Why does cotton clothing shrink?

Have you ever wondered why that perfectly fitted much loved piece of clothing you’ve just bought seems smaller and maybe a bit misshaped after the first wash? Is it because you've had that extra couple of biscuits this week? Or maybe you should've gone to the gym or taken a walk? Well, I’m here to tell you it’s not you, but actually that much loved piece of clothing!

I don't know about you, but I never read the washing label advise on my clothing…. I know even when you look at the care advise on my website you'll see that I recommend you read the care label, but let's be honest does it really happen!!!  We all think that natural fabrics can withhold anything, but unfortunately heat is cotton's biggest enemy!  The second is agitation, so just putting your cotton clothes on a regular wash can end up being a bit frustrating!

So why do my cotton clothes shrink?

Cotton or any type of natural fabric will always have a percentage of shrinkage on that first wash, it's a fact. Although cotton or any natural fabric is soft, breathable and excellent quality for your clothing there are some disadvantages, one of them being the natural shrinkage on the initial wash.

Do you remember that episode of 'Friends' when Monica was in Barbados and she ended up with the frizziest and biggest hair possible! The high humidity of Barbados caused her hair to end up as a big ball of fuzziness, well that's basically what happens to cotton when it is re-introduced to heat and agitation. 

Children's clothing brand | Little Pegs | image of organic cotton buds | Photo by Ranurte on Unsplash

When raw fluffy cotton buds are spun into thread, the fibres are stretched, this creates a tension needed to weave the fibres into cotton fabric and given half the chance, the fibres will want to return to their natural state once re-introduced to hot water, heat from the tumble dryer, sunlight and even the steam from your iron. Making the cotton react and take it back to its natural form and this is why most cotton clothing will shrink during the first wash. 

I know that washing day after day needs to be convenient, but the actual truth of it is that, it comes at a cost to your clothing… So, to be sure that you don't end up with your favourite clothing shrinking during that first wash, there are some simple steps that you can follow.

How to avoid cotton shrinking

We all know what happened to Monica when she decided to stop the frizziness, but it's actually a bit easier to avoid the shrinkage of your clothing.  The most obvious answer to this is that you buy a mix fabric that contains both natural and man-made fibres, but as you know this isn't a sustainable or healthy option for you and your little ones.  With just a little extra care, it's easy to make sure that your cotton clothing maintains that perfect fit. 

Children's clothing brand | Little Pegs | Image of cotton reels | Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

In reality, that initial wash we should be hand washing, but who has time for this right?  Instead put the clothes in the washing machine on a lower temperature - if you have a delicate cycle even better!! This will reduce the risk of excessive friction and agitation, which can not only cause shrinking but also pilling and mis-shaping.  Then there's the all-important drying process… I know it's easier to put it in the tumble dryer, but the heat will impact on your clothes.  So, air drying is the best solution, if it's a nice day put it outside on your washing line or if you're like me living in an apartment get your clothes dryer out and let them dry naturally, an additional tip to maintain the garment shape - hang them on clothes hangers - it really will help to keep the shape of the clothes lasting longer.

These suggestions apply to anything that is 100% cotton or natural, but just remember that if your clothes labels say the higher percentage of fibre is cotton then you still need to expose it to less heat when washing and drying it.

How to unshrink cotton clothing

Okay but you've managed to shrink a few pieces of clothing by accident!! We've all been there, it got mixed in with the regular washing.  I've been known to put a 100% wool jumper into my regular wash and yep - it came out for mini me! Frustrating right? …. But don't give up hope, you can often stretch it back to its original size (well not wool - because that’s pretty much turned into felt!) but cotton yes… and here's how…

  1. Fill your sink or a clean bucket with lukewarm water
  2. Add a tablespoon of baby shampoo to the water
  3. Add the clothing to the water
  4. Soak clothing for about 30 minutes
  5. Drain the sink or bucket and gently squeeze out the excess water from the clothing
  6. Lay the clothing on a towel and gently stretch it in order to reshape to the right size
  7. Gently stretch the clothing every couple of hours as it dries
Children's clothing brand | Little Pegs | Image of hand weaving | Photo by Nickolas Nikolic on Unsplash

If it doesn’t work and like me you ended up with a jumper or top that is just unwearable, then don't just throw it out, think about re-designing, or recycling.  It could be that your favourite jumper can be worn by your little one, or your little one's jumper could be worn by your dog…. Who knows, be creative - I ended up with a really nice hot water bottle cover!

But my actual wish for you is that you don't end up with clothes that don't fit :)

You’re probably also thinking…. Do Little Pegs clothing shrink?

100% organic cotton will always shrink on that first wash, but don't worry I've got you covered, because unlike a lot of fashion brands all my clothing have been made with a 5% shrinkage in mind, which means that when you receive your clothes, they may appear a bit bigger than you expected, that's because during the production stage I've added 5% shrinkage requirement into the clothing, so that you can wash before wear and have perfectly fitted clothes and they will be even more super-duper soft ready for your little one and after that initial wash the fibres will be more relaxed so no more shrinking as long as you follow the how to avoid shrinking clothing steps. 

Another bit of advice…. if you are looking at other brands just check to see if they have either the 5% shrinkage allowance or that the fabric has already been pre-washed before you have bought the clothes, this is a practice that some brands will have, but Little Pegs being a sustainable brand doesn't believe in adding an extra wash to the manufacturing process, it's actually creating further water waste and pollution of the production process, so the more ethical option is to add that 5% allowance to the garments to reduce the water waste being created by the fashion industry.

I hope that you end up with perfect fitting garments after that initial wash :)

Jenny xx

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