Why Shirts and T-Shirts Shrink?

Wonder why your shirts and T-shirts shrink? Here's an in depth look into your shirts and how you can prevent it.

Why Shirts And T Shirts Shrink Why Shirts And T Shirts Shrink?

Even if your T-shirts and shirts are priced above RM300, here’s a fact that you should know:

ALL t-shirts and shirts shrink after laundering.

There were times when my new t-shirts became shorter and wider after the first wash. I didn’t know why it happened back then, and like most people, I’d automatically attribute the shrinking to the poor quality of the shirts.

Captain America Shirt Shrink Why Shirts And T Shirts Shrink?

Well, “poor quality” can cause any problem. So what exactly causes the shrinkage?

The answer lies in the material of your shirts: Cotton.

Cotton Natural Form Why Shirts And T Shirts Shrink?

Raw cotton balls, in its natural form.

Why Cotton Shrinks?

A cotton shirt is made of a large piece of cotton cloth, and a cotton cloth is made of thousands and millions of cotton threads woven together. Cotton threads are created by extracting the raw cotton balls from the cotton plants, and then processed and braided into threads.

Here’s how it’s made, in 10 minutes:

(You may have noticed the second video is about polyester, but cotton fabrics are also made in the same way. You get the idea.)

Did you see how the threads are being stretched and pulled through out the process?
The stretching and pulling add tension to the cotton fibres.

When put into water, cotton fibres absorb the water and swell, causing the mechanical tension to be released. When the fibres are eventually dried, they will return to their natural “fluffy” and relaxed form.

This natural phenomena still happen even after they have been washed multiple times during the manufacturing process.

Cotton Fibre Before Shrinkage Why Shirts And T Shirts Shrink?

Magnified cotton threads on a cotton cloth. Before Wash

Cotton Fibre After Shrinkage Why Shirts And T Shirts Shrink?

Cotton threads, after Wash

Notice how the cotton threads became rounder and shorter after wash?

As the cotton fibres become “fatter” and closer to each other due to the increased volume and reduced stress, your shirts become shorter and wider.

How to Prevent Shrinkage?

Textile manufacturers know that it is impossible to prevent shrinkage on cotton, so Sanforization was invented to shrink the cotton cloth before they’re made into clothes.

Sanforization helps to minimize the effect of the shrinkage by further stretching, washing and shrinking the cotton cloth multiple times until it can no longer shrink as much.

Most of the time, premium priced garments are made of sanforized cotton cloth. (They still shrink, but not that much.)

Cotton fabrics that undergo Sanforization will only shrink less than 1%, while those that don’t will shrink up to 10%.

The best way to free yourself from shirt shrinking problem is by avoiding it:

  • Buy clothes that are sanforized or preshrunk.
    You can check that by referring to the tag or ask the sales person.

    Preshrunk Cotton Tag Why Shirts And T Shirts Shrink?

    The “100% Combed Cotton Preshrunk” Tag

  • Buy shirts made of cotton blends
    Cotton blends means a blend of cotton and polyester or other materials. Less cotton = less shrinkage.

If you love 100% cotton shirts, or you’ve already invested in a lot of them, pay attention to your shirts when you’re washing and drying them:

  • Always read and follow the care label on the shirts!
    The care label is always right. A lot of people carelessly miss this.
  • Use cold water and NEVER use warm or hot water.
  • Avoid heat when drying
    Avoid drying under the sun or hot dryer. Opt for drip-drying and air-drying under room temperature.


Personally I think it’s rather troublesome to preserve cotton shirts and T-shirts. But, I do believe the comfort that the 100% cotton brings worth that extra effort. 🙂

Hope you find this post helpful.

Source: Image 1, Raw Cotton, Last