Finding out that your favorite dress has shrunk into a minidress can be a nightmare. And so, when giving your clothes to dry cleaners, it’s natural to question; does dry cleaning shrink clothes.
Generally, dry cleaning is a safe and simple process that does not cause shrinkage. But there are conditions where it might.
In today’s post, we’ll discuss the topic in great detail. So, without further ado, let’s dive in!
What is Dry Cleaning?
Dry cleaning is exactly what it sounds like. The cleaning method does not use any water, instead, it uses cleaning solvents to get rid of any stains and dirt. So, it’s actually dry.
The dry cleaners first visually inspect the clothes for damages and then cover any embellishments or delicate buttons with a soft cloth. This prevents any damage.
Next, they put the soiled clothes in machines similar to the washers at home. But they are larger and more adjustable. They also cost a huge amount of money.
The type of cleaning solvent added to the clothes varies from one professional cleaner to another. Most dry cleaners use perc (perchloroethylene, PCE) or Stoddard solvent. Here are some other commonly-used solvents.
As the clothes move around in the machine, the solvent interacts with the stains and lifts them up. Once done, the dry cleaners inspect the clothes one more time before ironing and delivering them to the customers.
Factors that Cause Shrinkage in Clothes
Now that we’ve understood how dry cleaning works. Let’s have a look at the factors that cause shrinkage in clothes!
1. Excessive Heat Cause Shrinkage in Clothes
Heat is one of the biggest culprits behind shrinkage in clothes. When clothes are heated too much, the individual fibers contract and reduce. This causes the gap between one fiber and another to shorten.
As a result, the entire article of clothing becomes visibly small. Now, the source of heat can be the hot water in the washer or the hot air in the dryer. Excessive heat can also be generated from the vigorous churning of clothes during the wash cycle.
2. Moisture Cause Shrinkage in Clothes
Sometimes, too much moisture can lead to shrinkage in garments too. What happens is that the absorbent fibers of the cloth soak up all the liquid, swell, and stretch. Their size temporarily increases.
But, when they are dried, the fibers lose all the moisture and shrink. This reduces the overall clothes size permanently.
3. Fabric Type Cause Shrinkage in Clothes
Shrinkage in clothes does not only occur because of external factors. In most cases, it may be a result of internal factors too. By this, we mean the natural properties of the fabric.
Some fabric types aren’t resistant to the shrinkage effect, while others are resistant. It’s why we call certain fabrics to be delicate and fragile. They also have special handling and washing guidelines.
However, if the manufacturer hasn’t attached these labels or offered any guidelines, the article of clothing is faulty. It will most probably shrink in the first wash, and there will be no one to blame except for the manufacturer!
What Fabrics Are Likely to Shrink?
First things first, all fabrics can shrink. However, some fabrics are more resistant to shrinkage and will need special conditions to shrink. Meanwhile, some fabrics are less resistant to shrinkage and will contract easily.
Now, what are these fabrics? In case you don’t know, there are two broad fabric categories; natural and synthetic fabrics.
Natural fabrics are made of plant or animal-based fibers. These fabrics are biodegradable, renewable, and non-toxic. Using them also serves as a contribution towards green living.
However, when exposed to excess moisture and heat, the fibers will shrink significantly. It’s because the fibers absorb water quickly. The swelling and stretching of the fibers are followed by contraction when dried.
It’s why experts recommend you to pre-wash the material before sewing. If it’s already stitched, ask the seller about its shrinkage before purchase.
Comparatively, synthetic fabrics are more resistant to shrinkage. They are man-made fabrics that are produced using chemical substances. As a result, they are not biodegradable or environment-friendly.
But, the fibers don’t absorb moisture quickly. You don’t have to be very careful with them.
|Natural Fabrics||Synthetic Fabrics|
4. Faulty Manufacturing Cause Shrinkage in Clothes
Another aspect worth considering is how the garment is made. Most blouses and sweaters are stretched during the stitching and sewing process. So, when heat or moisture is present in the surroundings, the fibers contract all of a sudden.
They try to return to their original size, which causes distortion in the shape of clothes. You’ll often find such clothes shrunken more in certain areas than the rest of the garment.
So, Does Dry Cleaning Shrink Clothes?
With everything discussed, it’s quite clear now that dry cleaning does not shrink clothes. The process is designed in a way that your valuable clothes stay protected against all kinds of damage. But, there are instances where shrinkage might happen. These include:
Dry cleaning doesn’t use water in the process, though there is some moisture present in the cleaning solvents. It’s necessary for the detergent to infuse in the fabric and lift up the stains or dirt. However, over time, this moisture builds up in the solvent and may become excess.
There is a special component in the dry cleaning machine to prevent this situation, named the water separator. Its purpose is to collect the solvent from the washing process and distill it. The water is separated and removed to restore the solvent to its original condition for the next batch of clothes.
(Yes, dry cleaners reuse the solvent to make the process a bit eco-friendly and cheap. Or else, too much chemical would be required for each wash cycle.)
In case this water separator malfunctions or breaks, the solvent will carry excess moisture when added to the clothes. This can lead to shrinkage once the clothes are washed and ironed.
Another aspect to consider is heating. The dry cleaning process is typically done at room temperature because the solvents (Perc, Stoddard, and even Carbon Dioxide) have fast evaporation rates at this temperature.
If the temperature is increased or decreased, the dry cleaning process won’t work. It’s only after the spin cycle that the air temperature is increased to 60 degrees Celsius (which is cooler than the one used in home washing machines). This helps dry the clothes.
However, the dry cleaning machine also has a dedicated chiller to ensure there’s no excess heat. If this chiller malfunctions or breaks, it’s possible for the clothes to shrink due to interaction with the additional heat.
Sometimes, the problem isn’t in the machine but in the people using the machine. Dry cleaning is an advanced and delicate procedure. It requires professional handling, training, and years’ worth of experience.
It’s why dry cleaning can’t be done at home. Even the dry cleaning kits for home are meant to remove light stains like ketchup and oil. You can’t possibly remove heavy grease from the clothes using it.
So, if a dry cleaner doesn’t take proper care of the procedure (for example, adds too much solvent or mixes the load), the clothes can actually shrink. This is purely a case of careless attitude and poor training.
How to Prevent Shrinking of Clothes?
Shrinking of clothes is a conditional situation. It can be avoided by taking some precautionary measures. Below, we have divided these steps into two categories; the customer’s side and the dry cleaner’s side.
From the Customer’s Side
As a customer, you can do a lot to ensure your favorite articles of clothing don’t shrink after dry cleaning. Here are some important tips:
- Sort Your Laundry
Before you drop off the laundry at the dry cleaners, make sure you go through the clothes and separate them into different piles. One pile should be for your precious and valuable garments, while the other should be for regular wear clothes.
Put each pile in a bag/box and label them. Also, if you’re aware of the natural and synthetic fabrics, it will be great if you can separate them accordingly.
- Select a Reputable Dry Cleaner
The most effective way to prevent the shrinkage of clothes as a customer is to choose the best dry cleaner in your area. Remember that good dry cleaning comes from good experience and training.
So, before you trust any dry cleaner company with your delicate clothes, research their reputation and history. Go to their official website and check whether they are a part of a professional association. Do they have a certification?
If the business has social media handles, go through the reviews and feedback left by previous customers. Has there been any incident of shrinkage? What did the company do to amend it?
- Request Special Care
Once you’ve selected a reliable dry cleaner, remind the professionals to take good care of the clothes. Let them know about the sorting you’ve done and whether any particular garment has special washing guidelines.
From the Dry Cleaner’s Side
As a professional dry cleaner, you should already know the ways to prevent clothes from shrinking during the dry cleaning process. Have a look at these additional tips:
- Visually Inspect Every Garment
First, inspect each and every garment to check for manufacturer labels. There are special guidelines on the labels that can help you decide the course of action.
The inspection will also reveal the type of stains, embellishments, and delicate buttons on the clothing. You can pretreat the tough stains and cover the embellishments/buttons to prevent any damage.
- Ask the Customer for Any Special Instructions
Although the visual inspection will unveil any special guidelines, you should also ask the customer about their instructions. Sometimes, there are things they know, and you don’t.
For example, a garment may bleed color. If you put it with the rest of the load, all of the clothes will be discolored!
- Check the Dry Cleaning Machines
Since dry cleaning machines are the primary reason why clothes might shrink, make sure to check them for repairs and damages. Pay special attention to the chiller and water separator. If you don’t have much technical knowledge, hire an expert for routine checkups.
- Hire Reliable Employees & Train
Unless your business is in its initial stages, chances are that the majority of dry cleaning work is done by your employees. These people might not be as skilled and experienced as you are, so you must be careful about who you’re hiring.
Typically, you should give preference to people who have previously worked in the industry or studied something related to the field. Also, set up an induction training program and teach all the new recruitments how to dry clean clothes properly.
You may also consider personally supervising them in the early days.
Can You Unshrink Your Clothes?
In case the damage is already done to your clothes, you might be wondering whether you can reverse it. The short answer is; yes, you can unshrink your clothes!
First, fill a bucket with 950ml of lukewarm water. Then, add 1 tablespoon of hair conditioner or baby shampoo to the water. If you want to unshrink wool, cashmere, or other non-synthetic clothes, you can also use 1-tablespoon borax/vinegar.
Soak the garment in the solution for up to 30 minutes. Next, squeeze out the water and roll the garment in a large flat towel to remove any excess moisture. Leave it in the towel for up to 10 minutes.
Now, place the clothing on a flat surface and gently stretch the edges to increase the size. Be very careful as the fibers are soft and may distort. Alternatively, if the fibers are still stiff, use an iron on a steam setting.
Stretch as much as you want and put books or something heavy on the stretched garment. Let it rest like this for 30 minutes or until it dries. For more detailed instructions, check out this WikiHow guide!
All in all, dry cleaning does not shrink clothes. It will only shrink clothes if the dry cleaning machines malfunction or the dry cleaner has handled the clothes improperly. In any case, this situation is 100% avoidable.
Have your clothes ever shrunken after dry cleaning? What did you do about it? Let us know about your experience in the comments below!