to hot water or dry it at high heat temperatures. Cotton will also shrink when exposed to chlorine bleach. You can usually prevent cotton from shrinking by washing it in cold water and drying it on low heat.

Cotton shrinks when exposed to hot water because heat causes the fibers to contract and become smaller than they are before washing. If you wash a cotton shirt in hot water and then dry it on high heat, expect the shirt to shrink significantly after just one cycle through your washing machine and dryer.

How to Keep Cotton from Shrinking 

To avoid this problem, you should wash your cotton clothes by hand or use a delicate setting on your washing machine.

  • Read the care label on the garment carefully before washing it. Avoid washing garments labeled “dry clean only” at home unless you have experience in doing so.
  • Turn garments inside out if possible before washing them in a machine. This will help preserve their color and prevent fading over time.

Washing by Hand

  1. Fill your sink with cold water. Cotton shrinks when exposed to hot water and high temperatures, so you should always wash it in cold water.
  2. Add soap to the water. You can use any type of gentle detergent or soap. If you’re using powdered detergent, make sure it dissolves completely in the water.
  3. Place your cotton clothes in soapy water and gently swish them around. 
  4. Use your hands to carefully press down on the fabric to agitate it and help the soap work its way through the material. Don’t wring or twisting your cotton clothes because this can cause them to stretch out of shape.
  5. Drain out the dirty water and rinse your clothes with fresh, cool water. Make sure all of the soap has been rinsed out.
  6. After the garments have been washed, reshape them and lay flat or hang up to dry. 

Using a washing machine and dryer

Like any other natural fiber, cotton can shrink in the wash. But if you know how to prevent it, you can keep your clothes looking new. Here are some tips to stop cotton from shrinking in the washing machine:

  1. Wash in cold water. Heat is the enemy of cotton threads and fibers. When you use hot water, it causes the fibers to contract and your clothes to shrink. Coldwater will keep your clothes intact and looking new.
  2. Use mild detergent. Some laundry detergents contain harsh chemicals that can break down cotton fibers. Use a mild detergent on all of your clothes, including cotton.
  3. Add a cup of white vinegar to the wash. This helps prevent shrinkage by keeping the fibers from breaking down during the wash cycle.
  4. Tumble dry at low temperature. If you want to protect your clothes from shrinking, skip the dryer altogether and let them air dry. But if you must use a dryer, make sure you set it on low heat or fluff. High heat will have the same effect as hot water.
  5. Don’t leave your clothes in the dryer for too long after they’re done drying! Leaving them there for a long time can make them shrink more than necessary because heat from the dryer will continue shrinking them until you take them out or turn off the heat source.

Can You Reverse Cotton Shrinkage?

Yes, you can reverse cotton shrinkage. You can undo cotton shrinkage by steaming or soaking it in warm or cold water and then letting it air dry. Then stretch your fabric out while it’s still wet and reshape it as it dries.

How to Unshrink Cotton Clothes ( Pants, Sweaters, Shirts)

Here are some effective ways for reversing cotton shrinkage: 

Steam it out 

  1. Use an iron to steam the fabric smoothly. 
  2. Set the iron on a low heat setting and cover with a thin towel or cloth. 
  3. Iron the fabric until all water is gone and wrinkles are removed.


  1. One of the simplest ways to undo cotton shrinkage is to soak the garment in warm or cold water and air dry.
  2. Soak your garment in lukewarm water with a hair conditioner or baby shampoo added to it.
  3. Let soak for 30 minutes before washing as usual. Drain the sink and wring out the fabric without twisting it.
  4. Lay the item on a flat surface and stretch it gently into shape while it’s wet.
  5. Once it dries completely, see if its size has increased significantly.
  6. If it hasn’t, repeat the method again. It may take several tries before you achieve noticeable results, but this trick is worth trying before you give up on a favorite cotton item.

Does ironing unshrink clothes?

Ironing uses heat and pressure to smooth out wrinkles in clothing. The heat and pressure of iron will not change the fibers of a garment back to their natural state after they’ve been shrunk. However, the steam from an iron can help to relax the fibers of your clothes. If you see your recently-shrunken sweater laying flat on a countertop or table, you may be able to use an iron’s steam function to relax some of the fibers in the garment. 

Can dry cleaners unshrink clothes?

Yes, But it depends on the fabric types. Some garments are easier to unshrink than others. Cotton is the easiest, followed by wool. Silk is a little more difficult, and linen is the hardest of all to unshrink. The dry cleaner easily applies steam to the fabric to relax the fibers.


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