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Will 100% Cotton Shrink? How Much?

When you buy clothes that are 100% cotton the last thing you want is for them to shrink? You don’t want to wear them once and then not be able to wear them again.

That’s why it important to know how much will 100% cotton shrink as well as what you can do to avoid it from happening.

How Much Does 100% Cotton Shrink?

The answer to this one is tricky because it depends on whether the clothes were pre-shrunk before you bought them.

You may be surprised to know that most cotton items are purposely pre-shrunk when they’re made. This is done so that they stay close to their original size when you wash them.

Even when they’re pre-shrunk, your 100% cotton clothes could shrink up to 5%. If they’re not pre-shrunk, this can increase to 20%. That’s a big difference and could determine whether a piece of clothing fits you anymore.

What Does it Really Mean When Clothes are Pre-Shrunk? 

If you see pre-shrunk on the label, your clothing has gone through a process that includes a few things to make it happen.

The process can involve high heat, moisture, or agitating the fibers with a machine that reduces the spacing between the fibers. When these things are done they protect the garment from shrinking when you wash it.

As we said above, it’s not a guarantee that it won’t shrink it all. But, it does reduce the amount the cotton garment will shrink drastically.

Does 100% Cotton Shrink More Than Other Blends?

No matter what type of fabric you’re washing, the chances of it shrinking increase with higher temperatures. Since 100% cotton is not a blend it is more likely to shrink if it hasn’t been pre-shrunk.

To be safe, always read the tags to see if your garments have been pre-shrunk.

cotton clothes

Does Organic Cotton Shrink More than 100% Cotton?

Organic cotton isn’t any different, so you can expect the same as 100% cotton and the factors to consider about pre-shrunk items.

How Can I Avoid Cotton Shrinkage?

Since there’s a chance that your 100% cotton will shrink some, many people want to know what they can do to avoid it from happening. Here are some simple tips:

Use the appropriate washing machine settings

Choose a low temperature or a cold setting to minimize cotton shrinkage. You can also use the gentle cycle and a soft detergent. Also, using the delicate cycle will minimize the heat and protect your 100% cotton items from shrinking.

Hand wash your clothes

If you really want to avoid your 100% cotton clothes from shrinking, use a very mild detergent and wash your clothes by hand. Use a very mild detergent and cool water as you lightly scrub and soak the clothes in the water.

Usually, five minutes is enough for normal washes while you may need up to 30 minutes for really dirty clothes. Once they’ve soaked, you can rinse them in cool water.

Tumble dry on low only


Since the dryer uses high levels of heat, it makes sense to tumble dry on low to avoid 100% cotton from shrinking. When your clothes are spinning in a hot dryer, the fibers are constricting, leaving you with shrunken clothing.

Air dry

If you want to avoid shrinkage in the dryer all together you can air-dry your items. You can do this whether they’ve been in the washing machine or you’ve washed them by hand.

Put your clothes on a clothes rack inside or on a clothesline outside in direct sunlight. If you’re worried your garments will lose their shape, use hangers.

What Can I Do to Shrink Cotton on Purpose?

While many of us try to avoid our 100% cotton items from shrinking, others try to shrink their items on purpose.

They may have lost weight and are now left with clothes that don’t fit them or they may have clothes that they can’t return and need to shrink.

If you’re trying to shrink cotton on purpose, it’s important to know that it may not work if the items have been pre-shrunk. Read the label ahead of time to make sure.

But, if they haven’t been pre-shrunk you can try this process:

  • Boil a large pot of water
  • Put the item in the pot and stir to completely soak the item
  • Let it soak for about five minutes
  • Take the item out and put it in the dryer
  • Tumble dry at the highest possible setting

This process can shrink your clothes up to two sizes. There’s a chance you may lose some color or they may bleed. Don’t put in more than one item at a time.

To minimize losing color, add some white vinegar to the water. While this may not completely avoid the problem, it can increase your chances of keeping your colors bright.

If you don’t want to shrink your clothes up to two sizes, let your boiled water sit for about five minutes before adding your clothing in.

On the other hand, if your clothes haven’t shrunk enough, repeat the process until you get the size you want. If your cotton has shrunk but not enough, repeat the above process until you achieve your desired size.

Can I Unshrink My Cotton Products?

If your clothes have shrunk and you want to try to get them back to their perfect size, you can try this process. 

  • Fill a bucket with lukewarm water. Your sink will work too.
  • Add two tablespoons of baby shampoo.
  • Add the clothing you want to unshrunk.
  • Soak for 30 minutes.
  • Drain the bucket and gently squeeze out the water.
  • Lay the clothing on a towel.
  • Gently stretch it to reshape it to the correct size.
  • Check to see how it’s stretched. You may need to stretch it every couple of hours as it dries.

Remember, this may not work for all products and it will depend on just how much they shrunk.

The Bottom Line

The main thing to remember about 100% cotton is that it will shrink greatly if the garment hasn’t been pre-shrunk. That’s why you always want to read the labels.

Also, if you want to try to unshrink a piece of clothing, there is a way to do it, although it’s uncertain how successful you’ll be.

In the end, buy pre-shrunk and watch how you’re washing your clothes. This will help keep them true to size and help them to last a long time.