Clothes shrinkage is a serious problem, these tips can help

Clothes shrinkage is a serious problem, these tips can help

Q. I’m a bachelor and live alone. It’s important for my job that I look good. But when I wash my clothes, they always seem to shrink. It’s costing me a lot of money. Please tell me what I’m doing wrong.

A. What you are doing right is recognizing the importance of looking good at work. But you may be making a mistake or two when doing your laundry. The primary errors that lead to shrinkage have to do with excessive heat:

  1. using water that is too hot when washing
  2. keeping the garments in a hot dryer for too long when drying, and
  3. ironing on a too-hot setting. Much of this happens when the clothing is made of higher quality fabrics

WASHING – I always recommend following the laundering instructions on a garment’s care label, except if those instructions tell you to use hot water. Though hot water is occasionally recommended for whites, I never use it, because I believe it shrinks clothes and is generally hard on them. Instead, select a warm-water temperature setting for most laundry, especially for items you don’t want to shrink. Sheets and towels do not suffer from a slight shrinkage, but your shirts surely do. 

Shrinkage does not occur all at once, but over time. Most shrinkage happens during the first washing, and then it continues a bit more each time the item is washed. After several washings, you will begin to notice that your cotton shirts get a little tighter, especially the ones you wear and wash often. Unfortunately, that means your favorites will change even more quickly. Instead of hot water, select a warm temperature setting for most laundry, especially for items you don’t want to shrink. For extra protection and safety, you can even go one step further, and use a cold-water wash cycle.

DRYING – When drying shirts, the very safest way to keep them from shrinking is to hang them on a (non-wire) hanger while wet, allowing them to dry on their own. If this is not practical for you, then be sure to use the dryer carefully. My own dryer is never set on any of the hot cycles, but rather on “Gentle” or “Delicate”; thus, assuring that it does not get too hot. Incidentally, “Delicate” does not mean it’s for frilly or feminine garments. A man’s favorite cotton sweater can qualify. This same delicate setting is correct for all of your knits, including sweaters, hoodies, and polo shirts. 

Do not over-dry. Setting the timer for too long leads to shrinking. Try to estimate the minimum time it will take to dry your load. When possible, remove susceptible garments from the dryer while still slightly damp; then complete the drying process on hangers, or for sweaters, while lying on a flat surface. Note: smoothing out knits with your hands is an effective and effortless “ironing” method.     

IRONING – If you iron your own shirts or are doing touch-up ironing on the collar and cuffs of a non-iron shirt, know that a too-hot setting can shrink fabric. Also, there is one more advantage to removing items promptly from the dryer, or a bit early while still a little damp: ironing a damp shirt is easier and results in a better-looking finish; you don’t need to sprinkle the shirt or steam-iron it for a perfect look.

FABRIC – Keep in mind that dress shirts are generally made of woven cotton fabric; woven cotton shrinks an average of 2% (sometimes even more). So, you can assume that the fabric will shrink and will affect how the shirt fits. If a sleeve measures 35”, that translates to almost an inch in the sleeve length and close to a half-inch in the collar. Definitely enough to make a difference.  

It’s a good plan to anticipate shirt shrinkage before it happens by up-sizing very slightly so normal shrinkage is taken into account. Don’t insist on wearing the same size you have worn for years; not only do shirts change, but bodies do as well. Try buying one new shirt the next size larger in either the neck measurement or the sleeve length. Instead of a 15½ neck, try a 16; or rather than a 34” sleeve, try a 35”. Then, after several washings, if you find that the new shirt fits you right, you can feel safe buying more. Be sure to return to the same store, and buy the same brand in the same size.    

Although it is certainly not a dressing mistake, choosing garments that are 100% cotton or that are made of wool does create a risk of shrinking. These two materials, while highly desirable for fine-quality clothing, are very susceptible to reduction. Even though all-natural fabrics may require more attention and more care when laundering, the extra effort is still worthwhile.

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