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Does Polyester Shrink?

By ShirtSpace | Aug 23, 2019 |  Updated Jan 16, 2024

Shrunken laundry is a buzzkill. We’ve been there.! So, how can you tell which t-shirt materials will shrink and which ones will not? In this article, we clear up the confusion about this common question: Can you shrink polyester?

Hero image credit: Kwangmoozaa from Getty Images

Does Polyester Shrink?

When choosing what kind of material to print on and use, a lot of different factors come into play. Things like fit, color, durability, and printability are all major players. If you are like most of us, you probably also worry about whether the material you are choosing is going to shrink. Products that end up shrinking after your customers wash them are every decorator’s worst nightmare.

Polyester is a popular choice for fabric in t-shirts, sweatshirts, and other clothing items, but there is some debate about whether polyester shrinks or not. With that in mind, let’s go over the facts and help you decide if polyester is the right material for you.

What is Polyester?

A man and woman at the gym in Gildan performance wear t-shirts from ShirtSpace.
Shirts pictured: Gildan G420 in Sapphire, and G474 in Marbled Royal.

Polyester is frequently seen across a variety of niches. It is a man-made fabric that is made out of synthetic, polyester fibers. These polyester fibers are also known as a man-made polymer, and are created from a combination of crude oil and polyethylene terephthalate, or PET.

Polyester fibers are lightweight and durable. They are easily dyed and are resistant to chemicals. Polyester fabric is efficient because it dries easily and quickly. Because of this, polyester is extremely popular in the sporting and outdoor world. Polyester is also smooth to the touch, which makes it extremely comfortable to wear, and thus also popular in other categories. It’s also naturally wrinkle-resistant, and many fabrications have cool features like UV-resistance and antimicrobial properties. Some of our favorite polyester tees are the Port & Company PC380, the Gildan G420, and the Team 365 TT11

The Science Behind Polyester Shrinkage

Polymers before they are transformed into various forms of plastic, including polyester clothing.
Image Credit: RecycleMan from Getty Images

To provide the answer to the question, “Does poly shrink?”, we first must understand the science behind polyester as a fabric and what happens when it’s exposed to heat and moisture during the laundry process. Since polyester is considered a thermoplastic, it can be melted and reformed using extreme heat. Excessive heat can be harmful, though, either resulting in scorching or melting the fabric (caused when ironing or heat pressing on too high of a setting) or shrinkage (caused with too high of heat used during washing and drying). Mechanical agitation can also cause shrinkage in rare cases where the garment was aggressively manipulated in the machine.  

Will Polyester Shrink in the Dryer?

A woman taking a polyester t-shirt out of the dryer. 
Image credit: ภาพของAnuchit Kamsongmueang

So, does polyester shrink the dryer? And why or why not? Polyester does not shrink under normal circumstances. Because polyester is made of man-made polymer, which makes the fibers synthetic, the fabric is resistant to shrinkage. If you wash polyester fabric in hot water and then dry it on high heat, it may shrink some, but not a whole lot, if at all.

What About Polyester Blends?

What about polyester blends? Does polyester shrink when mixed with other fibers? Because polyester is resistant to shrinkage, it is often blended with other fabrics purposefully. By combining polyester and cotton, you get the best of both worlds from both fabrics. Polyester is typically seen in 60% cotton 40% polyester blend, a 50% cotton 50% polyester blend, or 65% polyester and 35% cotton blend (great for sublimation printing), but there are definitely outliers. When you combine cotton and polyester, you get a shirt that is comfortable, relatively inexpensive, and that is easy to care for. You will also find polyester in tri-blend fabrics. Versatile tri-blends tees are extremely soft and durable, but usually a bit more expensive. Polyester is also prevalent in dry blend and dry fit tees, which are popular for athletics and workwear.

What Are Polyester & Polyester Blend Fabrics Good For?

Polyester is an extremely important staple in the apparel industry. Polyester fabrics are an ideal choice for the sports and outdoor world because they do not hold moisture and are available in many dry-wicking options. Polyester blended fabrics are also a popular choice for screen printing and decorating because they hold prints well, are durable, more resistant to heat than 100% polyester, and are relatively low in cost. They are also a go-to fabrication for everyday wear because they are offered in many trendy styles at prices that brick and mortars can’t touch!

A woman wearing a red polyester athletic t-shirt while jogging.
Image credit: Pavel1964 from Getty Images.

Tips to Prevent Unwanted Polyester Shrinkage

Although polyester garments tend not to shrink much when made from 100% polyester, polyester blends need special care taken to prevent shrinkage. If blended with another synthetic material, such as spandex, then it will likely not shrink drastically, or perhaps even at all. But if you are working with a cotton/polyester blend then beware of shrinkage, and be sure you take the proper precautions while laundering. Also, be careful will triblends, since both cotton and rayon are prone to shrinkage. Follow these tips to properly wash and care for polyester clothing:

  • 100% POLYESTER: You can be less diligent with washing and drying practices than with cotton, but we still recommend that you follow these steps to best preserve your polyester garment:

    • If using any heat, use a warm temperature, versus hot, since polyester is susceptible to damage when exposed to high temperatures. 

    • Use the gentle cycle to prevent vigorous exposure that might warm the garment.

    • Air dry when possible, but if machine-drying is preferred, be sure to use a low or no-heat setting.

  • COTTON/POLY BLENDS & TRI-BLENDS: Due to the cotton and rayon on these popular t-shirt fabrications, we recommend being very careful with your laundry practices to avoid unwanted shrinkage. To best preserve the lifetime of your shirt:

    • Machine wash on cold.

    • Air dry when possible, or use the tumble dry low setting if machine-drying.

    • Look for pre-shrunk apparel styles, so that you do not have to worry as much about surprise shrinkage. 

How to Intentionally Shrink Polyester

So how can you shrink polyester, if you want to do so intentionally? You may find that it is a challenge to shrink 100% polyester very drastically, since polyester is a synthetic material that does not often shrink. If you are working with a polyester blend, then you will likely be able to achieve some shrinkage. If you are in a bind, and really want to attempt to shrink 100% polyester, then you can try washing and drying using the highest heat settings on your wash machine and dryer. Just be aware of the possibility that the polyester may be damaged due to the exposure to high temps, or you might not see great results, since polyester does not typically shrink a lot. Items like polyester hats and bags should not be washed and dried to attempt shrinkage, since the items will likely be warped and lose their integrity. 

Should You Try Polyester?

People playing tennis, including women wearing red tank tops, and men wearing the Sport-Tek ST350 Posicharge Competitor tees from ShirtSpace in the colors white and true red.
T-shirt pictured: Sport-Tek ST350 in both White and True Red.

After learning about all the benefits of polyester and polyester blended fabrics, you are probably wondering if you should give polyester a try. The answer is yes! You really can’t go wrong with this fabric, since size changes when washing and drying are such a minor concert, among its many other benefits! And after all, it is a nicely added bonus to say goodbye to unwanted shrinkage!

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homyclean11/15/2023 04:39 pm

Polyester truly seems like a game-changer in the fabric world! 🌟 The fact that it doesn't shrink under normal circumstances is a major relief for decorators and wearers alike. The blend options, especially with cotton, create a perfect combination of comfort, durability, and easy care. Plus, its popularity in sportswear and outdoor apparel speaks volumes about its moisture-wicking properties. I'm excited to explore polyester blends for my next project, especially after understanding their benefits. Bye-bye, shrinkage worries! I'm Sophia and CEO of Homyclean, and I love sharing my amazing cleaning, laundry, bathroom, and maintenance experiences with you. I'll share hassle-free methods and top-notch products for washing and cleaning, fueling your passion for cleanliness.


ShirtSpace11/15/2023 04:56 pm

Hi, Sophia. Thank you for reading our blog about polyester. Thanks for sharing your business experience as well as your thoughts. We appreciate it!


Sewing Brain09/25/2023 11:09 am

very informative blog about polyester blends shrinks. You can learn more about the shrinkage of 60/40 Cotton Polyester by checking out this informative article: It’s a great resource for getting a deeper understanding of how this blend behaves when it comes to shrinking.


ShirtSpace09/25/2023 03:10 pm

Hello! Thank you so much for reading our blog. This blog you shared about 60/40 cotton/poly and shrinkage is very interesting as well. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing this useful information.


louren roy09/06/2021 12:59 pm

Thanks for this info!! I have polyester clothing and was confused that whether polyester shrinks or not? Your blog helped me.


ShirtSpace10/18/2022 06:12 pm

Hi Louren! We are so excited to hear our blog helped clear up any confusion with polyester you may have had. Thank you for reading!


devid malan08/28/2021 11:35 am

Nice to read your blog, Polyester does not shrink under normal circumstances. Because polyester is made of man-made polymer, which makes the fibers synthetic, the fabric is resistant to shrinkage. If you wash polyester fabric in hot water and then dry it on high heat, it may shrink some, but not a whole lot.


ShirtSpace10/18/2022 06:13 pm

Hi Devid! Thank you for reading our blog and taking the time to comment!


letty 10/20/2020 04:23 pm

Is polyester and cotton good for winter coat like minus 20 degrees?


ShirtSpace08/17/2022 10:56 pm

Hello, Letty. The warmest material for very cold weather is wool. However, wool does a very poor job of repelling liquid. So if there is any moisture in the air (which there often is in extremely cold conditions), take that into consideration. This is why most outwear is made of a polyester or a poly blend material. Polyester is good at wicking moisture from the body and retaining heat, but it is not very breathable. This is why it’s often blended with other fabrics. May we suggest that when dressing for cold weather, your best bet is a layer up with different fabrics. Start with a long-sleeve cotton/poly blend t-shirt or sweatshirt for breathability against the skin, and layer with a polyester/poly blend pullover. Then wear a layer of wool, such as a sweater. Finally, finish off with your polyester dominant, water-resistant or waterproof outerwear. A wool scarf, hat and socks will help as well. Hoodies help keep your head insulated with an extra layer over your hat. We hope this helps you dress for frigid temperatures, stay warm out there!


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