Spandex, also known as elastane, is a synthetic fiber known for its exceptional elasticity. It is commonly used to make tight-fitting clothing like leggings, swimsuits, and activewear.
A common concern when caring for spandex clothing is shrinkage. Spandex can shrink when washed or dried improperly, resulting in garments that are too tight. So does spandex shrink in the dryer or when washed
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How Spandex Fibers Work
To understand spandex shrinkage, it is helpful to first understand how spandex fibers work.
The fibers are made up of long chain synthetic polymers comprised of at least 85% segmented polyurethane. This molecular structure allows the fibers to stretch up to 5-8 times their original length.
When stretched, the polymer chains align in the direction of the tension. When tension is removed, the fibers return to their original shape and length. This gives spandex both exceptional stretch and recovery.
Why Spandex Shrinks
Spandex shrinkage occurs when the individual fibers lose their elasticity and cannot return to their original length. This is typically caused by damage to the molecular structure from excessive heat or agitation.
The main causes of permanent spandex shrinkage are:
- Heat – High temperatures from dryers or irons can alter the fiber molecules. This prevents the chains from stretching and returning to their original length.
- Agitation – The friction and motion of washing machines can cause spandex fibers to tangle and knot. This stresses the fibers beyond their stretching capabilities.
- Detergents – Harsh detergents strip away lubricating oils which allow spandex fibers to slide past each other when stretched. Without lubrication, fibers may snag.
- Time – Over many wears and washes, spandex fibers lose their elasticity. Shrinkage occurs gradually as the material ages.
Permanent shrinkage only occurs when spandex fibers are damaged beyond repair. With proper care, spandex can maintain its elasticity and avoid significant shrinkage.
Does Spandex Shrink in the Dryer
Yes, spandex clothing can shrink in the dryer if dried improperly at high temperatures.
The amount of shrinkage depends on the garment construction, composition, and dryer settings.
Pure spandex garments are most susceptible, while blends with cotton, nylon, or other fibers will be less affected. Tighter fabrics like leggings will show more shrinkage compared to looser apparel.
Here are general guidelines for avoiding shrinkage when machine drying spandex:
- Read Garment Care Tags – Follow all drying instructions provided by the manufacturer.
- Use Low Heat – Medium to high heat can damage spandex fibers. Opt for the lowest temperature or air dry setting.
- Remove Immediately – Over-drying causes more shrinkage. Remove items promptly when the dryer stops.
- Use Dryer Balls – Balls separate clothing and allow air circulation to prevent overheating.
- Dry Similar Fabrics – Lighter spandex dries faster than denser cottons. Grouping similar textiles prevents over-drying.
With the proper precautions, machine drying won’t cause excessive spandex shrinkage. However, air drying is the safest approach when uncertain.
Does Spandex Shrink When Washed
Washing spandex garments in very hot water or using harsh detergents can contribute to shrinkage over time.
However, with proper care, spandex won’t typically shrink significantly from occasional washing alone. Here are tips to wash spandex safely:
- Use Cool Water – Hot water can damage elastic fibers. Wash spandex in cold or lukewarm water when possible.
- Avoid Agitation – Limit washing machine agitation by using the delicate cycle or wash bags.
- Skip the Dryer – Line dry instead of machine drying to prevent heat exposure.
- Use Gentle Detergent – Harsh chemicals are abrasive to fibers. Opt for a mild liquid detergent.
- Be Gentle – Fold and handle spandex gently to avoid snagging or pulling the fabric.
- Check Garment Tags – Follow all specific washing instructions from the manufacturer.
With a gentle approach, spandex can retain its stretch through repeated washing. Heat and agitation pose the biggest risks for shrinkage and damage during laundering.
How to Stretch Shrunken Spandex
If spandex has shrunken, there are methods to stretch the material back to its original size. However, results vary depending on the degree of shrinkage.
Steaming is an effective way to relax and temporarily stretch shrunken spandex fibers.
To stretch with steam:
- Hang or lay garment flat.
- Hover steamer over material and continuously move to evenly apply steam.
- Gently pull and massage areas to coax fibers back to original length.
- Repeat until desired stretch is achieved.
For best results, do not over-steam as excessive heat can damage fibers.
Soaking in lukewarm water can relax spandex fibers and make them more pliable for stretching.
To stretch with water:
- Fill sink or tub with lukewarm water.
- Immerse garment completely.
- Let soak 5-10 minutes.
- Remove and gently pull spandex in all directions.
- Lay flat to air dry, smoothing to desired shape.
Avoid hot water as high temperatures may contribute to shrinkage.
Adding a small amount of baby shampoo to lukewarm water can further help stretch stubborn spandex.
To stretch with baby shampoo:
- Add 2 tablespoons of baby shampoo per 1 gallon of lukewarm water.
- Soak garment 5-10 minutes.
- Remove and gently manipulate fabric to original size.
- Rinse well and air dry.
The baby shampoo lubricates fibers to support stretching. Be sure to rinse thoroughly as residue may attract dirt over time.
Never apply direct heat from irons or dryers to attempt shrinking shrunken spandex. The high temperatures will likely further damage elasticity.
With patience, water, steam, and gentle pulling, spandex can often be returned to its original length. However, if shrinkage is severe, the garment may be permanently affected.
How to Prevent Spandex Shrinkage
Following proper care practices can minimize spandex shrinkage over time. Here are useful tips for keeping spandex stretchy:
- Wash in cool water using a gentle, spandex-safe detergent.
- Limit wash cycles to only when needed.
- Line dry or dry on low heat.
- Avoid harsh cleaners like bleach that can degrade fibers.
- Fold, hang, and wear spandex carefully to prevent snags.
- Follow all garment tag instructions.
- Replace aging spandex clothing that has lost elasticity.
While spandex is vulnerable to heat and friction damage, taking appropriate precautions when laundering and drying can maintain stretch and prevent shrinkage.
Common Questions about Spandex Shrinkage
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about preventing and managing spandex shrinkage:
Does spandex shrink when air dried?
Spandex is unlikely to shrink significantly when air dried. Hanging spandex garments to dry avoids heat damage from dryers and allows fibers to dry smoothly without agitation. Air drying is the best way to maintain spandex elasticity and prevent shrinkage.
Can you put spandex in the dryer?
Spandex can be placed in the dryer but should always be dried on a low heat or air dry setting. High temperatures risk damaging elastic fibers leading to heat shrinkage. To play it safe, it’s best to line dry spandex clothing.
Does spandex shrink every time you wash it?
Spandex will not typically shrink with each wash when proper care guidelines are followed. Using cool water, delicate cycles, and mild detergents prevents damage to the fibers. Shrinkage happens gradually over many washes if exposed to heat or friction. Proper washing extends the lifespan of the garment.
Should you wash spandex in hot or cold water?
Spandex should always be washed using cold or lukewarm water. Hot water can cause irreversible damage to the elastic fibers leading to shrinkage. Even warm water can gradually impact stretch over time. Stick to cold washes and air drying for spandex clothes.
What happens if you put spandex in the dryer too long?
Over-drying spandex in the machine will cause significant heat-induced shrinkage. The high temperatures damage the elasticity, preventing fibers from stretching back to their full length. Over-drying can ruin spandex garments beyond repair.
The Bottom Line
Spandex shrinkage can be frustrating, but taking appropriate care when laundering and drying these stretchy garments can prevent the majority of issues.
Cool washes, low to no heat drying, delicate handling, and following garment instructions will help maintain spandex elasticity and avoid shrinkage over time. If shrinkage does occur, methods like steaming, water soaking, and re-stretching can recover some of the lost length.
With proper care, your spandex clothing will keep its shape and stretch wash after wash. Taking extra steps protects the fibers and ensures you get the most out of your activewear and other spandex apparel.
Frequently Asked Questions About Spandex Shrinkage
Does spandex shrink when you first wash it?
Brand new spandex clothing is unlikely to shrink when first washed if proper care guidelines are followed. Using cool water, delicate cycles, and mild detergents prevents damage to the elastic fibers. However, heat drying may lead to some minor shrinkage on initial launderings. Air drying is recommended.
Why does my spandex shirt keep shrinking?
If a spandex shirt continues to shrink with repeated washing, it likely indicates damage to the elastic fibers. Aggressive laundry routines involving hot water, harsh detergents, and machine drying will cause progressive shrinkage over time. Launder spandex in cold water using a gentle cycle and line dry.
Do spandex leggings shrink in length or width?
Spandex leggings can shrink in both length and width when exposed to high heat or friction. The elasticity in the fibers becomes damaged causing the leggings to contract and become smaller all over. Properly drying and washing leggings prevents shrinkage in any dimension.
Can you reverse spandex shrinkage?
Mild shrinkage can often be reversed by stretching the spandex fibers back to shape. Methods like steaming, soaking in water, and gently pulling the material can recover some lost length or width. But severe shrinkage may permanently damage the elasticity, preventing the spandex from returning to original size.
Should you size up when buying spandex clothing?
Sizing up is not necessary when spandex is purchased new, as it is unlikely to shrink right away under normal washing. However, gradual shrinkage over time as the material ages is common. For very tight items like leggings that are hard to stretch out, sizing up provides a little extra insurance.