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Does cotton shrink? A guide to stop cotton from shrinking

Cotton shirts & other items can shrink in the wash but if you're careful you can prevent this! These tips & tricks will help you stop cotton from shrinking!


cotton tshirts on clothing rack

Cotton is a great fabric: versatile, comfortable, breathable, and hardwearing. But like many materials, particularly natural ones, it’s also prone to shrinking when subjected to extremes of temperature and the agitation of washers and dryers. However, there are a few simple things you can do to take care of your cotton; so if you’ve been wondering how to stop cotton from shrinking, look no further.

The trick to washing cotton shirts in the washing machine without shrinking is to use a low temperature – which necessitates a good quality laundry detergent.

Do Cotton Shirts Shrink?

Does 100% cotton shrink? Most natural fabrics shrink to some degree for two reasons: fibre shrinkage – the natural response of plant fibres to heat – and fabric shrinkage, the consequence of tension applied to yarn and fabric during manufacture. This tension is released with the heat of washing and drying, causing the garment to shrink.

So, does cotton shrink when you wash it? In the first wash, unless you hand wash cold and air-dry, probably. However, if you’re concerned your cotton shirts will shrink, there are some simple ways of minimising the impact of washing and drying on the fabric. 

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How to Stop Cotton from Shrinking

For garments you’re anxious to keep in pristine condition, it’s worthwhile either hand washing cold and air-drying, or dry cleaning. Always check the care label and follow the instructions for the best results.

Hand washing

  • Use a special detergent intended for hand washing. Dissolve in cool or lukewarm water, and immerse the garment for the recommended length of time. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and test on a small and inconspicuous area first if you’re concerned.
  • Rinse thoroughly, again in cool or lukewarm water. Do not wring or twist the fabric as this will affect its shape.
  • Air dry in indirect sunlight, somewhere that air can circulate. Use hangers to maintain the shape of the garment.

Machine washing

If you don’t have time to hand wash your cotton items, never fear. Most standard washing machines have settings that will help stop cotton from shrinking.

  • Use a mild detergent intended for delicate items. Set your washing machine to cold or 30 degrees, and its agitation cycle to delicate.
  • Wash clothes and remove them from the washing machine. Shake gently to remove wrinkles.
  • Hang up and air dry as before, in indirect sunlight and in a room where air can circulate.
  • Appreciate your unsullied clothing!

Will cotton shirts shrink? Not if you’re careful. By treating it with care and air drying, your cotton will be safe for many wears to come.


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Originally published