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November 18, 2004

'Heat does not shrink clothes'


So says Lucinda Ottusch.

Who's she to debunk something we all believe and know is true?

Well, she's a fabric technologist for Whirlpool.

She spoke with Washington Post reporter Katherine Salant for a story published November 6, 2004.

Among the fascinating things I learned:

• Dryer heat does NOT shrink garments. Rather, said Ottusch, shrinkage is caused by the tumbling action as the garments hit the sides of the dryer. Shrinkage is also caused by the washing process itself.

• When a garment is made, the fabric is stretched to its max so slightly less is needed, saving money. Then, when the garment is washed, the cloth fibers shrink back to their natural (shorter) state.

• The warmer the water, the greater the shrinkage.

• Compared with washing, which shrinks clothing, drying them with heat has the opposite effect. As the garment loses moisture, the fibers stretch slightly.

Here's the article in its entirety.


Heat Didn't Shrink That Shirt: Fabric Expert Offers the Scoop

One benefit of testing Whirlpool's laundry appliances was the opportunity to talk with Lucinda Ottusch, one of the company's fabric technologists, and demystify some of the laundry process.

The first myth debunked: Dryer heat does not shrink garments.

After all, as Ottusch pointed out, a hot iron does not shrink clothes; in fact, the heat and pressure of the iron cause the garment to stretch out.

Rather, she said, shrinkage is caused by the tumbling action as the garments hit the sides of the dryer.

Shrinkage is also caused by the washing process itself.

When a garment is made, Ottusch said, manufacturers often stretch a fabric to its max so that slightly less cloth is needed. (A tiny bit of fabric factored over thousands of identical garments is a significant savings.)

But when the garment is washed, the cloth fibers will shrink to their natural state.

The warmer the water, the greater the reversion.

If you were to put on jeans when they were wet, you would find they were too small, Ottusch said.


The degree of movement of the garments during the washing process also affects the fibers, she added.

As a general rule, the tumbling action of a front-loader produces less movement and fiber reversion than the agitation of a top-loader.

A "preshrunk" garment has already been washed, so the garment will not be as affected by the laundering process.


Compared with washing, which can shrink clothes, drying them with heat has the opposite effect.

As a garment loses moisture, the fibers will stretch a bit; as you wear the garment, the heat of your body will increase this stretching.

But, Ottusch said, the drying process can damage fabrics made of natural fibers such as cotton, linen and wool, if too much moisture is removed.

These fibers have a natural moisture content, even when they feel dry (with cotton it's 5%; with wool as much as 17%).

When the fibers are over-dried, they will reabsorb moisture from the atmosphere.

The occasional over-drying will usually not cause a problem, but when it happens repeatedly, the fibers will be weakened and the clothes won't last as long or wear as well, Ottusch said.


A dryer can also affect the appearance of garments.

Dark ones can rapidly lose their brand-new look as they hit the sides of the drum.

This raises microscopically small fibers and gives the seam areas a powdery appearance, Ottusch explained.

With some types of fabric, however, the raised fibers are a plus.


With a towel, for example, the raised fibers make it feel softer.

November 18, 2004 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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Tracked on Mar 30, 2005 7:31:48 PM


I have a t-shirt dress made of rayon and spandex that I'd like to shrink one size. Can this be done? If so, how?

Posted by: Pauline | Feb 3, 2010 12:32:19 PM

So, I just bought a pair of size 4 women's skinny jeans, and they fit me really well, not too loose, not too tight, but I'm afraid they're going to shrink when I wash them and, probably, if they shrink, they will not fit me anymore....is it correct that if you put them on a cold setting in the wash and then dry them on whatever setting in the dryer then they won't shrink? Or should I just return these jeans and buy the next size up? PLEASE HELP A POOR SOUL TIRED THAT IS OF HER JEANS GETTING SHRUNK!

Posted by: Clara | Dec 7, 2009 10:15:56 AM

i'm mildly ocd and i'm wornder at that temperature cloths shrink. i wash everyting in cold water except for boxer breafs and socks and i hang them up on drier racks in another room since it's winter and i have the heater on my my room pretty much all the time. in the other room i have the haeating vent closed and one window open since the other one is frozen shut. So all in all i'm mwondering exactually what temperature cloths shrink seeing as how shrinking cloths equals cloths that don't confortably fit that in tern equals more money.

Posted by: joe | Dec 7, 2009 2:49:47 AM

lookkk heres the thing i need helpp i got bunch of new clothess but each time i wash them they turn soo small they almost wont fit mee. wat can i do so the new clothes wont shrink when i wash them?

ohh and i got a bunch of small clothes that are almost like new and dont fit me beacuz im growingg how can i make them strech without taking it to a place to alter it? i need your helpp

i wash themm in medium temperature water and dry them in loww is that wat im suppuse to do so they wont shrink or am i suppuse to put them in cold temperature water andd dry them in medium or hottt

Posted by: raul | Oct 22, 2008 8:13:27 PM

how do I shrink 100% cotton jeans?

Posted by: daiski | Oct 10, 2008 1:41:20 AM

Hi, I'm rather tall and all my jeans shrink after the frist wash. Very frustrating, and now all my jeans are ankle lenth - great! I wash 30 degrees and do not tumble dry. How can I prevent my jeans from shrinking? ANd how can I stretch my already shrunken jeans? Thanks

Posted by: Yvette | Oct 2, 2008 11:15:32 AM

Hi. I have a sweater dress that's 100% acrylic. Is it shrinkable? If so how? I'm a small but i bought a medium since it was the last size. Can you help? :)

Posted by: air | Sep 15, 2008 5:12:10 PM

i find that a lot of my kids clothing come out from my autosencing dryer a little smaller than when they went in, despite the fact that I put in very small loads (to avoid friction and thus shrinkage) and also use a low heat setting. I have found however that it helps to gently pull (some) clothing back into shape after the tumbledry.

Posted by: Shanal | Aug 2, 2008 7:18:42 AM


Posted by: H. LANCE | Jul 14, 2008 9:04:17 PM

Hey, can I shrink a polyester + spandex bikini?? I got a size too big!

Posted by: Sandra | Jul 9, 2008 3:08:00 AM

how small can a wool shirt shrink? I want to shrink it for a stuffed animal.

Posted by: anastasia | Jun 8, 2008 11:53:02 AM

Can someone please help me!!!! I have a huge basketball jersey and I have been trying to shrink it when i got it can someone please tell me how to shrink it PLEASE!!!! thnks bye

Posted by: Zoey | Apr 22, 2008 7:33:08 PM

to reverse the shrinking process add 3/4 cup of bleach

Posted by: matt | Apr 15, 2008 9:14:56 PM

hey i need infomation on how to shrink cotton, linen, and polyester so email me back at yahoo.com be cause i need some anwsers plese help me it is for a scinece project juss need that infomation i put i will look some thing else up so my 10 page work so i need help finding that don't know where to find it on the information i will still look but i still need your help .


Posted by: shalandra | Apr 9, 2008 6:17:57 PM

Please, Someone Help me!
I repeatedly buy clothes and then wash them in cold water and tumble dry in in low timed heat. I don't know if my dryer is causing it or not because sometimes it takes like three cycles to dry them.
Then the clothes that I spent my last $$$ on are shrunk shorter and tighter.
I am like a size 14 and I buy clothes to cover my belly from having kids. It is so frustrating when It shrinks and is a total loss.
Please Help Me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Colleen Parks | Apr 7, 2008 5:27:02 PM

Could someone tell me where I could get the information if the color of your clothing causes shrinkage of the clothes. It is a science fair project for my daughter and she can not find any information on this topic. Thanks Julie

Posted by: Julie | Feb 18, 2008 8:53:31 PM

the pants/jeans stretcher worked for me. wash pants/jeans in cold water, clamp leg-ends of legs separately, clamp waist, hand upside down with legs apart, hang a weight to bottom (5-8 lb), let dry for a day - added 2 inches or more to the legs! see article and pics at people.cornell.edu/pages/kpl5/pants-shrank.html

Posted by: kurt | Feb 1, 2008 1:08:00 AM

Hi I bought a Medium sweater for my boyfriend (100% acrylic)and it fits him perfectly but hes worried that it'll shrink because then he won't wear it. Does 100% acrylic shrink? Should I exchange it for a Large?

Posted by: amy | Sep 30, 2007 9:39:02 AM

I have just brought a jumper which is 93% acrylic 4% polyester and 3%metalised fibre it is a little big on the arms and round the waist how can i shhrink it a tad bit just so it fits better in theese places?

Posted by: | Sep 20, 2007 11:49:59 AM

hey man i just put on 150 kilos after getting kicked off the biggest loser.. public image is so tiring. how know do i stretch my clothes.. I have one outfit.. I no longer have the financial support to buy a plus sized wardrobe.. please help .. how to stretch my existing fabrics?

Posted by: Rachael | May 21, 2007 9:18:21 AM

how do i go about stretching jeans when they are washed they shrink and i would like to know how to stretc them

Posted by: Jerry | May 17, 2007 9:32:14 AM

how does color fade from over washing or over drying if so how do i was and dry clothes without fading them fast?

Posted by: steph | May 12, 2007 7:14:27 PM

Hello. I was wondering if you could shrink a shirt that is 100% rayon. My sister in law tried on the shirt and now the band at the bottom of the shirt is really loose. She's a size 13 and i'm a size 7. It says on the shirt to hand wash it.

Posted by: Shavawn Boyer | May 8, 2007 12:55:01 PM

Well, if you put in on a high tumble or like heavy duty or permant press and turn it to real hot. It will shrink a lot. I did this to a really nice pair of sliver jeans that were way to big for me because I usually wear a size 3 in jeans so it worked really well and let it line dry!

P.S. besides slivers are expensive and i couldnt just give them away.

Posted by: Cierra Senff | Apr 6, 2007 9:41:01 PM

it is %100 cotton, and i want the zipper to be straight, and to be bigger

Posted by: Michael Affainie | Feb 10, 2007 10:34:36 PM

I have a hoodie with a zipper down tha middle, and when i put it in the laundry it shrunk making tha zipper wavey, is there anyway i can stretch my hoodie back to make it larger?

Posted by: Michael Affainie | Feb 7, 2007 1:28:26 AM

I have a woolen hat that has been shrunk, How can I make it larger?

Posted by: Richard | Jan 30, 2007 8:06:30 PM

Is it possible for a pair of wool pants that were dry cleaned to shrink in the waist, but not in the length

Posted by: Bruce | Jan 19, 2007 8:57:06 PM

I'm actually in a textiles class and that is how I stumbled upon this website... it's great--advice on how to shrink or stretch clothing! I actually have a number of sweaters that are 100% wool and one that is 50% wool, 50% angora hair. I want to shrink them a little bit, but from what I understand, animal furs will shrink a ton. How do I complete a sucessful "slight shrink?"

Posted by: Tori Hopkin | Jan 17, 2007 7:42:00 PM

I see some helpful advice. I lost 60 pounds and all my pants were WAY too big. I went shopping today and bought three pairs...i tried on 5 juniors and they were a tiny bit loose and about 3 inches too long lol. So i asked a clerk where the petites were, and she directed me to a rack of stretch jeans. I went back to juniors, tried on 6's, and they fit well enough in the waist that they SHOULD still fit if i shrink them...they're abour 5 inches too long lol (and they were on sale....i spent $54.00 and saved $56.00 One paie was maeked down to $11.00 from $50.00)

Posted by: ebell | Oct 10, 2006 1:35:48 AM

I have a pair of lucky brand pants that are too big. How do I shrink them? I'm trying the pillowcase thing as I type

Posted by: Trudie | Sep 21, 2006 9:35:59 PM

This is really helpful! I got some brand new scrubs, and the bottoms are way too big. So if I wash them hot and let them drip dry, they should shrink and be fine...thank you so much! And with the sirts, the opposite is true...so cold wash and tumble dry, right?

Posted by: Shannon | Sep 21, 2006 3:09:15 PM

I bought a shirt at the buckle a while ago, it's one size to big for me, I do know how to sew so i can alter it but the thread for my surger is like 20 bucks to match it with the color of the shirt, is there any way i can shrink it, it's a 100% cotten, woven. HELP ME!

Posted by: Seth Campbell | Aug 16, 2006 11:34:19 AM

I have a lot of small shirts and I need to make them bigger, anyone know how I can do that?

Posted by: Jack | Jul 12, 2006 12:04:17 AM

I bought a hat size 7 1/4 (58cm) made of 84% acrylic fiber and 16% wool. I'd return it, but the shipping was too much to begin with. I looked up acrylic and found that it was highly resistant to shrinkage. Is there any way that I can shrink it, and if so, is there a way of knowing how much?

Posted by: Michael | May 28, 2006 12:42:25 AM

Sorry if this is repetitive to what anyone else asked but I'd like to know how I can shrink a denim jacket made of 80% cotton, 18% polyester, and 2% spandex down at least half a size. I'd take it back but the size before it is too tight and th size I have now is just too loose. Please help!

Posted by: Gia | Apr 30, 2006 12:31:49 AM

caitlin: wash your skirt in hot water and then line dry it. drying clothes with heat makes clothes stretch.

Posted by: nicole | Jan 29, 2006 6:42:55 AM

Hi, okay now lets see. I am 15v years old and I NEED my skirt to shrink because it is way too big. So if I was to wash it in HOT HOT water then tumble dry it , it would shrink?? thank you so much!!!!

Caitlin Rosebudd

Posted by: Caitlin | Jan 23, 2006 6:46:39 PM

Hey everyone!! I know for a fact (I've done it myself) that if you want to make clothes shrink for whatever reason then what you should do is put the garment into a pillowcase which has been tied around the sides leaving a little air inside, then put it in the hottest wash possible, then take it out and leave it on the line (but not inside the pillowcase). It will make the garment shrink perfectly!

Yea and also what you can do to make them stretch is put them in an ice cold wash and then put them on the hottest dry, then iron them.

It makes them stretch really well.

Posted by: anna | Aug 23, 2005 3:00:08 PM

I have a few hoodie's with zippers up the middle. I have one that is to big, I was told that if i dry the hoodies then the zipper starts to get all wavie and looks bad. I was wondering if there is any way to wash and shrink it abit without the zipper getting messed up?

Posted by: Brett | Feb 16, 2005 5:13:15 PM

Is it possible to stretch out clothes that have shrunk too much to wear?

Posted by: John Sharp | Jan 7, 2005 3:01:48 PM

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