What Materials Shrink in the Dryer: A Guide to Proper Laundry Care

What Materials Shrink in the Dryer
What Materials Shrink in the Dryer

Laundry care is an essential aspect of maintaining our clothes. However, if not done correctly, certain fabrics can shrink in the dryer. Understanding which materials are prone to shrinkage can help us take the necessary precautions to preserve our garments. In this article, we will explore the types of materials that are susceptible to shrinkage, factors that contribute to shrinkage, preventive measures, and tips for reshaping shrunken clothes.

Understanding Fabric Shrinkage

Fabric shrinkage occurs when the fibers contract due to exposure to heat, agitation, and moisture. Different fabrics have varying degrees of shrinkage potential. It’s important to note that shrinkage can occur during the initial wash or over time with repeated washing and drying.

Natural Fabrics Prone to Shrinking

1. Cotton

Cotton is a popular natural fabric known for its comfort and breathability. However, it has a high tendency to shrink. This is because cotton fibers have a natural propensity to contract when subjected to heat and moisture. It is recommended to follow specific care instructions for cotton garments to minimize shrinkage.

2. Wool

Wool is a natural fiber derived from animal hair. It is warm, insulating, and moisture-wicking. While wool has excellent properties, it is susceptible to shrinkage if not handled with care. High temperatures, agitation, and improper drying can cause wool fibers to contract, leading to shrinkage and potential distortion of the garment’s shape.

3. Linen

Linen is a breathable and lightweight fabric often used in summer clothing. Although it is durable, it is prone to shrinkage if subjected to high temperatures and improper drying techniques. Linen garments should be washed in cool water and air-dried to minimize the risk of shrinkage.

Synthetic Fabrics with Shrinkage Potential

1. Polyester

Polyester is a synthetic fabric known for its durability and resistance to wrinkles. However, it can still shrink if exposed to high heat. It is advisable to follow the care instructions provided on the garment to prevent shrinkage.

2. Nylon

Nylon is a strong and versatile synthetic fabric commonly used in sportswear and undergarments. While it is resistant to shrinking, extreme heat can cause nylon to deform or melt. It is crucial to use a low-temperature setting when drying nylon garments to avoid any unwanted changes in shape.

3. Acrylic

Acrylic is a synthetic fabric that closely resembles wool in its appearance and properties. Although it is less likely to shrink than natural fibers, it is still susceptible to heat-induced shrinkage. It is best to follow the care instructions for acrylic garments to preserve their shape and size.

Blended Fabrics and Shrinkage

Blended fabrics, which consist of a combination of natural and synthetic fibers, can exhibit different shrinkage behaviors. The shrinkage potential of a blended fabric depends on the specific combination of fibers used. It is essential to read the care labels and follow the recommended washing and drying methods to prevent unwanted shrinkage.

Factors Affecting Shrinkage

Several factors contribute to fabric shrinkage. Understanding these factors can help us make informed decisions when caring for our clothes.

1. Heat

Heat is one of the primary catalysts for fabric shrinkage. High temperatures can cause the fibers to contract and become shorter. It is advisable to use lower heat settings when drying fabrics prone to shrinkage or consider air-drying methods.

2. Agitation

Agitation during the washing and drying process can contribute to fabric shrinkage. Vigorous washing machine cycles or excessive wringing can strain the fibers, leading to shrinkage. Opting for a gentle cycle or handwashing delicate items can help minimize this risk.

3. Moisture

Moisture can facilitate the shrinking process by affecting the molecular structure of fibers. When wet fabrics are exposed to heat, the combination of moisture and heat can cause the fibers to shrink more readily. It is important to handle damp fabrics with care and avoid exposing them to high temperatures during drying.

Preventing Shrinkage

Taking preventive measures can significantly reduce the risk of fabric shrinkage and help preserve the integrity of our clothes.

1. Care Labels

Always refer to the care labels on garments for specific washing and drying instructions. Manufacturers provide these labels to guide us on the proper care methods for each fabric.

2. Sorting and Separating

Separate garments based on color, fabric type, and care instructions. This prevents color bleeding and ensures that fabrics with different shrinkage potentials are not washed together, reducing the risk of unwanted shrinkage.

3. Temperature Control

Use lower temperature settings on your washing machine and dryer for fabrics prone to shrinkage. Cooler temperatures minimize the contracting effect on the fibers, helping to maintain the original size and shape of the garments.

4. Gentle Cycle and Delicate Bags

When washing delicate fabrics, opt for the gentle cycle on your washing machine. Placing delicate items in mesh laundry bags provides an additional layer of protection, minimizing the chances of agitation and potential shrinkage.

5. Air Drying

Air drying is the safest method to prevent fabric shrinkage. Hang or lay flat your clothes on a drying rack to allow them to air dry naturally. This method eliminates the risk of exposure to high heat and excessive agitation, ensuring your garments retain their original size.

Reshaping Shrunken Clothes

In some cases, despite taking preventive measures, clothes may still shrink. If this happens, there are steps you can take to attempt to restore the original size and shape of the garment. However, it is important to note that the success of reshaping depends on the fabric type and the extent of the shrinkage.

To reshape shrunken clothes:

  1. Gently stretch the fabric while damp to its original size.
  2. Lay the garment flat and use your hands to carefully manipulate the fabric back into shape.
  3. Allow the garment to air dry in its reshaped state.

Remember, reshaping may not always be successful, especially with fabrics that have high shrinkage potentials such as wool.


Understanding which materials are prone to shrinkage in the dryer is essential for proper laundry care. By being aware of the specific characteristics of different fabrics, we can take appropriate precautions to minimize shrinkage. Following care instructions, using lower heat settings, and air drying delicate items are effective ways to preserve the size and shape of our clothes.


Can pre-shrunk fabrics still shrink?

Pre-shrunk fabrics have undergone a specialized shrinking process during manufacturing to reduce future shrinkage. While pre-shrunk fabrics are less likely to shrink significantly, they may still experience minimal shrinkage after subsequent washes.

Are all cotton fabrics prone to shrinking?

Most cotton fabrics have a tendency to shrink, especially if exposed to high heat and moisture. However, some cotton blends or specially treated cotton fabrics may have reduced shrinkage potential. Always check the care labels for specific instructions.

How can I measure fabric shrinkage?

To measure fabric shrinkage, compare the dimensions of the garment before and after washing and drying. Take note of any changes in length, width, or overall size. The difference in measurements indicates the amount of shrinkage.

Can dry cleaning prevent fabric shrinkage?

Dry cleaning typically involves using chemical solvents instead of water, which minimizes the risk of fabric shrinkage. However, it is essential to consult care labels or professional dry cleaners for specific instructions, as some fabrics may still be susceptible to shrinkage even with dry cleaning.

What should I do if my clothes shrink in the dryer?

If your clothes shrink in the dryer, attempt to reshape them by gently stretching and manipulating the fabric while damp. However, keep in mind that reshaping may not always be successful, particularly with fabrics that have a high shrinkage potential. It’s best to follow preventive measures to avoid shrinkage in the first place.

Scroll to Top