Does Polyester Shrink? Woman holding laundry basket. Woman with laundry basket.

Does Polyester Shrink?

Laundry mishaps are very common and we wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve gotten into a few of your own. Maybe that’s why you’re here reading this!. We have all heard stories about polyester shrinking and nobody wants to ruin a perfectly good polyester fabric.

Don’t worry, we’ve done our research. This article will tell you if polyester shrinks, and if it does, how to avoid it so you don't have to give your clothes out to your kids sooner than you planned.

What is Polyester?

Many people tend to avoid polyester because it is a synthetic cloth made of polyester fibers. In a world where organic and natural are favored, it is not surprising that this fabric isn't as popular as others are.

But with a better understanding of polyester, you will realize that this fabric has a lot of advantages. It is more durable than many other fabric options, including cotton, and extremely lightweight. Considering how strong and durable it is, the fact that it is quick-drying also adds to the appeal of this fabric. It is a common material for decorative clothes, athleisure lines and bedding.

And with the advances in the field of synthetic fabric, polyester is getting better and better and offers more comfort to the people that wear it. However, there is still the question: does polyester shrink?

Does Polyester Shrink?

To answer this question, let us look at the structure of polyester. Polyester is made with long and strong plastic yarns. It starts with a chemical reaction between an acid and alcohol. They become plastic that is molten down and spun into tiny threads. This means that these fibers have the durability of strengthened plastic. 

But then, if polyester is made from plastic, does it have all the weaknesses that plastic has? We all know that even though plastic is very strong, it has one weakness: heat.

What Does Heat Mean For Polyester Cloths?

Polyester can withstand virtually anything but high heat. That means you can crumple the cloth and leave it in the watcher for days, and you will still meet it the same way you left it. So washing your polyester with the normal washing and drying settings will not harm the fabric, but exposing it to high heat just might.

When we say high heat, we do not mean spending the day under the hot sun throwing a baseball. Polyester would not be sought after for athleisure clothes if this were the case. We mean exposing it to actual heat. If you iron your polyester fabrics, you could burn or melt them. And if you submerge polyester in boiling water, the fabric will most likely shrink.

Now, this is the truth for a lot of fabrics out there. Remember we mentioned how fibers are stretched and spun? This process generates tension, and boiling water releases the tension, causing the fabric fibers to return to their originally short length.

And polyester isn't the only fabric that has this problem. Polyester has more resistance to this than many natural fabrics. It is very difficult to make your polyester shrink intentionally, and it is almost impossible to shrink it unintentionally.

If you are looking for a way to shrink your polyester clothes, we will talk about that in a bit but first, let's look at how you can ensure that you do not shrink your polyester fabrics.

How To Ensure That Your Polyester Doesn't Shrink.

We have already mentioned that hot water and other forms of high heat might have a shrinking effect on polyester. The most likely place where your polyester fabric might come in contact with the level of heat needed to shrink it is in the washer or dryer.

Will Your Polyester Fabric Shrink In The Washer?

Your polyester fabrics will not shrink in the washer unless under extreme conditions. Your polyester clothes should come out just fine if you use cool or lukewarm machine cycles. However, your polyester might have a small shrinkage if you use hot water. The safest temperatures to wash polyester are those below 230F. And anything above this level has the potential to shrink your polyester.

You are often advised to use cool water to wash your polyester, especially if they are polyester blends. To make sure, check the labels of the garment. The company will always indicate how best to take care of the material, and this is important for every fabric. 

While washing your polyester garment, turn them inside out to prevent fading and tears. Setting your machine to permanent press is the best option as it will save you money on electricity while protecting your clothes from shrinking. Both regular and gentle detergents should work just fine. 

Does Polyester Shrink In The Dryer?

There are always care tags on any clothing item you buy, and as long as you follow the instructions on these tags, your clothes should not shrink while using the dryer.

In most cases, as long as the dryer is set to the normal dryer settings, your polyester will not shrink. Here are a few tips to help you stay on the safe side.

  • Do not use a dryer temperature higher than 100F.
  • If your dryer has multiple heat levels and you are confused about which one to use, use the lowest setting. Consult the owner's manual for proper guidance if you are still confused.
  • If available, you can also use the cool, dry setting on your dryer. Polyester dries quickly, and tumble drying will work almost as well as heat drying. This way, you do not have to worry about heat levels and the rest.

Another option would be to skip using the dryer entirely. Polyester is extremely easy to dry, so just a few hours hanging out and they will be ready to wear.

But if you do large bundles of laundry each time you wash, you might not get the time to separate and dry your polyester. But as long as the dryer is set to normal, you can dry your clothes without worrying.

What About Polyester Blends?

Polyester blends are clothing materials made by combining polyester with other fabrics, and it's usually done to maximize each fabric's benefits.

The truth is that, like polyester, your polyester blends can also shrink from heat. So while taking care of them, you have to pay attention to the same details as polyester. While some of them will resist shrinkage due to heat, just like polyester, some of them will not resist as much. To stay on the safe side, look at the care label on the cloth before you launder it.

How Do You Shrink Polyester?

There might be a reason why you want to shrink your polyester clothes. Maybe you ordered a polyester shirt online and realized it is far too big on you.. Instead of returning the item, you can attempt to shrink the cloth.

You have to apply increasing but controlled heat to the polyester to achieve this. This will make the polyester fibers shrink.

Before you begin, you need to determine whether the cloth is polyester or a polyester blend. 100% polyester will shrink at a higher temperature than that needed for most polyester blends. 

The best way to shrink your polyester while avoiding human error is through your washer and dryer. While it’s easy to avoid accidental shrinkage, if you are intentional about it, you can shrink your polyester using your washer and dryer.

Do just the opposite of every precaution we mentioned earlier to achieve this. Use hot water while washing, and set your dryer to a high heat setting. Ensure that the temperature is above 140F, and your polyester should shrink.

One thing to note is that you can't shrink polyester by more than a couple of inches. And the measurements won't be precise. 

Final Words

After this article, it should be clear that with the correct precautions, there should be no worries about shrinking polyester. If you are intentionally trying to shrink polyester, please note that you can only shrink it by a few inches. And remember, always pay attention to the care label of any clothing item and follow them to the letter!


Photo Credit: Pexels/Karolina Grabowska