How to Wash Cotton Clothes Without Shrinkage

Updated April 13, 2018

Few things are more comfortable and flattering as that perfect pair of jeans--until someone tosses them in the dryer. No, you haven’t gained five pounds overnight; your trousers shrunk. Cotton is one of the most versatile of the natural fabrics, but it does tend to shrink a lot. It is possible to wash cotton clothes without shrinkage, but it does take a little extra time and effort. Washing cotton safely is the best way to protect the fit and will also keep the colour from fading. You can avoid shrinking cotton with a little tender loving care.

Set your washing machine on “cold” and the agitation cycle on “delicate." Add mild detergent according to the size of the load, and add the cotton clothing.

Hand wash cotton clothes by filling a sink or basin with cool water and adding the detergent. Swish the garments around gently with your hands. Rinse them thoroughly under running water without twisting or wringing.

Take wet cotton clothes out of the washing machine and gently shake them to ease the wrinkles. If you have hand washed, roll the clothes in clean towels and squeeze them to remove the excess water, and shake them gently.

Hang the damp cotton clothes on clothes hangers, or trousers hangers for jeans or trousers. Hang them in indirect sunlight, preferably someplace that has air circulating. Use your hands to smooth out any wrinkles, to restore the shape of the garment and to stretch them a little if need be. Leave them hanging until they are dry.


Attach a clean hand towel to a clothes hanger with a safety pin before putting your wet shirts on them to avoid hanger creases at the shoulders. Hang jeans upside down to keep the waistband from shrinking as it dries.


Avoid the dryer altogether and cotton clothes will last much longer. Do not wash more than four pairs of jeans in the washer at a time or the weight can unbalance the drum.

Things You'll Need

  • Detergent for delicate fabrics
  • Cold water
  • Washing machine, sink or basin
  • Hangers
  • Trousers hangers
  • Clean hand towels (optional)
  • Safety pins (optional)
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About the Author

Emmy-award nominated screenwriter Brynne Chandler is a single mother of three who divides her time between professional research and varied cooking, fitness and home & gardening enterprises. A running enthusiast who regularly participates in San Francisco's Bay to Breakers run, Chandler works as an independent caterer, preparing healthy, nutritious meals for Phoenix area residents.