Does Cotton Shrink When Washed In Cold Water?

Cotton is such a versatile material that you’ll be doing yourself a disservice by ignoring a guide like this. Then there’s also the question of whether or not cotton will shrink in cold water.

The simple answer is not entirely. And I’m sure you’ll want to know what more to do.

If you have cotton fabrics that are up for laundry, this guide explains what to look out for when washing them in cold water and how to wash them correctly.

What is cotton made of?

Does cotton shrink in cold water

Cotton is a soft, fluffy material made up of tiny fibers of a carbohydrate called cellulose. It is derived from the natural fibers of the cotton plant, which is a shrub native to tropical and subtropical regions around the world.

These fibers are spun into thread, which is then used to weave or knit fabric. The finished fabric can be used for various purposes, including clothing, upholstery, and linens.

Cotton is a popular choice for clothing because it is soft, comfortable, and durable. It is also inexpensive and easy to care for. Another good side to it is that cotton clothes can be machine-washed and tumble-dried.

Does cotton shrink in cold water?

Yes, it does.

However, not as much as it would in hot water. When you wash your cotton fabric in cold water, it can cause the fibers to contract and become smaller. The effect of this is that your clothes may become tighter and feel uncomfortable. 

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Why does cotton shrink in cold water?

Cotton shrinks in cold water because of how its fiber contracts.

Remember I said earlier that cotton is made of tiny fibers? Yes, when you expose cotton to cold, these fibers contract. However, shrinkage can also happen when your fabric is dry.

Common factors contributing to how much shrinkage happens to a cotton fabric include.

The type of cotton used

There are many different types of cotton, and they all have different shrinkage rates. For example, Pima cotton has a very low shrinkage rate and of very high quality similar to Egyptian cotton.

How the cotton was weaved

The tighter the weave, the less shrinkage you’ll see. So, a fabric like denim, which has a very tight weave, will not shrink as much as a fabric like cheesecloth, which has a loose weave.

Also, heavier fabrics like denim or canvas are less likely to shrink than lighter fabrics like voile or muslin.

If it was pre-shrunk or not

Some kinds of cotton are pre-shrunk, which means they’ve been treated so that they won’t shrink when you wash them. If you’re unsure if your fabric has been pre-shrunk, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and assume it hasn’t been.

How you wash it 

Washing in cold water will obviously result in less shrinkage than washing in hot water. But even washing in cold water can cause shrinkage, especially if you machine wash and dry your fabric.

Hand washing is always best, but if you must machine wash, use the delicate cycle and air dry your fabric if possible.

Overall, this is why it’s always necessary to follow the wash instructions on your fabric. If the manufacturer says to wash in cold water and not tumble dry on low heat, do likewise to minimize shrinkage.

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Is it bad to wash cotton in cold water?

No, it isn’t.

The reason is that cotton is a natural fiber, and cold water can help to preserve the shape and color of your cotton garments. In addition, cold water can help to reduce shrinkage and fading.

Is it better to wash cotton clothes in cold water than in warm water?

Cold water is better.

Although warm or hot water washes heavily soiled and grease stains better, it cannot help your fabric last longer because it is more aggressive on the fabric.

Conversely, cold water is eco-friendly and gentle; it can slow down color fading and shrinking in cotton fabrics.

When washing cotton, it’s always best to keep the temperature below 60 degrees Celcius. Also, remember that the warmer you wash your fabric, the higher the chance of cotton shrinking.

What happens when you put pre-shrunk cotton in cold water

Pre-shrunk cotton will shrink slightly when exposed to cold water.

As I said earlier, this is because the fibers in the fabric contract when exposed to cold water. The amount of contraction will depend on the type of cotton fabric and how much it was pre-shrunk before it was made into clothing.

Although, you can expect pre-shrunk cotton to shrink by about 3-5%. Meanwhile, cotton that hasn’t been pre-shrunk will shrink up to 20%.

How to prevent your cotton from shrinking in cold water

As you know, cotton is a natural fiber susceptible to shrinking when exposed to too cold water. To save your cotton garments from shrinking in the wash, it is important to take a few simple precautions. 

Check the label

First, always check the care labels on your clothing before washing them. If the label says “dry clean only,” then you should take your garment to the dry cleaner to avoid shrinkage. 

Wash in cold water

As a second option, you can safely wash your cotton clothing in cold water on the delicate cycle of your washing machine.

If you are unsure whether or not a particular item of clothing can be washed in cold water, you can always test it out on a small hidden area of the garment first.

Simply wet a cotton swab with cold water and dab it onto an inconspicuous spot on the clothing. If the fabric shrinks drastically or changes shape at all, then you should not wash the entire garment in cold water.

Use the right detergent

Another way to prevent shrinkage is to use a gentle detergent specifically designed for delicate fabrics. These detergents usually have “cold water” or “delicate” on the label.

Avoid using harsh, abrasive detergents, as these can damage the fibers of your clothing and cause them to shrink.

Dry appropriately

Finally, be sure to tumble dry your cotton clothing on the lowest heat setting, or better yet, allow them to air dry. The high heat of a clothes dryer can cause even more shrinkage, so it is best to avoid using it if possible.

By following these simple tips, you can help ensure that your cotton clothing looks its best after wash.

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Does cotton shrink or stretch?

Both. It stretches when it’s wet and shrinks when dry.

Is it possible to unshrink clothes?

Technically, you can’t. But you can relax or stretch the fibers using simple products like baby shampoo and water.

Does 100% cotton shrink?

Yes, it can. If you wash it in cold water, it can shrink. But like I said earlier, the effect is more in hot water.

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Yes, cotton can shrink in cold water. However, there are ways to prevent this from happening, such as by using a mild detergent and washing on a delicate cycle.

If you do end up with shrunk clothing, there are some steps you can take to try and stretch it back out again. But do not expect 100% results.

Overall, shrinking is something you should be aware of when washing cotton garments, but it doesn’t have to be a major issue.

Thanks for reading.

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