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How to Prevent Your Clothes from Shrinking in the Dryer

How to Prevent Your Clothes from Shrinking in the Dryer

Daughter helping turn on the washing machine

They’re soft, stretchy, and heavenly. You love everything about your favorite pair of pants — except for that fresh ketchup stain. So, you throw your pants in the washer and dryer. A few hours later, you come back to a tragic scene. 

The dryer shrunk your precious pants! They’re small enough to fit a teddy bear. While the teddy bear can get away with not wearing pants, you can’t. Luckily, there are ways you can prevent your clothes from shrinking in the dryer.

Why Do Clothes Shrink in the Dryer? 

Your dryer doesn’t shrink your clothes to mess with you, though it may seem like it does. Certain materials are naturally prone to shrinkage. Why? — mainly due to heat and agitation. 

When you toss your wet clothes into the dryer and use the high heat and aggressive tumbling that’s typical in a regular dry cycle, the fibers in the fabric get agitated and wiggle closer together. As they cool down, they stay shrunken, causing your clothes to become smaller in size.

What Fabric Shrinks the Most in the Dryer?

Certain fabrics are more prone to shrinking than others. Natural fibers like cotton, wool, and linen have a higher tendency to shrink because their fibers can tighten and constrict when exposed to heat. On the other hand, synthetic fabrics such as polyester and nylon are less likely to become smaller in size since their fibers are more resistant to heat-induced changes.

1. Read the Care Label 

Following directions may seem boring and unnecessary…until you’re squeezing into those toddler-sized pants you just pulled from the dryer. Take a minute to check your clothes’ care labels and understand the laundry symbols on them before dumping your hamper into the wash. Keeping your clothes from shrinking might be as easy as turning down the heat setting on your dryer — but there’s no way of knowing until you check the tags! 

2. Use Cold Water When Washing

Prevention starts with the wash cycle. Cold water may not only help prevent your clothes from fading, but it may also reduce fabric shrinkage! This is because cooler temps are less likely to cause the fibers to tighten, keeping your clothes closer to their original size. 

Cold water washing also has other benefits. By opting for cooler temps, you can reduce energy usage and get your clothes just as clean as hot water washing. Many detergents are specially made for cold washing. 

3. Choose the “Air Fluff” or “Tumble” Setting 

Newer washer/dryer sets come with a variety of convenient functionalities that let you do laundry on your own terms. For example, the Amana 3.5 Cu. Ft. Top-Load Washer and 6.5 Cu. Ft. Electric Dryer, has multiple dry cycles that make it easy to customize settings like dryer temperature and speed. Some dryers come with a “Tumble,” “Spin,” or “Air Dry” setting, which uses motion instead of heat to dry your clothes, helping to prevent the fiber damage that leads to shrinkage.


A white Amana washer and dryer set from Rent-A-Center.Amana 3.5 Cu. Ft. Top-Load Washer and 6.5 Cu. Ft. Electric Dryer

Got powerful smells and stains? This Amana laundry set is tough on dirt and gentle on delicate fabrics

  • 11 Dryer Cycles
  • Dual Action Agitator
  • 8 Washer Cycles


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4. Don’t Overdry Your Clothes 


If you don’t have a high-efficiency dryer like the Amana 6.5 Cu. Ft. Electric Dryer with Automatic Dryness Control, you may not have “Automatic Dry,” which shuts the appliance off once the clothes are dry. This not only saves energy, but it also saves your clothes from unnecessary heat exposure.


Even if your dryer doesn’t shut down automatically, you can still dry your clothes in short intervals, checking for dampness after each cycle instead of turning to the longest setting and letting the machine time out on its own.


Whirlpool 4.8 Cu. Ft. Top-Load Washer and 7.4 Cu. Ft. Electric DryerWhirlpool 4.8 Cu. Ft. Top-Load Washer and 7.4 Cu. Ft. Electric Dryer

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5. Use the Lowest Heat Setting 

Not all dryers have a tumble or air dry option, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have options. Simply turn your dryer’s temperature knob to “low heat.” If you can’t find that setting, select “delicate” or “gentle” instead. 

6. Consider Air Drying 

Doesn’t drying your linens on a backyard clothesline sound lovely? No? We get it. Air drying clothes isn’t super fast or super convenient, but it may be the best way to keep your delicates looking new. And if you want to go the extra mile, consider handwashing special garments as well. While the process may take a little more time and effort, doing so is one of the safest options when maintaining shape and preventing clothes shrinkage.

Plus, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, dryers are one of the most energy-guzzling appliances in American homes. Using your dryer less often could reduce your carbon footprint and your electricity bill. If you’re concerned about energy savings, you can also look at Energy Star-certified dryers, which use 20% less energy than competing models. 

7. Upgrade Your Current Washer/Dryer Set 

If you keep racking your brain over what’s ruining your favorite tees — take a look at your old washer and dryer set. Chances are they were designed for the clothes of their time, and haven’t adapted to modern trends and textiles like the ones in your closet. 

Additionally, older sets may not have certain features and functionalities to help prevent fabric shrinkage that newer models have. From automatic dryness control to various dry cycles, you want to find the best washer and dryer set to meet your needs.

How to Reverse Shrinking Clothes

So what do you do about clothes that have already shrunk? While this may not be possible for all materials, some fabrics can actually bounce back. To reverse clothes shrinkage, you’ll need to loosen the fibers and allow them to stretch back out. Here’s what to do:

  1. Soak: Place your garment in a small tub with lukewarm water and two tablespoons of hair conditioner. Allow it to soak for about 20 minutes. 
  2. Remove water: After soaking, remove water from the garment by gently wringing out the water with your hands. For excess water, lay the clothing item on a towel and roll it up into a burrito shape. 
  3. Reshape: Once the garment is mostly dry, unroll the towel and gently stretch the damp fabric back to its original size. Pay special attention to areas that have shrunk the most. 
  4. Air dry: Once you’ve reshaped the garment, lay it flat on a towel to dry. Reshape as needed.

This method works because the conditioner softens the fibers, making them more pliable and allowing them to stretch without breaking. With a little patience and care, you can rescue your favorite clothes from the grips of shrinkage and keep them looking great for a little while longer.

Upgrade Laundry Day at Rent-A-Center

Rather than buying new clothes to replace the shrunken ones, consider an upgrade with Rent-A-Center. You won’t have to pay full price upfront, and you’ll have flexible payment options. You don’t have to fret about breaking the bank for a new washer and dryer set! Visit your local Rent-A-Center for affordable options on rent-to-own appliances from Amana, Whirlpool, or Maytag. We have all styles and sizes of washers and dryers for sale! 

Whirlpool Washers and DryersMaytag Washers and Dryers

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