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Does Hot Air Shrink Clothes?

When it comes to taking care of our clothes, it turns out only one third of us reads the information guide before washing. Still, it can be quite frustrating to get a new shirt or pair of pants and pull them from the dryer, only to find that they don’t look the same. More often than not, this is due to heat exposure.

Hot air does shrink clothes, but it depends on a few factors. Shrinkage can occur due to the absorption of water into the fabric and hot air to dry it out. Consider the type of fabric used. Natural fabrics, such as silk or wool, will always be susceptible to shrinkage and must be washed.

But what exactly causes this shrinkage? This article will go over how clothes shrink and the most common causes and prevent it from happening. We will also look at possible fixes and ways to avoid shrinkage in the future.

Does hot air shrink clothes

How Does Hot Air Make Clothes Shrink?

When clothes are made, the fabric is usually stretched out during the manufacturing process. This is done by manufacturers to save money and get as many items out of a piece of fabric. This tension in the fibers is released when exposed to heat, leaving the fabric to contract to its natural state. So when you run your new sweater through the hot dryer, chances are, it will come out a little tighter. 

Does Hot Water Affect the Shrinkage?

It isn’t just the hot air from the dryer to blame. A hot wash precedes the fabric’s time in the dryer. The fabric absorbs all of the moisture before going in the dryer. As the hot air dries out the fabric, it begins to contract. The danger here is that the fabric will not stop at its natural state, but rather keep shrinking.

On a hot setting that is set to run for a long time, the fabric inside the dryer will continue to dry out, beyond what you would need. The little strands that make up the fabric will begin to curl up, causing the item to come out smaller than before the wash. 

Does the Movement in the Dryer Affect the Shrinkage?

Another reason you might find your clothes have shrunk is the damage caused by the tumbling process. When you put your clothes into the dryer, it does not just blow hot air into the machine. The drum spins, often at a great speed, tumbling the clothes to allow the hot air to circulate evenly.

Though this allows for more effective and uniform drying, it can also further constrict the clothes’ fibers. The hot air mixed with the aggressive tumbling work together to pull out the moisture and further shrink the garment. 

What Can Be Done to Prevent Shrinkage?

Now that you understand how the clothes shrink let’s take a look at what can be done to prevent shrinkage.

Adjust the Water Temperature During the Wash

We’ve established that warmer temperatures are behind most of the shrinkage issues. Many people believe that they need to wash their clothes, such as sportswear, at a high temperature to get them clean. In reality, hot water can often do more harm than good. 

Some stains, such as blood or sweat, might set further into your clothes on a hot wash. Though some stains might require warmer water, many companies now provide detergents specifically designed to work in a cold wash. Unless you are washing an item to sanitize, for example, sheets after a cold, most washing machines will do the same job without hot water. 

Adjust the Temperature and Tumble Speed of the Dryer

You might be in the middle of a city or part of a large household and the dryer is your only option. That doesn’t mean you have to settle for shrinkage. 

The easiest way to prevent shrinkage when using a dryer is to adjust the heat to the lowest setting. Though the clothes will still be exposed to heat, it won’t be as intense and should protect your clothes to an extent. Of course, constant tumbling will affect the garment over time, but you should find that your clothes last a little longer in reducing the heat. 

Additionally, reducing the rate of the spin in the dryer will also help a great deal. This may be seen as an eco option or as a setting for delicates. But in slowing the spin down, the clothes will not be knocked around quite as much. Though it may take a little longer, you should find your clothes come out less damaged at a lower temperature with a gentler spin. 

Read the Labels on Your Garments

This step can save you heartache since manufacturers will tell you exactly how to care for their products. Whether they want you to wash only on cold, only with similar materials, or to only ever hand wash, they know what they’re talking about. 

When working with more natural fabrics, such as wool, you have to understand their delicacy. Cotton, linen, and wool are known to absorb water well. So imagine how a hot wash followed by a hot tumble dry could affect the fibers. 

If the label says to ‘hand-wash only, it’s smart to follow that guide wherever possible. However, that isn’t always feasible. In that case, a gentle, cold wash followed by air drying would be the best option. 

Know Your Materials

As you read above, knowing how to care for certain fabrics is important when looking to avoid shrinkage. But other options require a lot less work.

Synthetic blends, like polyester or nylon, absorb far less water during the wash. These tend to hold up to the heat far better and last longer. In contrast, silk is a very delicate fabric that can be damaged, not only by the heat of the dryer but by harsh laundry detergent.  

When selecting clothes, check the labels to see what they are made out of. This way, you will know ahead of time if you need to start hand washing certain items. 

Air Dry Whenever Possible 

Taking your wet clothes from the washer and throwing them right into the dryer is by far the easiest option. Push a button and walk away. So simple.

But as you have read so far, there are quite a few factors that cause shrinkage, chief amongst them is the heat. So to prevent shrinkage, opting to air dry is by far the best option. Not only is it better for the environment and can save you money on energy bills, but it is also better for your clothes in the long run.

Even when using a cold wash followed by low heat and gentle tumbling, your clothes are still being bashed around in the dryer. Over time, you will see the effects of constant tumbling, and your clothes will not last as long. By air drying, you are saving your clothes from the heat and damage caused in the dryer. 


Using hot air to dry your clothes is always going to be a time-saver. But the fact is that hot air can cause shrinkage. Add in a hot wash and harsh tumbling, and you might not fit into the new dress you only wore once. 

Still, many things can be done to help prevent this. From washing with cold water and reducing the heat in the dryer, to caring for different fabrics correctly, you can save your clothes and help them to last a little longer. 


  • Vincent Steele

    Vincent is a freelance writer based in Santa Ana, California. When he isn't writing articles for Temperature Master, he can be found biking or hanging out with his cat, Shelly.

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