Does Cotton Fabric Shrink When Washed? (Helpful Guide)

Buying clothes can be a challenge. First, when you are buying clothing items for kids, they grow out of them very quickly. Second, when you buy for adults there is the problem of shrinking. Shrinkage is always a major issue when dealing with fabrics no matter who the person is.

Does cotton fabric shrink when washed? Cotton is one of the best fabrics to use when making or buying clothing. It is also one of the easiest to shrink when you wash it. The good news is that cotton should not shrink after it has been pre-washed.

To learn all about cotton and its shrinking issue just continue to read our article. It goes in-depth to make sure you know how to handle cotton like a pro. It only takes a few minutes to get up to speed on cotton and how to wash it so it doesn’t shrink.

Will Cotton Fabric Shrink or Stretch

Cotton fabric is capable of doing both activities. It will shrink if it is not pre-washed or washed in hot water. It will also shrink if you place your cotton items in a very hot dryer. Cotton can be temperamental and ruin a lot of beautiful clothes because of its shrinking nature.

But when shrinking happens, it is possible to stretch the cotton a little bit. You may not be able to make up the 20% loss that shrinking causes but you may still get a nice fit. You just have to re-wet the cotton and then stretch it out.

Does Cotton Fabric Shrink When Washed


Yes, it does. But there are some contingencies to that answer. Cotton may not shrink a second time if it has been properly pre-washed. That means you should buy a size or two larger when purchasing cotton clothes if the manufacturer has not pre-washed the items.

Also, if you use cold water when washing cotton clothes the cotton may not shrink. Hot water is not cotton’s friend and is the primary suspect when your clothes leave the washing machine smaller than when they went in.

If you are careful and separate your clothes, you should be able to avoid any shrinking issues.

Why Does Cotton Fabric Shrink

Probably the main reason why cotton clothes shrink is that they are made from organic and not man-made fibers. Washing machines do not get hot enough to melt or shrink man-made fibers like polyester, rayon, and others. These fibers have a high heat endurance.

Cotton, on the other hand, is a natural fiber that does not enjoy the luxury of having high heat resistance. Also, cotton is often stretched out when it is made into the thread clothes makers need to produce top quality clothes.

That stretching makes cotton vulnerable to shrinking and washing machines are more than willing to help out in that objective.

What Temperature Shrinks Cotton


The best way to avoid shrinking cotton clothing items is to make sure you do not wash them in water temperatures above cold. If you are looking for a specific temperature mark then you should keep the water below 85 degrees F if washing cotton clothes.

Warm water can affect cotton fibers and weaken them if it doesn’t actually shrink them. Also, you should hang dry cotton shirts, pants, etc. To keep them away from a hot dryer. Cold temperatures are the best way to make sure your cotton clothing lasts you for a long time.

Will Cotton Shrink at 40 Degrees

Normally, cotton will not shrink in water temperatures that are that low. But the issue here is if that temperature mark is F. or C. If it is the former then that is cold water temperature and your clothes should be fine.

If it is the latter then you are looking at a temperature level that is equivalent to 112 degrees F. Much too hot for cotton fabrics. Make sure you know what temperature gauge your washing machine and dryer sue when giving you the temperatures inside.

Staying aware will prevent you from making mistakes.

Cotton Fabric Shrinkage Percentage


The amount of shrinkage your cotton clothes receive will depend on the type of cotton fibers used and how good of quality they are. Some people have reported seeing only a 1 to 3% shrinkage rate.

Others have made 55 for length and 1% for width m=when making cotton quilts. But the dryer is the champion as it has been reported that cotton will shrink about 20% when placed in a hot dryer.

When buying or making your cotton items you need to add extra fabric to your calculations to make up for any shrinkage that may take place. Pre-wash the fabric before you begin sewing.

How Much Does Cotton Fabric Shrink When Washed

Like the above section, cotton will shrink in different increments due to the type of fibers your cotton items are constructed from. The quality of those fibers will also play a role in how much size you lose when washing or drying cotton items.

You can lose about 1/4 of the shirt’s or pants’ size when you use bad cleaning techniques to clean cotton clothing. That is only good when you have successfully taken pounds off when you were on your last diet.

Shrinking your cotton clothes on purpose can help extend the life of your clothes and save you a little money when you have slimmed down.

Will Cotton Shrink Every Time You Wash It


The good news is that cotton does not shrink every time you wash it. If it did, manufacturers may stop making polyester and other fabrics as they would make a ton of money selling cotton clothes.

Usually cotton only shrinks once and then it i=remains that size until it wears out or gets torn. But that does not mean you get to use high dryer heat after every wash. Use cold water for washing and cool dryer temperatures if you do not want to hang dry your cotton clothes.

A good cleaning process helps preserve your clothes and keeps them looking sharp.

When Does Cotton Stop Shrinking

Fortunately, cotton is not like wool. The latter material does shrink a lot and almost every time you wash it if you do not follow correct cleaning procedures. Cotton usually only shrinks once and that is if it hasn’t been pre-washed.

Pre-washing is essential if you want your cotton outfits to last you a long time. Sometimes clothing manufacturers pre-wash their apparel and sometimes they do not. Check the label to make sure if that has been done or not.

When buying fabric for sewing your clothes, always pre-wash the cotton material.

Shrink Cotton Clothes Without a Dryer

It is possible to shrink cotton clothing without letting your dryer have a hand in the process. There are a few simple steps to follow to get the job done right without ruining the cotton clothing.

  • Step 1- Put your cotton item in the washing machine by itself and add detergent. Follow the directions on the detergent box.
  • Step 2 - Now set your cycle dial to small to make sure you use less water.
  • Step 3 - Turn the temperature dial to either warm or hot, whichever is the highest temperature setting possible.
  • Step 4 - Set your dial to indicate that you are washing cotton and do not use the permanent press option.
  • Step 5 - After that, set your dial for the longest amount of washing time possible. The longer the item is in hot water the faster it will shrink.
  • Step 6 - Start your washer and wait.
  • Step 7 - Once the washing is done, use your iron on the highest heat setting to further the shrinking process. And you are done.

How to Get Cotton Jeans to Shrink

There are a lot of different methods you can use to shrink your denim jeans. Some are quite inventive. Use these methods on 100% cotton denim jeans or you may ruin them if you don’t. Here are those ways:

  • 1. Place them in a pot of boiling water but make sure to turn them inside out first.
  • 2. Take a hot bath without taking your jeans off. About 30 minutes will do it and keep them on for about 10 minutes after your bath to help them form to your body.
  • ​3. Use high dryer heat.
  • ​4. Use fabric softener, water, and a dryer. About 1/4 softener mixed with 3/4 water, spray the areas you want to be shrunk and then toss them in the dryer on high till dry.
  • ​5. use your iron on high heat.
  • ​6. alter the inseam and make them tighter through sewing.
  • 7. Wash and dry using hot temperatures.

Shrinking Cotton Shirt or Sweater

You can use some of the methods described in shrinking your jeans for sweaters and shirts. A hot pot of water on the stove always does the trick. Boil for about 25 minutes.

Use your washer and dryer set on high heat to do the trick. Next, you can soak the sweater or shirt in hot water for about 5 minutes, then use your iron on high heat to help shrink it.

Or you can do it the best way that avoids shrinking it too far where it can’t be worn again. Sew in some alterations to make sure the sweater or shirt fits perfectly.

Shrinking Cotton Pants


Hot water always does the trick. To say in full control of the shrinking process using hot water, you can boil the pants in a pot over your stove. Once the pants are inside, turn the heat off and let the water cool while still soaking the pants.

This process should go on for about 5 to 20 minutes. After this is done, you can hang dry them or put them in the dryer to get them dried fast. Or you can soak them in warm water for 6 to 8 hours but it is not wise to do this with bright colored clothing.

Finally, there is the tried and true method of using your washer and dryer. Cotton pants, if they have not been pre-washed should shrink once they are put through this process the first time.

Does Cotton Fabric Need to be Washed Before Sewing?

Not necessarily. You can sew cotton fabric and create beautiful cotton clothes, blankets and so on but you run the risk of them being ruined if you wash and dry them.

It is best if you wash your cotton fabric before sewing. That way you can get accurate measurements and have your clothes fitting just right when you are done sewing.

Cotton only shrinks once so it is smart to get that out of the way before you spend a lot of time sewing your clothes or the clothes you want your family to wear. Once the initial shrinking is over, your cotton clothes should be safe to wear for years.

How to Shrink Cotton Fabric Before Sewing


The fastest and easiest way to get this activity done is to use your washer and dryer. Just keep in mind the amount of shrinkage that takes place when using those machines.

When you use your washer and dryer make sure to have more than enough yardage on the fabric before you start. If you don’t you may run short of pre-washed fabric and run the risk of wasting your time and effort.

The percentages quoted above will help you figure out how much fabric you need to pre-wash at one time. Even if you shrink too much it is always better than shrinking too little.

Shrink Cotton and Polyester Blend

This is a little bit difficult to achieve since polyester thread is added to the cotton to prevent shrinkage from taking place. But that doesn’t mean you can’t shrink this fabric blend.

If the cotton and polyester clothing item is 80% cotton and 20% polyester, expect about a 3% shrinkage rate. To get these items to shrink, you will need the highest heat settings on both your washer and dryer to get the job done right.

For polyester, you will need water temperatures that exceed 176 degrees F to get the fibers to shrink some and then it may ruin the article of clothing you want smaller. How the clothes turn out depends on the quality of the fibers, etc.

Shrink Cotton and Spandex


It is easier to shrink cotton and spandex clothing items than it is to shrink polyester and cotton clothing. One of the best ways to get jeans made from 98% cotton and 2% spandex is to use a large pot of boiling water.

You need about 5 gallons to do the job right and once it is done, the jeans should shrink about 1 full size. You will need a large bucket to pour the water into then a broom handle to stir the combination of water and jeans.

When fully saturated, let the water cool with the jeans still inside the bucket of water. Once cooled move the jeans to the washer and use hot water for one cycle. Then place the jeans in the dryer for 20 minutes or till dry.

One good thing about shrinking spandex is that it shrinks in both directions at the same time. You will need the water to be above 180 degrees F. to get spandex to shrink.

Cotton vs Wool Shrink

One of the main differences between cotton and wool is that wool tends to shrink every time you wash it incorrectly. Cotton only does this trick once. Wool also only needs 3 things to get it to shrink.

Those 3 items are hot water, soap, and agitation. But another main difference and it is an important one is that you can usually get wool to return to its original size with a little work. Cotton can’t do that although it can be stretched some after shrinking.

One way to stretch wool socks if they are too small is to put them on your feet before they are totally dry. Wear the socks until they are dry and they should remain that size.

Some Final Words

We have answered almost all the questions we could think of about shrinking cotton. If we have not addressed your questions feel free to contact us and we will search for an answer for you.

Making sure all your questions are answered is important. Cotton is one of those fabrics that you have to be careful with when cleaning. While shrinking only happens once, it only takes one mistake to ruin a valuable, expensive piece of cotton clothing.

Just follow the cleaning instructions that come with your cotton clothing and you should be safe from shrinkage. Just remember that heat is not cotton’s best friend and you should always use cold temperatures to protect your cotton clothing.

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