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How to Keep Cotton Clothes from Shrinking

By ShirtSpace | Aug 23, 2019 |  Updated Oct 24, 2023

With nearly 29 million tons produced each year, cotton is one of the most popular fabrics in the world. But there’s one issue most people face when dealing with it, and that’s unwanted shrinking.

We’ve all been there before. After a long day, you toss your clothes into the washing machine without giving the care instruction label a second thought. And then, after drying, you notice that your favorite cotton shirt is two sizes smaller than it was when you bought it. 

If this sounds like you, then you’re not alone. It’s happened to just about everybody, and it’s no doubt a frustrating experience. 

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel: With a little knowledge of basic cotton apparel care, you can avoid shrinkage and even unshrink your favorite clothing. 

Does 100% Cotton Shrink?

Cotton shrinks after the first wash due to the chemical tension that was applied to the fabric and yarn during its production. Because of that process, most cotton items will shrink from the heat and steam exposure often used for machine laundering. 

Icons illustration the production of cotton clothing and its chemical process.

Production of cotton clothing and its chemical process
Image source: Chemec Textile Guide

That’s why most care labels will tell you to wash on cold and dry on low. 

But there’s some good news when it comes to most cotton clothing. While 100% cotton clothing will shrink if you don’t wash it the right way, lower percentages of cotton may not shrink as much. 

So the next time you buy a cotton shirt, look at the label for the exact blend percentages. A good rule of thumb is that anything over 50% cotton will likely shrink at least a little bit, which is why preshrunk cotton or cotton blends are also popular choices. 

But if you’re one of the many who loves their 100% cotton, then there are steps you can take on how to prevent your clothes from shrinking. Shop our huge selection of 100% cotton shirts, preshrunk cotton tees and cotton blends to put this to the test!

Does Cotton Shrink in the Dryer? 

Cotton can shrink in the dryer. Cotton is a natural fiber that shrinks when exposed to heat, water, or agitation. When you dry cotton clothing in the dryer, the high heat can cause the fibers to shrink, resulting in a smaller garment. The amount of shrinkage depends on various factors, such as the quality of the cotton, the weave of the fabric, and the temperature and duration of the drying cycle.

To minimize shrinkage, it's best to wash and dry cotton clothing on a gentle or low heat setting, or air dry them instead. Plus, hanging your clothing on a clothesline to dry is environmentally friendly. It's also a good idea to check the care label on your cotton clothing to see if there are any specific instructions for washing and drying that pertain to that particular fabric.

How to Prevent Clothes from Shrinking

The easiest way to avoid unwanted shrinkage is to buy preshrunk cotton clothing, but preshrunk cotton isn’t always readily available in your favorite apparel. The next best thing you can do is adhere to the label’s care instructions. Most of us will admit that we don’t take the time to look at these labels, but when it comes to something as delicate as cotton, it’s wise to take the extra few seconds to do so. 

“When buying clothes, you should opt for quality cotton pieces that fit, and you should check the label and follow care instructions closely to keep your cotton items newer for longer,” says Suzanne Holmes of Cotton Incorporated. 

How to Prevent Cotton Shirts from Shrinking

The last thing anybody wants is for their brand-new cotton shirt to shrink after just one wash. Do not fret! ShirtSpace has a massive selection of pre-shrunk cotton apparel from hundreds of your top favorite brands, including tee shirts and more! By purchasing pre-shrunk tees and following the instructions on the label, you will help combat undesired shrinkage! 

You’ll usually see the following care instructions and labels on a 100% cotton t-shirt: 

Machine wash delicate or col visual

Machine wash delicate or cold

Tumble dry normal or low temperature Visual

Tumble dry normal or low temperature

do not dry clean visual

Do not dry clean

Do not iron or steam visual

Do not iron or do not steam

Image source:

Not everybody knows what all laundry care symbols mean, which is why it’s wise to know the basics before you throw in your next load of laundry. It can help you avoid a costly mistake!

But if you’ve already made the irreparable mistake of washing your cotton shirt the wrong way, and are now stuck with something way too small, then you can try to unshrink it. We are not the only ones who can promise this process will help revive a shrunken mistake! Wash Lava also has some tips and tricks to help you save some of your favorite mistakes!

Not everybody knows what all laundry care symbols mean, which is why it’s wise to know the basics before you throw in your next load of laundry. It can help you avoid a costly mistake!

But if you’ve already made the irreparable mistake of washing your cotton shirt the wrong way, and are now stuck with something way too small, then you can try to unshrink it. We are not the only ones who can promise this process will help revive a shrunken mistake! Wash Lava also has some tips and tricks to help you save some of your favorite mistakes! 

Can You Unshrink a Shirt?

If you accidentally shrunk your favorite cotton clothing, you don’t have to throw it away or give it to your younger sibling. Instead, you can unshrink it! 

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Gentle conditioner

  • Plastic bucket or a plugged up sink

  • A quart of water

  • Two large absorbent towels

  • Paperweights

  • Spray bottle (optional)

Before you begin, make sure to have all your supplies together, including the piece of clothing you want to unshrink.

How to Unshrink a Shirt

Step #1: Fill the Bucket

Blue bucket being filled with purple liquid

The first step to unshrinking your shirt is to fill the bucket with one tablespoon of gentle conditioner and a quart of water. The water can be cold or lukewarm, so you can take it directly from the tap in your bathtub. The conditioner is essential in this process since it will soften and relax the fabric, allowing the fibers to stretch out again.

Quick Tip: You can fill up the bucket as much as you’d like, but be sure that you add a tablespoon of conditioner for each quart.

Step #2: Soak the Cotton Shirt

White shirt being soaked in soapy water

When you’ve filled up the bucket with conditioner and a quart of water, soak your cotton t-shirt completely. You can move it around and mix it up for a couple of minutes, but make sure that you let it sit fully immersed for at least 30 minutes. 

Step #3: Lay and Roll Up the Shirt

White shirt laying in soapy water

Remove the shirt from the bucket. Although it may be tempting to wring the shirt when you take it out, leave it completely soaked. You want to be sure that the conditioner remains in the fibers for elasticity during the stretching process. Next, place the shirt on a large absorbent towel and roll it up with the shirt inside. Leave the shirt rolled up for about 15 minutes until it’s damp. 

Quick Tip: If the shirt becomes too dry, then spritz with a spray bottle to dampen it, and then move onto the next step. 

Step #4: Stretch The Shirt

Woman stretching out white shirt

Unroll the first towel and lay your second absorbent towel flat on a flat surface. Then, place your damp cotton shirt spread out on top. With a firm grip, gently tug at opposite sides of the shirt as if you’re stretching it. Do this carefully so that the shirt will remain proportionate while also stretching slightly. Use the paperweights to place on the edges of the clothing to ensure that it stays stretched out. Allow it to air dry until it’s ready to wear again!

How to Purposely Shrink Clothing

Sometimes you ordered a piece of clothing too large and want to shrink on purpose. This is a time when shrinkage can be a good thing! Follow these tips on how to intentionally shrink clothing to fit just right! 

How to Shrink a T-Shirt

To purposely shrink a t-shirt, wash it in hot water and dry it on high heat for several cycles. You can also use a hot iron to further shrink specific areas. Keep in mind that this may damage any embellishments or graphics on the shirt, and it's important to check the care label first.

How to Shrink a Sweatshirt

To shrink a sweatshirt, wash it in hot water and dry it on high heat. Check the care label first and be mindful of the fabric and construction. Repeat as needed, since the more times you complete this process, the more shrinkage that will likely occur. But also keep an eye on the sweatshirt to avoid over-shrinking or damage, as well as the fact that there is only so much the garment can possibly shrink.

Since fleece is often made from a cotton/poly blend, it will be more challenging to purposely shrink than a 100% cotton t-shirt would be. 

Shop Cotton Apparel at ShirtSpace

Cotton clothing is among the most comfortable and popular materials in the world, but taking care of this fragile fabric might intimidate many. Luckily, there are ways to prevent shrinkage or stretch out your favorite cotton shirts so that next time you go shopping, you can shop confidently.  

ShirtSpace has thousands of shirts, hats, sweatpants, and hoodies that are made up of 100% cotton, preshrunk cotton, or a breathable cotton blend—all at wholesale prices. Find your new favorite cotton apparel today!


wmlaundryseo07/31/2023 02:32 pm

great post


Tradeuno04/02/2022 10:39 am

Thank you, This is a very informative blog.


ShirtSpace10/12/2022 04:48 pm

Hi Tradeuno! Thank you for reading! We are so glad you found our blog informative!


Terry09/12/2021 10:51 am

What about after then first wash? Can you wash normally or will it shrink at any time when hot conditions are used?


ShirtSpace08/18/2022 05:05 pm

Hi, Terry! To answer your question about whether further shrinking will continuously occur with cotton garments beyond the first wash, unfortunately cotton will continue to shrink if it’s washed in hot water (even if it’s been washed in cold water a few times prior). Once a shirt has been shrunk due to exposure to heat (hot water and/or a high dryer temps), it can still shrink 1-2 more times if exposed further to heat cycles. This is why preshrunk cotton and cotton blend shirts are a great option for those worried about shrinkage. The fabric is often pre-laundered 1-3 times to avoid shrinking issues. The size you get will not drastically change, as some other cotton shirts tend to do. If you would like to browse our selection of preshrunk t-shirts, we have some available here: And we also have many more pre-shrunk options available if you search “pre-shrunk t-shirts” in the search bar of as well. At ShirtSpace, we understand the frustrations that come with a shrunken shirt that is unwearable. We hope this helps you manage your cotton t-shirts so that they stay true-to-size for a long life cycle. If you have any more questions, please feel free to reach out to our friendly Customer Service Team for further assistance.


louren roy09/06/2021 12:47 pm

Thanks for this information!! I was in confusion that cotton clothes shrink a little bit or 100% when we wash it for the first time and your blog is useful for me.


ShirtSpace10/12/2022 04:49 pm

Hi louren! We are so happy to hear you found this blog informative and useful. Thank you for reading!


kevinpietersen08/30/2021 06:18 am

We read your blog and it is very beautiful and the content is also good, you have well-described about the fabric and I liked it so thank you, Washing 100% cotton with cold water can purpose shrinkage so in case you need the cotton to be shriveled intentionally use natural water in any other case regular water is the best. While washing cotton withinside the machine, mild cycle and chemical-loose detergents are recommended? For heavy grimy clothes, you may use warm water. Cotton is a vegetable-primarily based totally fiber that comes from the seed pod of cotton plants. It is taken into consideration to be the workhorse of the material world.


Landon 12/04/2022 07:16 pm

You said while washing 100 percent cotton can purpose shirkange so in case you need the cotton to be shriveled intentionally use natural water what does this mean I thought cold water prevents your clothes from shrinking ?


ShirtSpace10/12/2022 05:04 pm

Hi kevinpietersen! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on our blog!


Phyllis Lieb Bienstock08/22/2021 03:32 am

What is a conditioner?


ShirtSpace08/18/2022 05:01 pm

Hi, Phyllis! Fabric conditioner is essentially the same thing as liquid fabric softener. Some brands, such as Downy, use the term “fabric conditioner” instead of softener. I will bring it up in a future meeting within the marketing department, mentioning that this wording is perhaps unclear and that we should include the term “fabric softener” within the article as well. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. If you have any more questions, please do not hesitate to ask our friendly Customer Service Team, who is always here to help!


mark07/20/2021 02:52 am

Hang shirt up in front of a fan, after washing.


ShirtSpace10/12/2022 04:55 pm

Hi Mark! Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment!


Donald Lanngren04/24/2021 05:37 pm

Thanks for the information


ShirtSpace10/12/2022 04:54 pm

Hi Donald! We are glad you found our blog informative! Thank you for reading!


Marren Mace04/24/2021 09:26 am

I love the quality of content on your blog. The images used gives a better understanding. Thank you for sharing.


ShirtSpace10/12/2022 04:53 pm

Hi Marren! Thank you so much for the positive feedback! Thank you for reading!


Brian03/12/2021 11:36 am

The heat that causes the most shrinkage comes from the washer not the dryer. The dryer causes shrinkage from all the tumbling which causes new fabrics to tighten up , hence shrinkage from the dryer. Thanks for the tip about un-shrinking.


ShirtSpace10/12/2022 04:52 pm

Hi Brian! We are happy to hear you found our tips useful. Thank you for reading!


Alan the domesticated Husband 07/04/2020 02:34 pm

I always buy quality brands like Polo Ralph Lauren. I always dry 100%cotton shirts on Ultra-low heat and put on a hanger immediately so it doesn’t wrinkle. The shirts are always slightly damp but if you immediately hang up to finish drying you don’t have to iron! If I have a cotton/polyester mix I never put them in the dryer. I hang to dry and wrinkles fall out.Remember high heat kills the color and shrinks the Fabric!


ShirtSpace10/12/2022 04:52 pm

Hi Alan! Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment!


Raymond March 01/07/2020 03:03 pm

The shrinking cotton clip was very Informative. Thank You for the opportunity to purchase quality clothing at a very affordable price.


ShirtSpace10/12/2022 04:51 pm

Hi Raymond! We are glad you found our clip informative! Thank you for reading!


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