shrunken shirt

How to Prevent Your Shirt from Shrinking

It’s often frustrating when you put on your favorite t-shirt and realize that it doesn’t fit as well as the last time you wore it. While some might wonder if they’ve gained a couple of pounds, the most likely answer is that the shirt has shrunk a few sizes. Trying to stretch the shirt out with your hands or feet often results in tears or weakening of the fabric. We want to share with you a few laundry tips on how you can keep your t-shirt from shrinking and keep it looking as good as the day you got it.

Water Temperature

Most t-shirts are made out of cotton, or a cotton-blend, and it tends to shrink due to the tension that’s applied during the construction process. Heat—whether by water or air—will release this tension and cause the fabric to shrink back to its original size. The very first time you wash your shirt is when most shrinkage can occur; this is why you should always wash your shirts in cold water as it won’t release the tension of the individual shirt fibers. When it comes to laundry detergent, be sure to read the label as it might only work well in hot water. There are many cold-water detergents on the market that are specifically designed for cold water and washing t-shirts.

Washing Machine Settings

A washing machine works by physically agitating clothes to help loosen and remove dirt. Such fabrics as cotton can get damaged when washed in a regular cycle. Try to use the “delicate” cycle on the washing machine, as it will use a much gentler machine action (less physical agitation) and slower spin and rinse cycles—which can also help prevent shrinking. Ideally, you should wash your cotton t-shirts by hand, but if that’s not an option, then the washing machine is the next best option. Keep in mind that some newer washing machines may default to the “normal” cycle—so make 100% sure that you use a manual override for the delicate cycle.

Drying Techniques

Drying your t-shirt is both an art and a science. As we learned above, heat causes cotton to shrink. Even on the lowest settings, a dryer will still use heat to dry your clothes. If you don’t have the time or space to air dry your clothes, put them in the dryer on the lowest heat setting for anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. Remove them when they are still damp to the touch. This will help prevent over-drying and possible destruction of any logos or prints. Find a flat indoor surface and lay the shirt out for it to air dry, or you can put them on a hanger. Keep in mind that a damp shirt on a hanger in a closet will likely take a long time to dry. If you dry your shirts outside, avoid any direct contact with sunlight. The heat from the sun is just as warm as a dryer, and the UV rays that it gives off can fade the colors or crack the logo or design.

Read the Labels

While the above washing suggestions apply to most cotton t-shirts, some of them will be constructed out of an entirely different material, such as polyester or a cotton-blend. The tag on the inside of the shirt will give instructions on how to properly wash and dry the shirt—keep in mind that just because the tag says that it’s ok to throw it into the dryer, doesn’t necessarily mean you should do so.

Ironing Your Shirt

If your shirt is wrinkled, try to avoid the temptation to iron it. The heat from the lowest setting can still cause shrinkage issues. The best way to spot-remove wrinkles from your t-shirt is to add a tiny bit of cold water and then lay the shirt on a flat surface so that it air dries. You can even try putting a heavy book on top of the wet spot, just make sure that the book won’t bleed any colors onto your shirt. If you absolutely must iron your t-shirt, use the lowest possible setting on the iron. Keep in mind that cheaper, less expensive irons might still use high heat even on the low heat setting. Try to move the iron as quickly as possible and avoid running it over areas that don’t have any wrinkles.

Stretching Your Shirt?

Cotton tends to stretch when you wear it for long periods of time. If you have a shirt that’s a size or two too small, try wearing it around the house for an extended time without washing it. Yes, it might smell a bit funky after a few days, but there’s a chance that it could “unshrink” a bit after a few weeks of usage.
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