Shrinking Shirts and a Simple Solution

Shrinking Shirts and a Simple Solution

Q. I wear DXL dress shirts, usually SYNRGY brand, that cost between $50 and $60. I have to wash them all by hand, hang them to dry, and iron them, because if I follow the directions listed on the shirts (machine-wash in cold water), they shrink in length, and also in the sleeve length. I’ve done this for years, and wonder if you have suggestions for a solution. Thanks.

A. Maybe your shrinkage problem is not the result of machine washing at all, but is caused by a few other elements. One may be using the dryer. When machine-washing a garment, you can set the washer to use truly cold water; but when machine-drying, you don’t have as much control. Yes, you can set the dial for “delicate” and/or for a shorter period of time, but you should not leave the shirt in the dryer until it is completely dry. Instead, stop the dryer before it completes the cycle, and immediately hang the shirt on a hanger to finish air-drying. Shrinkage is almost always heat-related, whether it is in the washer or the dryer. You don’t need to wash your shirts by hand, which is not only a nuisance, but does not get them as clean as a washer. Just machine-wash them in cold water, use a lighter (cooler) setting in the dryer, and remove them from the dryer earlier.

Also, consider buying a slightly larger size. While it is human nature to want to believe we need a smaller size, the next-larger size or the next-longer sleeve size, or both might solve your problem. For example, in SYNRGY shirts that are designed for Big and Tall men and that come in XL and XLT, the XLT (tall) shirts are two inches longer than the XL. If a man is fuller in the waist, the chest, or the stomach, it will take away from the length, and may make his shirts too short.

By being aware that a new cotton shirt (whether all-cotton or a cotton-polyester blend) is going to shrink somewhat, you can allow for it from the beginning. The first few times you wear it, rather than fitting you perfectly, it may be a tiny bit too large; but after a few launderings, it should fit just right.      

How much your shirts shrink may also depend on other factors, like which brand you choose and whether or not the fabric contains wrinkle-resistant coatings. While it is the nature of cotton to shrink; it shrinks the most the first time it’s washed and then a little more in the next several launderings. Still, some brands (usually, more expensive ones) do indeed shrink less than others. Brooks Brothers and L.L. Bean have many fans who claim that their shirts hardly shrink at all (this is even more true for their non-iron shirts). Since no one wants to iron (or to pay someone to iron), you might try buying shirts from a few different companies to see which ones shrink the least.                    

Keep in mind that 100% cotton shrinks more than synthetic fabrics and more than cotton-polyester blends. Even so, I would never recommend sacrificing the comfort and advantages of cotton for the small difference in shrinkage.

And, in order to reduce wrinkling, besides buying non-iron shirts, here are a few easy strategies. Clothes need breathing room in the dryer; don’t overload it with too many items. You might also add either a dryer-sheet or a couple of plastic dryer balls (old tennis balls also work). Again, don’t leave dry shirts sitting in the dryer; remove them quickly and hang on individual hangers.   

To sum up: Check out a few different brands; try a larger size; consider buying quality non-iron cotton shirts; use cold water; machine-dry on lowest setting; don’t overcrowd your dryer, and finish drying on a hanger. These suggestions should make a big difference. 

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