Why Does Cotton Material Shrink?

Written by erin maurer
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Why Does Cotton Material Shrink?
Cotton is still a major crop for the southern United States. (Cotton plant -3 image by Alexey Burtsev from Fotolia.com)

Cotton is one of the most common materials used to make clothing around the world, according to the Fabrics Net website. Its popularity may be attributed to its comfort, softness and versatility. Cotton fibres come from the seed pod of the cotton plant and are fairly easy to harvest. There are several types of cotton materials available on the market today, including 100 per cent cotton, cotton blends, absorbent cotton and organic cotton. Perhaps the major drawbacks to cotton materials are that it wrinkles and has a tendency to shrink.

Cotton History

According to the Cotton Incorporated website, cotton fabrics have been in use from more than 7,000 years. The oldest fragments of cotton-made materials were discovered by archaeologists in Mexico. The fabric dated back to 3500 B.C. The oldest fragments found in the United States were made around 500 B.C. For many years, the cotton harvest in the United States was picked by hand, possibly by slave labour. Today, the harvest is picked with the use of machines. Cotton is still grown in 17 southern U.S. States, stretching from Virginia to California.

Progressive Shrinkage

Progressive shrinkage is defined by the Cotton Incorporated website as fabrics that shrink progressively overtime. Cotton does not usually experience progressive shrinking unless it is combined with other fabrics. Wool is known for progressive shrinking. Pay attention to labels. If your cotton blended fabric garment's label says 'dry clean only' is may contain progressive shrinking fibres.

Relaxation Shrinkage

Relaxation shrinkage occurs when the fabric itself shrinks, according to the Cotton Incorporated website. It differs from progressive shrinking because it is caused by tension applied to the fabrics in the manufacturing process. When washed, progressive shrinking fabrics typically shrink back to their natural size. Cotton is a fabric known for relaxation shrinkage.

Washing Cotton

According to the Boden website, cotton shrinks when washed in hot water. The amount of shrinkage may vary according to the manufacturer of the cotton material. Some manufacturers account for relaxation shrinkage when creating their products. Cotton material shrinks during the first wash to its normal size, creating a better fit. Washing cotton material in cold water is the best way to prevent any major shrinkage. Machine drying may also contribute to the shrinkage of a cotton garment. Be sure to account for this when purchasing items.

Pre-Shrunk Fabrics

Today, some cotton manufacturers have created materials that are pre-shrunk. The T-Shirt Buyer's Guide website states that pre-shrunk cotton is cotton that has been pre-washed prior to being sold. Many garment makers are engaging in this process as a way to prevent materials from shrinking. However, shrinkage is still possible. Pre-shrunk cotton is less likely to experience a drastic shrink, but it will still shrink slightly. Avoid drying clothes in a hot dryer, wash in cold water, or buy garments a little larger than normal to account for this process.

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