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Will My Cotton Clothes Shrink in the Washing Machine?

With fast-growing little ones, the last thing you need is for their clothes to shrink in the wash! And what about that perfectly fitting kurta you found? Cotton is known for being prone to shrinking, but why do cotton clothes shrink in the wash? And why do clothes shrink at all? Here's a helpful guide to why some clothes shrink, specifically created for our Matic Moms.  


The science: why clothes shrink

All fabrics are made from woven fibres that have different properties depending on their origin. Examples of fabrics made from natural (plant and animal) fibres are:

  • Wool
  • Cotton
  • Linen
  • Silk

Fabrics you’ll probably recognise as synthetic include:

  • Polyester
  • Acrylic
  • Spandex
  • Nylon

Every textile fibre is made up of strings of molecules connected together. Since each type of fibre has different properties, they all tend to react in different ways to the manufacturing process (being treated, pulled, and twisted), water, and heat. Natural fibres are particularly absorbent, and when they fill with water this puts stress on the connection between the molecules.

Agitation in your washing machine or tumble dryer will break down these connections even more – this sometimes results in shrunken cloth. Synthetic fabrics are not necessarily affected in the same way. At high temperatures, however, they become prone to creasing.  


Does cotton shrink?

The short answer is: yes. But, really, what you want to know is whether your cotton garment has been pre-shrunk before you bought it. Many manufacturers take the stress out of washing new clothes for the first time by going through the process for you – the care label or packaging of your garment should note that it is ‘pre-shrunk’. If your garment hasn’t been pre-shrunk, take care to follow the manufacturers’ instructions and choose a gentle washing cycle.  


What about combination fabrics?

People often ask: ‘Will cotton shirts shrink, or should I buy polyester? These days cotton is often combined with synthetic fibres to improve the properties of fabric – like tendency to crease. While washing and ironing these combination fabrics may seem easier to care for, 100% cotton is much more breathable, and a popular choice for many living in hot climates.  


Does 100% cotton shrink?

If you’re left a clothes shop after purchasing a shirt, and are worrying ‘will cotton shrink?’ all the way home, you’ve probably forgotten to ask the essential question:  not, ‘Do cotton shirts shrink?’, or ‘do 100 cotton shirts shrink?’, but ‘what does the care label say ?’ Shirts, and any other garment made from cotton – like jeans, corduroys, chinos, socks, and towels – may already be pre-shrunk before they reach the store, however, you should still check the care label on any garment before you wash it, to make sure you choose the right temperature and washing cycle.

So, after checking the care label, if you can wash your cotton garment in the washing machine, then pop in it the machine. Select a gentle cycle (and a low temperature, if you have a choice of water temperature), and don’t forget to use Surf excel, too! A gentle cycle and low temperature will help protect your cotton garments and prevent them from shrinking.