Does Cotton Shrink When Washed Overtime?

What happens when you wash cotton? Will it shrink or not?

The simple answer to this is yes, it will.

However, the extent to which that happens will depend on many factors, including the quality of the cotton fabric.

Learning how to wash your cotton clothes properly will mean that they will serve you for much longer, and this guide shows you the steps to take. 

Does cotton shrink when washed in hot or cold water?

Hot water wash

Yes, it does. 

Cotton is a natural fiber that shrinks when exposed to heat, and hot water can cause the cotton fabric to shrink up to 20 percent of its original size.

Aside from washing cotton in hot water, it’s still likely to shrink if you dry it using a hot dryer. As you read further, you’ll learn more ways to minimize shrinkage in your cotton fabrics and make them last longer.

Cold water wash

Yes, cotton can shrink when washed in cold water.

This could be because of the type of cotton and how it is constructed. Also, some fabrics may be more prone to shrinking than others. So your best bet is it invest in 100% cotton clothes that have been tightly woven to minimize shrinkage. 

Why does cotton shrink when washed?

Does cotton shrink when washed

The knit

When cotton fibers are knit together to create a fabric, they are stretched slightly. This stretching allows the fibers to intertwine and form a tighter bond.

When this fabric is washed in hot water or exposed to high temperatures, the fibers contract and return to their original length, resulting in shrinkage.

In some cases, when fabrics such as cotton are overstretched during knitting or weaving, the shrinkage can be even more dramatic.

The weave

Fibers woven together don’t stretch as much as knit ones; so, shrinkage can be less dramatic. However, when exposed to heat or water, the threads of the fabric will still shrink, causing the overall shape of the material to become smaller.

This is especially noticeable in fabrics such as denim, which rely heavily on weaving for construction.

The dyes and finishes

Many fabrics, including cotton, are treated with dyes and other finishes before they are sold. In some cases, these treatments can cause additional shrinkage when the material is exposed to water or heat.

This type of shrinkage is most common in brightly colored kinds of cotton, as the dyes can be more sensitive to temperature changes.

The type of cotton

Different types of cotton fibers will react differently to exposure to water and heat. For example, Pima or Supima cotton is a longer staple fiber that produces a softer and more durable fabric than other kinds of cotton.

This type of cotton shrinks less when exposed to heat due to its length and strength.

How to prevent cotton clothes from shrinking

There are a few things that can help prevent your cotton clothes from shrinking. They include:

Read the label

Carefully read the care label on the clothing before washing, as this will provide detailed instructions on how best to clean and maintain your garments.

Generally speaking, if the clothing is made of 100% cotton, it is best to machine wash it in cold water and line dry.

Use a gentle detergent

It is essential to use a mild detergent when washing cotton clothing. This will help prevent the fabric from shrinking due to exposure to harsh chemicals or drying temperatures.

Avoid hot water and dryers

Cotton is prone to shrinkage when exposed to high heat, so it’s best to stick with cold water and line dry whenever possible. If you must use a dryer, select the lowest drying temperature and remove your clothing as soon as it is finished.

Pre-soak and stretch

Pre-soaking cotton clothing in cold water before washing can help reduce shrinking. You can also try lightly stretching garments while still damp from the wash to reduce shrinkage further.


How many sizes does cotton shrink to?

Cotton shrinks to varying degrees depending on the quality and type of cotton.

Different quality ranges of cotton tend to shrink anywhere between 5% – 8%. However, low-grade cotton can shrink as much as 20% or more. 

Does cotton shrink every time you wash it?

Yes, it does.

But as said earlier, the extent to which it’ll shrink depends on how it is washed and dried.

Does 100% cotton always shrink?

Generally, fabrics made with 100% cotton are more prone to shrinking than those with a blend of other fibers. 

The reason is that cotton fibers tend to become shorter and more compact when exposed to water, heat, and agitation.

Pre-washing cotton garments or fabrics before sewing them can help reduce the shrinkage which occurs during subsequent washings. Also, using cold water instead of hot will help minimize shrinking.


Cotton does shrink when washed, but that doesn’t mean you must avoid cotton clothing altogether.

By taking the proper steps to care for your cotton clothing, such as washing it in cold water and tumble drying it on a low heat setting or laying it flat to dry, you can control how much it shrinks and maintain its quality over time.

Investing in pre-shrunk cotton, which has already gone through a shrinking process, can also help you avoid unwanted shrinking.

Thanks for reading.

Need more like this? Get more helpful guides here on Africana Fashion.