What Fabrics Shrink vs What Fabric Doesn’t Shrink (The List)

This may be a long list for one category over the other as most fabrics do shrink in some way. While many fabrics are treated to resist shrinking, those treatments are not given to all the fabrics all the time. It is hit and miss on which materials are treated to prevent shrinking and which are not.

Any fabric list that names materials that shrink will begin with all the natural fabrics you can buy. Cotton, silk, linen, wool are usually at the top of everyone’s list. The fabrics that resist shrinking will be the many synthetic ones you can buy like polyester and nylon. But that is under normal conditions only.

To learn more about which fabrics shrink and which ones do not, just continue to read our article. It has as many names as possible without listing every cotton, or wool variety. Most cotton materials will shrink at some point.

Do All Fabrics Shrink?

The best answer that can be given here is that not all fabrics shrink. Some would need special circumstances to get them to shrink. Like polyester is made to resist shrinking but if you wash it in hot water and dry it in high dryer heat, then you may see some shrinkage take place.

Natural fibers like silk, cotton, wool, and linen will shrink on you if you use the wrong water temperature. That is why it is best to pre-wash all your natural fabrics before you start your sewing project. Once you get the shrinkage out of your fabric your project should turn out better.

What Fabrics Shrink


The first place to look for shrinking material is the natural fiber category. These fibers will shrink when washed improperly. They may also shrink at your dry cleaners if they are not very good at their profession.

Cotton, wool, silk, and linen will shrink on you in the wash. hemp will also shrink on you and it is prone to shrinking at the dry cleaners. The reason that natural fibers shrink more than synthetic ones is that they absorb more water than the latter fabrics.

That absorption rate can weaken the fibers and have them lose their strength while wet. Even wool that insulates when it is wet can suffer badly if washed improperly. Generally, you want to wash natural fibers in cold water or hand wash them with gentle soap.

Why Does Fabric Shrink When Washed?

Shrinking is defined as a ‘change in clothing measurements or dimensions’ and that change is for the worse. That means your clothing will come out of the laundry smaller than it went in. That loss of fabric may not just be in the length of the material.

The basic answer to the question is that heat causes the fibers to relax too much and lose their shape. Combine that with their absorption rate you will have clothes end up smaller than you want them to be.

All the fibers are doing when they shrink is returning to their natural length. many fibers are stretched out to make the sweater, or blouse, etc. That stretching is unnatural which means that when they relax, they go smaller.

Which Fabric Shrinks The Most in The Wash


You may have trouble with elastic type material like spandex and nylon. They tend to shrink when the heat is applied. But so do many natural fibers. It is hard to say which fabric shrinks the most in the wash as the shrink rate depends on several factors.

One factor is if the fibers have been stretched or not and another one is if you accidentally used hot water instead of warm, cool, or cold. But generally, it will be the natural fibers that shrink in the wash the most. They have a tendency to not resist this aspect of laundry and warm or hot temperatures can alter their fiber composition.

This will happen more often unless the material has not already been preshrunk by the manufacturer or you forget to pre-wash the material before you start sewing.

What Fabrics Shrink in the Wash?

The usual suspects are cotton, silk, wool, linen, and hemp. You may find that rayon, bamboo, and other in between fabrics may also shrink in the wash. The water temperature is the usual culprit and when it gets too hot, the fibers cannot stand the heat and want to get away from it.

Another cause of shrinkage will be the friction caused by the agitator. That friction also harms fabrics helping them return to their normal size prior to being stretched. It is hard to shrink synthetic materials in the wash as they are made to resist that aspect of laundry.

If the clothes have been treated with chemicals then even natural fibers may resist shrinking.

Why Fabrics Shrink in the Dryer?


The same reasons that apply to the washer also apply to the dryer. First, there is the problem of heat. being in such a small area the heat of the dryer can feel exaggerated and cause the fibers to shrivel up.

Even the synthetic fibers when taken from hot water and put in a hot dryer can shrink some. The other reason would be the friction the materials feel as they tumble around waiting for the cycle to end.

Heat is the biggest concern you will have when it comes to cleaning your clothes. it is not a guaranteed fact that all-natural fibers will be treated to resist shrinking. You have to check the labels to see if they have or not.

What Material Shrinks in the Dryer?

The dryer is not a safe haven for most fabrics. Cotton can shrink up to 20% when placed in an appliance that gets too hot. Wool, hemp, and other natural fibers are not very good at retaining their shape and size when facing hot dryer heat.

Rayon, viscose, and other in-between fabrics also have a hard time in the dryer. Even polyester doesn’t like heat. But it may melt on you more than it will shrink. Plastic materials are not known for shrinking. Rather they are known for melting.

The tumbling doesn’t help either and contributes to the loss of size and shape. But different materials will react in different ways when they come in contact with dryer heat. that is why many labels say do not dry in the dryer but hang dry the items once they are washed.

Does Fabric Shrink Over Time?


Yes, they can. This answer is for almost all fabrics. The abuse the fibers take during the process of being made into a nice fabric tends to stress those fibers and stretch them out.

All shrinking does is show you that those fibers have found a way to get back to their normal size. Or what is known as their fully relaxed state. This process will take place in both synthetic, in between, and natural fabrics.

One way to avoid shrinkage is to lay the clothing items out flat and let them air dry. If they shrink a little then you would have to use one of the many different stretching methods to get them back to their clothing size.

What Fabric Shrinks The Least

Polyester, nylon, and other synthetic materials do not shrink that much. They are designed to resist shrinking and lots of chemicals are used to prevent that action from taking place.

You do have to be careful about applying heat to synthetic fibers. The heat can overcome those chemicals and the synthetic fibers will shrink. Avoid drying these materials in the dryer as that heat level will alter the synthetic fibers at some point. It may not happen the first or second time but it will happen eventually.

You may find some in-between fabrics that will not shrink quickly but that too will be due to the many chemicals used to create those fabrics. Then sometimes the reverse is true, and those fabrics shrink very quickly in the washer or the dryer.

Fabrics That Don't Shrink


The list is short and limited to synthetic fibers. Polyester, acetate, acrylic, nylon, and other man-made fibers should not shrink. We say should not as all fabrics will shrink eventually or someone makes a mistake and applies high heat to them.

But generally, man-made fibers are treated in such a way that shrinking is not part of their make up. But the problem with defeating shrinking is that you get clothing material that does not breathe very well.

So you are trading one problem for another. You go with what is important to you and if the weather is cold the trade-off looks like a smart move.

Does Stretch Fabric Shrink?

It is possible and some people have found that knit fabrics shrink more than woven ones do. Nylon is a bit stretchy so it can shrink somewhat if washed and dried under high heat. But normal conditions do not make nylon shrink.

Normally, spandex does not shrink unless it is blended with another fabric that does have the ability to lose its size and shape. That brings us to a topic we have not mentioned prior to this section.

You may find that natural fibers may not shrink when blended with man-made ones. That is one reason that blends exist. the stronger characteristics in both fabrics tend to overshadow and overcome any weaknesses both have.

That means that natural fibers may not shrink on you if they are blended in the appropriate amounts.

Is it Possible to Unshrink Clothes?


Technically, no you cannot unshrink clothes. The term unshrink is misleading as it really refers to stretching the clothes back to their normal shape. There are many fabrics, almost all the natural ones, that can be stretched back into their proper shape.

The stretching methods are varied and depend on where you need the added size. Stretching the length is the easiest option as you do not have to put on wet clothes to get the material back to its original length.

The good news is you get to choose how you will stretch or unshrink those clothing items that shrank. You just have to find the right method to use for the fabric that has shrunk on you. Plus, you should be gentle as you can damage some of the fibers if you are not careful.

How do You Reverse the Shrinkage of Fabric?

There are many different methods you can apply and which one you choose to use depends on where the shrinkage took place. If you lost size but not length then the best method is to wet the clothing item and wear them around the house till they have dried.

Another method would be to put your tight clothing items on and do a lot of stretching exercises. Not only do you get fit, but your clothes should stretch out a little. being healthy may help you meet your clothing halfway. You lose inches and it gains a size or so.

That way you look better without having to do a lot of work on stretching your clothing. If you lose length size, then wet the item and gently pull the clothing in the direction you want to make it longer.

Does Ironing Unshrink Clothes?


Technically, again with that word, you cannot unshrink clothes by ironing them. But you can use your steam function on your iron and get those fibers relaxed enough to the point they can be stretched. Then pull on the fabric gently to get it back to its original size.

The problem with using steam is that the temperatures of that steam may be too hot for most fabrics to handle. You may end up damaging the material further so you have to use your best judgment when using this option.

The heat of the iron may also relax the fibers somewhat allowing you to also pull gently where you need the original size returned. Play this option by ear and see what works best for you.

Fabric That Shrinks With Electricity

Normal fabrics do not shrink when it comes in contact with electricity. Cotton certainly doesn’t and neither do other natural fibers. It is hard to say with man-made fabrics but the general rule of thumb is that they do not.

There are scientific materials that may shrink when electricity is applied to them but those materials are not for the general public. They are usually reserved for the science lab or used as special equipment.

There are materials that shrink when heated and many have been applied to automotive parts and uses. But these do not shrink when electricity is applied to them. Clothing may create static electricity and that element may alter how the dress or blouse drapes but the static electricity does not shrink the material.

Fabric Shrinkage Percentage


Cotton can shrink up to 20% when it is placed into hot water or high dryer heat. But it is hard to say for every fabric how much they will shrink. Since man-made materials are treated to prevent shrinking their percentage of loss is a lot less than natural fibers.

Some cotton materials may only shrink between 3 and 10% while synthetics will only go as much as 4 to 8%. rayon is 10% as is labor cloth. It is hard to say as the wave style and quality of the fabric play an important role here.

To calculate the shrink rate all you have to do is the measure. If the dress, etc., is 1/8 of an inch shorter that means it shrunk by 1%; if it shrinks 3/8 of an inch then the material is said to have shrunk 3% and on it goes.

How is Fabric Shrinkage Calculated?

The shrink rate is calculated by the number of inches lost. As you can see by the previous section it is the 1/8 inch mark that determines percentage. If you lose 5/8 of an inch after washing your material, you lost 5% of the fabric.

The calculation is easy and all you need to determine the percentage of loss is to have a good ruler or tape measure on hand. This calculation should also apply to the width of the material as well.

As long as you know the original measurements of your garments, then you should not have any trouble figuring out how much material is gone.

Some Final Words

Sadly, at some point in time, almost all fabrics will shrink. Whether it is done by the washer, dryer, or over time, it will happen. The good news is that if you shrink cotton once, it should not shrink again.

Man-made fibers resist shrinking but if you place them under heat, they tend to lose their original size and shape as well. Natural fibers are the worst of the lot.

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