Does Cotton Always Shrink?

Does cotton always shrink? Learn how much cotton typically shrinks and how this can affect the size of your customers' clothing.
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Team Kiwi Sizing

Last updated on May 20, 2024

Cotton is a breathable, hypoallergenic, durable, and sustainable natural fiber that manufacturers use in about half of all textiles. Customers love cotton clothing because of its comfort and durability but may find caring for it difficult due to its tendency to shrink. Does cotton always shrink, and if so, by how much? Here’s what can you do to help customers find a better fit.

Does Cotton Always Shrink?

does cotton always shrink

Though the amount of shrinkage typically declines over time, 100% cotton fabrics will always shrink. When manufacturers spin cotton into thread, they stretch the raw fibers to make the weave.

This creates tension in the textile. When you launder cotton fabric, the heat from the washing and drying process produces an exothermic reaction that reduces this tension, resulting in shrinkage.

Cotton clothing typically shrinks the most the first time the customer washes it. However, it will continue to shrink by a lesser amount with each subsequent wash. 

How Much Does Cotton Shrink?

Cotton can shrink from 1% to 20%, depending on the fabric and how the customer cares for it. Pre-shrunk cotton fabrics usually shrink about 2% to 5%. 

Most high-quality cotton fabrics will shrink between 1% and 3%. However, the higher the temperature the customer uses when washing, ironing, or drying the fabric, the more the fabric will tend to shrink.

At What Temperature Does Cotton Shrink?

Water temperatures above 120 degrees Fahrenheit will shrink cotton up to 20%. Lukewarm water will cause 8% to 10% shrinkage while washing in cold water produces minimal shrinkage.

Does Cotton Shrink in Length or Width?

Cotton shrinks in both length and width. However, high-quality cotton fabrics tend to shrink more in length than width. 

Do Cotton/Polyester Blends Shrink?

Polyester resists shrinking, which is the main reason manufacturers add it to cotton. However, while cotton and polyester blends tend to shrink less than 100% cotton, the fabric will still shrink if washed or dried at too high a temperature. Additionally, blends with a higher percentage of cotton are more prone to shrinking than blends that contain more polyester.

Should You Size Up in 100% Cotton Shirts?

Because cotton always shrinks, sizing up can be a good idea.

Cotton clothing can shrink as much as a full size when customers wash it, but how much cotton shrinks depends on the fabric and how the customer cares for it. Whether the customer should size up depends on how careful the customer is willing to be when washing the clothing and how the customer wants the clothing to fit.

Sizing up creates a looser, more relaxed fit that some customers may prefer, but others may think it looks sloppy. Sizing up can also change the way the clothing hangs and cause features, such as the neckline, to fall in the wrong place.

Customers who prefer a looser fit and plan to machine wash and dry their clothing may want to size up. Customers who prefer a more fitted garment and are willing to take extra steps to prevent shrinkage may want to purchase their normal size

How Can You Help Customers Choose the Right Size Cotton Clothing?

Whether customers plan to size up due to the potential for cotton to shrink or purchase their regular size, the key to getting the right fit is to choose the correct starting size. The size charts and fit recommenders from Kiwi Sizing will help your customers select the perfect size, resulting in higher customer satisfaction and fewer returns. Contact us today to find out more.

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