5 tips to prevent cotton clothing from shrinking in the dryer

5 Tips to Prevent Cotton Clothing from Shrinking in the Dryer

We’ve all been there. You find the cutest shirt. It’s 100% cotton, and so comfy. It’s in your size. The color is perfection. The way it looks and fits makes you feel amazing. And then you do laundry, and what emerges from the dryer is a shrunken, puckered shadow of the shirt you put in. Ugh. Why did nobody tell you this dryer had a shrink ray setting? 

As if we didn’t all have enough little things to worry about, dryer shrinkage happens, stomping on our clothes happiness one ill-fated laundry cycle at a time. But take heart. With a little care and forethought, there are things every cotton-loving person can do to prevent your closet (or, more likely, donation bag) from filling with expensive regret.

  1. Buy high-quality, pre-shrunk cotton clothing. We have to say it, not just because clothing made from 100% cotton clothing is our bread and butter, but because it’s objectively true. Higher-quality cotton that has been pre-shrunk will withstand hundreds of laundry cycles with far more aplomb. Premium cotton isn’t always easy to find, but, when you’re shopping Fair Indigo, it’s a sure thing. Our method of pre-shrinking is quite rare, too. We wash our 100% Pima cotton fabrics before they’re even cut, meaning that the fabric has already relaxed comfortably into itself by the time we assemble it into your next favorite garment.

  2. Air dry. If you can, skip the dryer entirely. Heat is the main culprit when it comes to shrinking and warping the lovely natural fibers in your 100% cotton clothing. Instead, use a clothing rack (they come in many sizes and configurations) or hang items outside away from direct sunlight. If you must use the dryer, pick a cycle without heat.

  3. Wash items by hand (at least initially). Whether from Fair Indigo or not, even if your brand new cotton item isn’t supposed to shrink, hand washing it the first time or two is a smart investment in maintaining that original fit. It allows the fibers to adjust to being washed, so they’ll be less likely to react dramatically later. Pick a mild detergent formulated for hand-washing, and use cool water. Gently knead the clothing item to work the soap through and let it sit in the water for a bit (up to 30 minutes if it’s heavily soiled, but 5-10 is plenty for normal washes). Rinse with more cool water and squeeze it out before laying or hanging to air-dry.

  4. Use a gentle cycle. If hand-washing isn’t your thing, there are more cotton-friendly ways to use your washing machine. Pick a gentle cycle (your machine might call it “delicates”) for at least the first few washes, if not every time. This kind of cycle involves less agitation by the machine, which means less friction and rubbing on the fabric. This helps your cotton garments look newer, longer, with less pilling and other signs of wear and tear. And always use cold water; modern detergents are generally formulated to work just as effectively in cold water as in hot. It’s easier on your utility bills, too.

  5. Unshrink the item! Turns out, there might be an “undo” button for laundry mistakes that leave cotton garments in a shrunken state. If you accidentally run your favorite tee or joggers through a high heat dryer cycle, all is not lost. Soak the item in cool water, then gently stretch and reshape it on a flat surface or drying rack and let it fully air dry. You can use non-staining, non-marking household items (e.g. a canned food item in a plastic bag) to weigh the garment edges down to keep it in place. Just be careful not to tug or stretch too much, or you could end up with the opposite problem.
5 tips to prevent 100% cotton clothing from shrinking in the dryer

Regardless of circumstances, it’s no fun to have to say farewell to a piece of clothing you were really excited about. And, as useful as dryers are, they can occasionally cause wardrobe heartbreak. Buying clothes made from the highest-quality pre-shrunk cotton available is a great insurance policy toward avoiding disappointment altogether, but laundry mishaps can happen to anybody. So go forth and launder gently, yet bravely, and we hope these tips will come in handy, should you ever need them.

Caroline Sober


Caroline Sober
Guest contributor & Fair Indigo fan

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