Does Hot Water Shrink Clothes? Washing Clothes in Hot vs Cold Water

You may have heard that hot water shrinks clothes. Is this true or a myth? Does hot water shrink clothes?

Using hot water when washing your clothes will definitely shrink them. Your clothes will shrink to their greatest shrinkage capacity in just one wash if you use hot water to clean them. If you use warm water instead, your clothes will sink gradually.  

Different types of fabrics behave differently when washed; however, hot water will shrink most fabrics, if not all. For instance, denim jeans and cotton shirts will shrink in a hot and warm water wash. These clothes will shrink more when followed by hot drying.

Read on to learn more about the shrinking effects of hot water on clothes, why they shrink, and how to avoid shrinking your clothes.

Does Hot Water Shrink Clothes?

does-hot-water-shrink-clothes

Washing clothes in hot water does shrink them. Both warm and hot water will shrink your clothes. However, hot water will shrink your clothes to the maximum extent with just one wash. On the other hand, warm water will shrink your clothes gradually. If you continually use warm water, it will eventually shrink your clothes to their greatest extent.

While different fabrics behave differently when used in different cleaning media, most of them will shrink when submerged in hot water for a reasonable time. For instance, denim jeans and cotton shirts will shrink in hot water. They will shrink even more if you subject them to a hot drying cycle.

Hot water can also cause damage to certain fabrics like nylon, polyester, and vinyl. The hot temperature of the water will break down the fibers of these materials and damage the fabric. Even warm water will do this to these plastic types of fabrics.

Does washing clothes in hot water shrink them? Washing your denim jeans and cotton shirts in hot water will cause them to shrink around 50% from their original size. This is the maximum extent that these fabrics can sink.

But why will you take the risk? You should consider how these fabrics were made before putting them on hot water.

It is not really necessary to use hot water to wash your dirty clothes. For most clothes, cold water will do well. That also goes with most of the items you wash inside your washing machine. In addition, you can reduce your electricity consumption.

Why Do Clothes Shrink In Hot Water?

It is quite disheartening to see that you can’t wear your favorite shirt anymore, just because you use hot water to wash it.

You are not alone, though, because using hot water to wash clothes is the most common mistake everyone makes. You can learn why fabrics act this way in hot water and not commit the mistake again.

Now you know that washing clothes in hot water shrinks them, let’s look at why they shrink:

1. Polymer Fibers Are Short

One reason is that fibers of polymers are originally short. To make clothes, they are stretched out. When you apply heat on them, the tension that is in every fiber will be released. They will return to their original state, which is short.

Natural fibers are stretched and combined to make looser weaves. Fabric manufacturers make more money by using fewer materials and stretching them as much as possible to make more fabric materials.

When you wet such fabrics, their fibers will tend to return to their original state. The fibers will tighten up between themselves. If the fabric has a loose weave, the greater will be its shrinkage. This is the reason why natural fibers such as cotton, linen, and wool have greater shrinkage than nylon, polyester, and other synthetic fabrics.

But preshrunk fabrics and garments are an exception to this kind of shrinkage. Their fibers are given a special compression process so that their fibers won’t shrink as much when washed.

2. Type of Fabric Construction

There is another reason, and this relates to their structure or mode of construction. Cloths are manufactured from fabrics. Fabrics are composed of huge quantities of threads that are set in a certain pattern or texture design. Different fabrics have different thread textures, which are called wefts and warps.

While you are washing your clothes, the fiber materials or polymers will react with the detergent and water. This will cause the fibers to swell. How much the fibers will swell will depend on their nature and the extent of their reaction with the water and detergent.

Natural fibers like cotton, silk, and wool absorb a considerable amount of liquid. They will swell significantly. Synthetic fibers like polyester PET, nylon, and polyamides PA will absorb much less water. The outcome or result of swelling of these fibers is their shrinkage. This is the shrinkage of clothes and fabrics.

The extent of the shrinkage will depend on the absorption and subsequent diffusion of water into each fiber—the temperature and pressure of the water influence the water’s action.

3. Type of Weave

Fabrics are made by weaving together individual fibers together. They can be woven manually and mechanically. The ways the fibers are combined or woven together create fabrics that are different from each other.

For instance, denim and gingham are two different fabrics. Denim is woven with a twill weave to make it more durable. But this weaving style makes it heavier as well. Gingham, on the other hand, is made using a plain weave. This makes it airier and lighter. In general, the simpler the weave of a fabric, the greater its shrinkage will be.

Does cold or hot water shrink clothes? Hot water shrinks clothes. Coldwater is less likely to shrink or fade clothes. Moreover, using cold water reduces wrinkles and saves energy costs.

Pros and Cons of Using Hot Water to Wash Clothes

does washing clothes in hot water shrink them

There’s no question about it. Using hot water to clean work clothes and boxers and socks is the best way to remove all the dirt and grime in the fabric. Hot water also speeds up the cleaning process. But there are also some downsides to using hot water for washing clothes.

What are these pros and cons?

Pros

  • Hot water kills harmful germs – using hot water to wash clothes will kill harmful pathogens. To do this, you have to put the water temperature at least 140°F.  However, setting your water heater to this high-temperature level is dangerous.  A safer alternative is to use a washer that has a sanitizing setting that satisfies NSF standards. This type of washer can kill 99.99% of harmful pathogens.
  • Hot water really cleans – if you need to clean filthy clothes, washing them with hot water will remove whatever removable stains they have acquired. Hot water is the best cleaning medium because it can speed up the cleaning process. The heat will facilitate the chemical reaction of the detergent. As a result, you will be able to finish your laundry faster than before.
  • Hot water will make your clothes smell good – using hot water to clean your clothes will make them smell clean and fresh and good to wear.
  • Hot water removes stains faster – using hot water can wash off stains from wine, tomato sauce, blood, and oil faster. When water is hot, its molecules move faster. They have greater penetrating power and will move through the fabric easier. Thus, you get to loosen whatever dirt is caught between the fibers of the fabric.

Cons

  • Hot water can damage fabric – using hot water can damage clothes, especially delicate ones. You should not wash any clothing made of wool, silk, and laced in hot water. They are not only sensitive to harmful detergents but to water at high temperatures. It is better to hand wash these types of clothes.
  • You should not wash synthetic fabrics with hot water since they are prone to damage when subjected to heat.
  • Hot water is not environment friendly – to produce hot water, you need electricity. According to one study, about one-third of the energy required to wash a load is spent in generating the heat.

Again, does hot water shrink clothes? Hot water does shrink clothes. Your clothes will shrink to their greatest shrinkage capacity in just one wash if you use hot water to clean them. If you use warm water instead, your clothes will sink gradually.  

Advantages of Using Cold Water Instead of Hot Water to Wash Clothes?

The washing machine, in itself, is already a very convenient way of washing your clothes. But some people are not satisfied with that. They crave more convenient ways, so they use hot water instead of just water at room temperature. Is hot water the only way to clean clothes?

Recent studies showed that using hot water to wash clothes does not necessarily make your clothes cleaner. What goes for cold water is that it is more environment-friendly, less costly, and good for your clothes in the long run.

Hot water is the best solution, then. But now, detergent manufacturers created products that can work in cold water the way they work in warm water.

There are also washing machine manufacturers that have come up with machines that can also work on cold water cycles, not just on hot water cycles.

There are also some advantages to using cold water instead of hot water in washing your clothes:

  • You can only remove some stains using cold water. Stains from sweat, blood, and others will set deeper if you use hot water. Warm water can cause the fabric coloring dyes to bleed and the fabric to shrink.
  • Colors in clothes washed in cold water will remain bright.
  • Clothing will not shrink.
  • Coldwater is more environment-friendly.
  • Using cold water saves energy and cuts your electric bill. A study revealed that a family that switches to cold water would save more than $200 per year.

How to Prevent Clothes from Shrinking

does cold or hot water shrink clothes

Preventing your clothes from shrinking is not a difficult thing to do. Here are some tips:

1. Check the Clothing Tag

Be sure to check the tag on the clothing before you run it inside the washing machine. The tag indicates the kind of fabric the clothing is made of. Remember that natural fibers such as wool and cotton absorb more water than synthetic fibers.

They have greater chances of shrinking. You should wash them in cold water. Polyesters and nylons are not that sensitive, so they are more resistant to heat.

2. Buy Pre-Shrunk Clothes

Buy clothes that are pre-shrunk or shrink-proof. These clothes have compressed fabric fibers. In addition, there is no tension in the fibers since it has undergone many washing cycles.

Meaning, after you washed the said clothes, they have fewer chances of shrinking. Additionally, you should still wash natural fibers in cold water. Only when the clothing is really soiled should you use warm water if you don’t want it to shrink.

3. Use Cold Water Cycles

In most cases, limit your washings to cold water cycles. This will prevent your clothes from shrinking and save you money and protect the environment. Utilize hot water cycles only when you have dirty clothes. Hopefully, the instances where your clothes get filthy will be minimal.

Conclusion: Does Washing Clothes in Hot Water Shrink Them?

If you use hot water to wash your dirty clothes, they will shrink. They will shrink to their fullest shrinkage capacity in just one wash if you use hot water. Using warm water in washing clothes will still shrink them but only gradually. But if you continually use warm water, your clothes will also shrink to their maximum extent.

To prevent your clothes from shrinking, take note of the following good practices:

  1. Check the Clothing Tag
  2. Buy Pre-Shrunk Clothes
  3. Use Cold Water Cycles