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What are Preshrunk Garments?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 21, 2024
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Preshrunk garments are items of clothing that have already been washed, or “compacted,” so additional washings will not shrink the garment significantly. In many cases, when you have natural fibers like wool, cotton, or linen, the fabric may be stretched, since it is more economical to use less fabric if you can get away with it. Washing these garments, and the tumbling action in the dryer will cause the garments to go back to their unstretched form, resulting in smaller clothes.

Since it’s helpful to buy a clothing size that will still fit after washing, you’ll note that many fabrics, particularly cotton jersey, are preshrunk. This means the fabric, instead of being stretched, has first been washed, and pushed together in a process called compaction. The fibers are forced closer together, and gradually become looser through home washing. This doesn’t mean a preshrunk garment won’t shrink at all, but it will shrink less, especially with early washings, and will maintain the same size for a much longer time than a garment that is not preshrunk.

Eventually, especially when clothes are dried in the dryer, even preshrunk clothes will shrink somewhat, given enough washing. To address this, it’s a good idea to buy cotton garments in a slightly larger size than you would normally need, especially cotton jersey garments. Cotton pants, especially corduroy are generally not preshrunk, and will gradually get shorter as they are washed. Another notorious shrinking fabric is cotton flannel. Always buy flannel nightgowns a size or two larger than what you think you need.

Manmade fibers have frequently eliminated the need for garments to be preshrunk. Adding enough polyester to cotton, for instance, will usually help a garment retain its shape and size, since polyester holds its form better in the wash. The disadvantage of polyester, nylon and other manmade fibers is that they may not be as comfortable, and are generally less breathable than are natural fibers.

If you’re really crazy about cotton, wool or linen, and want to stay away from fibers like acrylic or polyester, look for labels stating that the clothing is washable or that boast the clothing has been preshrunk. All clothing tends to wear better, last longer and maintain its size if you do not place it in the dryer. So if you have non-preshrunk garments, consider drip or line drying only. Note that even preshrunk garments tend to shrink eventually, so you may want to observe this caution with any garment for which you want to maintain the same shape, length or size.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By lighth0se33 — On May 24, 2012

@seag47 – Really? I use a washer and dryer at home, and I still have problems with my preshrunk cotton garments getting smaller over time.

It is easy to first place the blame on yourself. I often think that I have put on weight when something no longer fits, and this bums me out.

However, if something has gotten shorter, then I know that it shrank. I might get fatter at times, but I know I can't get taller!

I buy loose clothing because of this. I don't like buying clothing that fits snugly, because if I buy a size too big, then I look frumpy, but if I get the right size, it will soon be too small.

By cloudel — On May 24, 2012

I bought a linen dress with a sash in the back once, and I didn't notice that it wasn't preshrunk. I put it in the laundry with my delicates, and it shrank so much that I could no longer wear it.

It had been nearly knee-length, but after the washing, it looked like an apron. However, it had shrank all the way around, so I could not have even slid it on and wore it as an apron.

So, if I am tempted to buy linen, I make sure that it is preshrunk. It is so important to read the labels on clothing, because you could save yourself some headache and money by doing this.

By Oceana — On May 23, 2012

My husband always gets preshrunk t-shirts, but they seem to shrink regardless. At least they last a little longer than the kind that aren't preshrunk.

He tends to wear the same shirts over and over. So, they get washed and dried a couple of times a week. All this abuse adds up, and within a few months, his shirts are usually smaller than they were in the beginning.

I have told him that if he had more variety in his wardrobe, his preshrunk shirts might last a lot longer. He tends to play favorites, though, and once he finds one that he likes, he doesn't mind wearing it out.

By seag47 — On May 22, 2012

My preshrunk shirts never seem to shrink over time. It could be that they are shrinking so little that I don't even notice.

Because of this, I don't buy larger sizes than I need. If I get one size too big, then it tends to stay too big for years.

Maybe it's because I always wash them in cold water and dry them on low. I have heard many more people complaining about clothes shrinking when they use a laundromat instead of a home washer and dryer, so perhaps it has to do with temperature and intensity.

By anon62457 — On Jan 26, 2010


By anon28978 — On Mar 25, 2009

What is a brand name for Preshrunk (cloth)?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia...
Learn more
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