Of course, there are a few things you should know if you want to avoid a disastrous “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” moment, so TODAY Style consulted the experts to help guide you along the way. Happy shrinking!
Over time, most (if not all) of our clothes will shrink naturally. Knowing why shrinkage occurs can help you both prevent and achieve it, depending on your sizing needs.
“Garments are put under stress/tension in manufacturing. In essence, shrinkage is the garment trying to go to its fully relaxed state when the fabric becomes wet,” Renae Fossum, a Procter & Gamble fabric care scientist, said.
In fabrics like cotton, rayon or bamboo, shrinkage occurs with the help of water and mechanical action. When you throw these clothes into the wash, their fibers absorb the moisture and swell up. These swollen fibers are more elastic and move to relieve the stress/tension caused by the mechanical action of washing, a process called “elastic shrinkage.”
If you lay your wet garment flat to dry after washing, no additional shrinkage will occur and the fibers in your clothing will de-swell and reform to their original size. However, if you machine dry the clothing, it can indeed shrink for good.
“When water is removed from the fiber with the help of mechanical action (i.e. tumbling), additional shrinkage called ‘drying shrinkage’ can occur,” Fossumsaid.
If a garment is going to naturally shrink, there's not much you can do about it, and most of that relaxation shrinkage will occur in one to three washings. In some cases, it can take five or 10 wash cycles for a garment to reach equilibrium or maximum shrinkage, though.
“In other words, a little shrinking happens with every wash until it reaches its lowest energy state and equilibrates. This is often why it seems like all of a sudden your clothes don’t fit anymore because the change is big enough that you now notice it,” Fossum said.
Sure, you could easily hire a tailor for clothing alterations, but that can get expensive. So it’s not surprising that many DIY divas take matters into their own hands. Trying to shrink your clothes on your own isn’t always ideal, though.
“By washing garments to try to shrink them, you can cause severe damage to the surface of the garment including pilling and unwanted proportions, so it’s not recommended to shrink clothes at home,” said Yvonne Johnson, director of product development and implementation at Cotton Incorporated.
That being said, if you're daring and want to go DIY, just make sure to use caution and try the following methods to shrink your clothes:
If you've ever Googled "How to shrink clothes," you've probably come across several videos suggesting the following DIY method: Pour boiling water over clothing in a sink and let the clothes sit until the water dries. While it sounds like a great, simple way to shrink clothing, it's not very effective.
"I have never tried that and would not recommend it. Less expensive dyes are used on some products and ... (this) may cause the product to bleed or run, especially if it's a darker color (deep red, navy and black)," said Sean Cormier, associate professor and assistant chair of the textile development and marketing department at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
No two pieces of clothing are created alike, and that means certain fabrics and materials respond differently to any shrinking attempts.
“Fabrics that are more open or loose construction (space between the yarns) are often more likely to shrink,” said Kristie Rhodes,product development and implementation at Cotton Incorporated.
Garments made with these natural and regenerated fibers are more likely to shrink, especially if they're made of knit material. "Knit fabrics such as T-shirts and sweaters will shrink more, but they also have more elasticity so they can regain their shape more easily than a woven fabric such as dress pants. A garment that has a lot of open space, like a knit, will be more likely to shrink than something like a woven which doesn’t have a lot of open space," Eggert said.
Garments made with these synthetic fibers won't likely shrink very easily. "Fibers such as polyester and nylon do not shrink due to some inherent properties such as being 'thermoplastic,' which means that it generally won't wrinkle or shrink," Cormier said.
Read those care labels! If your denim says "dry clean only," follow the directions. "Unwashed cotton jeans and other pants will shrink on the first wash. Always wash jeans in cold water and hang. If you need them to shrink a bit, throw them in a warm dryer," Chalfin said.
Wool will definitely shrink, but be wary: If you throw a bulky sweater into hot water, it may just fit a child afterward. "Wool shrinks more (easily) as these fibers have scales which entangle during the washing/drying process," Cormier said.
The material requires three key elements in order to shrink — heat, moisture and agitation — so if the care label on your wool sweater says "dry clean only," odds are it will shrink significantly if you attempt to wash it yourself. In general, Chalfin recommends a warm wash with wool sweaters. "They should be washed by hand then they can be stretched, or blocked on a towel and may achieve the result you want," she said.
Now that you know how to intentionally make your clothing smaller, you might be wondering: How do you avoid accidentally shrinking your wardrobe? While you can’t always prevent shrinkage, you can certainly try.
“Unfortunately, if a garment is going to shrink, and you wash it long enough, you will observe shrinkage. You can slow the process down, though,” Eggert said.
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Accidents happen, and if you mistakenly shrink your favorite T-shirt, for instance, you can occasionally reverse the damage. To "unshrink" a T-shirt, Rhodes recommends the following:
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