Does Dry Cleaning Shrink Clothes?

Have you ever experienced the frustration of your favorite clothing items shrinking after their first trip to the dry cleaner’s? It’s a common concern for many people. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind clothes shrinking during dry cleaning, ways to prevent it, and even some techniques for restoring shrunken garments. We’ll also identify which fabrics are more prone to shrinkage and answer some frequently asked questions.

Why Does Dry Cleaning Shrink Clothes?

Dry cleaning is a process that uses a solvent, typically perchloroethylene (perc), to remove stains and dirt from clothes. While it’s generally considered a safe and effective method, there are factors that can contribute to clothes shrinking during the process. Here’s why:

Heat Exposure:

  • One of the main culprits behind shrinkage during dry cleaning is the heat used during the drying process. High temperatures can cause the fibers in the fabric to contract, leading to shrinkage. This is especially noticeable in natural fibers like cotton, hemp, silk, or wool.
  • Natural fibers have a net-like structure with tiny holes. When exposed to water and heat during cleaning, these holes contract, causing the fibers to come closer.
  • Wet clothes hung for drying can further contribute to shrinking as water molecules evaporate from the fabric, making the tiny holes even smaller.

Machine Malfunction:

  • A poorly maintained dry cleaning machine may not perform optimally, resulting in cloth shrinkage. Components like the “Chiller,” responsible for keeping the dry cleaning solvent cool, can break or malfunction, causing the solvent to overheat and, in turn, lead to fabric shrinkage.

Moisture Buildup:

  • Moisture in the cleaning solvent is essential for effective washing, but excessive moisture can lead to fabric shrinkage. This can happen if the component responsible for preventing excess moisture buildup, such as a “water separator,” is damaged or malfunctioning.

Manufacturing Defects:

  • While relatively rare, manufacturing defects in garments can cause them to shrink when dry-cleaned for the first time.

How to Avoid Clothes from Shrinking During Dry Cleaning?

How to Avoid Clothes from Shrinking During Dry Cleaning?

Prevention is key when it comes to avoiding clothes from shrinking during dry cleaning. Here are some precautions to consider:

Care Label Instructions:

  • Always check the care label on your clothing and follow the provided instructions. Some garments must be dry cleaned, while others can be washed with cold water only. Knowing and adhering to these instructions is crucial.

Reputable Dry Cleaner:

  • Choose a reputable dry cleaner experienced in handling delicate fabrics. Communicate any concerns about potential shrinkage with the dry cleaner beforehand. Their expertise can make a significant difference in preserving your clothing’s size and shape.

Spot Cleaning:

  • Consider spot-cleaning specific stains instead of subjecting the entire garment to dry cleaning. This can help minimize the exposure of your clothing to the heat and agitation that can lead to shrinkage.

How to Restore Shrunken Clothes?

If your clothes have already shrunk after dry cleaning, there are a few techniques that may help restore them to their original size:

Soaking in Hair Conditioner:

  • Fill a basin with lukewarm water and add a small amount of hair conditioner.
  • Gently submerge the shrunken garment and let it soak for about 30 minutes.
  • Rinse with clean water and lay it flat to dry.
  • Gently stretch the fabric while it’s still damp and reshape it to its original size.

Blocking and Reshaping:

  • For wool or knit garments, blocking can be effective.
  • Pin the garment on a padded surface like a towel and leave it to dry completely.
  • Soak the garment in lukewarm water for a few minutes, then carefully stretch it back to its original shape while it’s still damp.

Professional Alterations:

  • If the garment is valuable or has shrunk severely, consider taking it to a professional tailor or alterations expert. They may be able to adjust the garment and restore its original size and shape.

It’s important to note that the success of restoration may vary depending on the fabric type and the extent of shrinkage. Prevention is always the best approach, so carefully follow the care instructions and consider professional dry cleaning for delicate garments to minimize the risk of shrinkage.

Which Fabrics Are Most Likely to Shrink After Dry Cleaning?


  • Cotton is prone to shrinking during dry cleaning. Even though cotton can shrink up to 20 percent when exposed to high heat during the process, it’s essential to follow care label instructions for each cotton garment.


  • Hemp apparel can shrink when washed with hot water or in a dryer. Despite being three times stronger than cotton fibers, hemp is not immune to shrinkage.


  • Wool garments have natural fibers that come closer and shrink when exposed to heat and moisture. You can restore their original size by laying the garment flat and pinning it to a board underneath in its proper shape. However, once wool is placed in a dryer, it may shrink permanently.


  • Silk garments, with their protein fiber structure, are prone to shrinking when exposed to heat. Pre-washing the garment for over 5 minutes before putting it in a dryer can tighten the fibers, leading to further shrinkage.


  • Rayon, a semi-synthetic fabric derived from cellulose, is known for its softness and draping qualities but is susceptible to shrinking when exposed to heat and moisture, including during dry cleaning. It’s essential to handle rayon garments with care and follow the care instructions provided by the manufacturer.

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While clothes shrinking after dry cleaning is not an everyday occurrence, it can happen due to factors like heat exposure, machine malfunction, moisture buildup, or manufacturing defects. To minimize the risk of shrinkage, follow care label instructions, choose reputable dry cleaners, and communicate your concerns with them. If your clothing has already shrunk, restoration techniques may help, but prevention is always the best approach.

Remember to take fabric type into consideration, as cotton, hemp, wool, silk, and rayon are more susceptible to shrinkage during dry cleaning. By following these guidelines, you can help ensure that your favorite clothing items retain their original size and shape.