How to Wash T-shirts Without Shrinking Them

Have you ever worried that your brand new shirts are going to shrink the first time you wash them? This isn’t a situation that you want to be in, but how do you prevent it?

You can wash t-shirts without shrinking them by washing them in cold water. It is generally hot water that causes clothes to shrink, so sticking with cold should reduce the risk of any shrinkage and keep your clothes in shape. You can also use cool water.

In this article, we share a few other tips for washing and drying your t-shirts to prevent shrinkage.

Washing Shirts in the Washer without Shrinking Them

If you are washing a new shirt, it is always a good idea to check the washing instructions before you put it in your washing machine; this should help to reduce the risk of you doing anything that will ruin the fabric or the design.

However, if you don’t have the original label and you are worried about accidentally shrinking the shirt, you may wish to simply wash the shirt on cold, with a small amount of detergent. Cold water is sufficient to clean most clothes, unless they are heavily soiled, so it should work for most t-shirts in most cases.

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You should also use a small amount of detergent if possible, rather than adding a lot. This will help to preserve the fabric and prevent it from being damaged.

If you can’t wash your t-shirts on a cold setting, the other option is to choose a cool, delicate wash. This should use gentler cycles and less spinning, so it’s less likely to cause damage. However, in general, it is heat that’s the biggest cause of shrinkage, so be particularly careful about the temperature.

Why Do Cotton T-Shirts Shrink?

Cotton can be quite a sensitive material, so if you are wearing all cotton or mostly cotton t-shirts, they are more likely to shrink. This is because cotton is a natural fiber, so heat can cause it to contract and lose its shape.

When cotton is woven into a fabric, tension is applied to it, pulling the treads into place to create a smooth, attractive finish. Unfortunately, when the fabric is heated, this releases the tension, and the fabric then shrinks back to the size it was before the tension was applied.

A lot of people unfortunately do not realize this and toss 100% cotton shirts into hot washes to get them clean again. This frequently results in shrinkage, and it’s not the only dangerous part of the washing process – there’s also drying to consider.

Can a Pre-Shrunk T-shirt Shrink?

Yes, a pre-shrunk cotton t-shirt can shrink. However, the shrinkage rate is much less with a pre-shrunk cotton t-shirt than with a regular cotton t-shirt that has not been preshrunk in the manufacturing process.

While some people say that pre-shrunk shirts could shrink up to 5%, I have personally seen Bella Canvas and Next Level cotton t-shirts shrink up to 10% if the shirts are washed in warm or hot, and then dried in the dryer.

Should You Put Your T-Shirts In The Dryer?

No, you shouldn’t put your t-shirts in the dryer, especially if they are made of cotton (if you do not want them to shrink). You need to dry them naturally – preferably over an airer in a warm room. You should not put them on a radiator, in front of a fire, or in another hot place that might cause the fibers to contract, or you may find the shirt shrinks even if you have washed it on a cool setting.

Ideally, all-natural fabrics should be kept out of your dryer, because this will help to extend their lifespan and reduce the risk of them shrinking. However, if you live somewhere where a dryer is a necessary part of life, there are a few tricks you can try to keep your cotton t-shirts safe.

Firstly, make sure that you are setting the dryer in the lowest, coolest settings. This should ensure that it doesn’t heat the cotton very much.

Secondly, only put your t-shirt in for a short burst. This should take some of the moisture out of it, but if you then remove it from the dryer (while it is still damp) and stretch it over a hanger, you should find that it dries properly and holds its shape. It is important to make sure the shirt is still damp while you do this; if you let it fully dry, it may shrink and hold its shrunken shape.

Can Ironing Shrink A T-Shirt?

If your t-shirt is wrinkly, you might be tempted to grab the iron – but this can have the same problems as using a dryer or a hot wash. If you need to iron a cotton t-shirt, it’s best to use the lowest heat setting possible, or try:

  • Hanging the shirt up overnight to let the wrinkles drop out
  • Lightly steaming the shirt near your shower or the kettle
  • Using a de-wrinkle spray
  • Hanging the t-shirt while it is drying so that no creasing occurs

These things should help to reduce the risk of shrinking your t-shirts!

What To Do If You Shrink a T-Shirt

If you have accidentally shrunk a shirt in the wash, there are a few things that you can try that may help to restore it to its proper size – although there is no guarantee, so it’s best to avoid this if you can.

If you have shrunk a t-shirt, you should take action as soon as you realize it has been damaged. If the t-shirt is dry, fully saturate it. If it is damp, add more water so that it is wet. Next, find a flat surface that you can stretch the t-shirt out on. A clean floor or a table should work.

stretch the shirt

Stretch the shirt out and hold it in place with weights (such as cans or clean stones). Be gentle and slow as you stretch it, so you don’t further warp the shape. It is easiest to do this with help from a friend so that you can pull easily on each side of the fabric.

Once you have achieved the desired size, leave the t-shirt stretched out until it has completely dried. You are essentially adding the tension back into the fabric, and this should help.


Washing and caring for t-shirts is a simple thing that we all do all the time, but if you have new cotton t-shirts (or ones made of other natural fibers such as linen), you need to treat them with care. Washing them on hot or drying them in the dryer could result in shrinkage, so always opt for cold or cool washes, and avoid using heat to dry or iron the t-shirt.