Does Polyester Shrink – In Washer Or in Dryer?

  • By: Tiffany Peris
  • Time to read: 14 min.

Polyester is common not only in the USA but throughout the world. In the United States, it has been reported that 60% of the garments sold by US-based fashion retailers every year contain polyester. Thus, there is an increased chance you are wearing some garments made of polyester as you read this article. Moreover, there is also a high probability you will find polyester clothes in your closet.

As a synthetic fiber, one of the qualities of polyester is that it resists shrinkage. However, with a lot of determination, polyester can shrink with a washing machine, dryer, iron, and boiling in hot water.

Compared to most manufactured fibers, polyester is different from those fabrics since, while other synthetic materials have to be blended with other fabrics for them to shrink, 100% polyester may slightly shrink. However, the process would take a lot of time and effort, unlike what would be the case if polyester was blended with another natural fabric.

This article looks at whether polyester can shrink, different methods to shrink polyester, the advantages and disadvantages of the various methods to shrink polyester, and whether different polyester blends can shrink.

What is Polyester?

Polyester is made from a chemical reaction between air, water, and petroleum. For many years, polyester has been the most popular fabric material, and as such, it is used in numerous industries.

From a chemical perspective, polyester is a polymer with different compounds. The majority of polyester fibers come from ethylene, mainly retrieved from petroleum. For that reason, polyester production has contributed a lot to environmental pollution over the years.

Even though polyester is used in different clothing products, in most cases, the polyester used in clothing products is usually blended with other natural fibers such as wool, linen, and cotton.

Some advantages of polyester are; that it is highly durable, affordable, resists stretching and shrining, resists wrinkles, has high stain resistance, is lightweight, and retains its shape. In addition, it is easy to maintain and dries quickly.

Nevertheless, the fabric has some weaknesses: it is vulnerable to static build-up, has poor pile retention, mainly when used in carpets, keeps smell, and has poor breathability.

To fix some of the weaknesses of polyester, the fiber is generally blended with other natural fibers to create different polyester blends.

For example, one of the common blends of polyester involves polyester and cotton, commonly known as poly-cotton or polycotton. In this blend, cotton fibers are combined with polyester fibers. This combination is better since it is stronger, highly customizable, and dries faster, unlike in the case of a fabric that is 100% cotton. The blended polyester and cotton fibers also give a fabric that is resistant to shrinking.

In the fashion industry, garment manufacturers have been using polyester to manufacture different clothing products such as pants, bedsheets, puffer jackets, underwear, shirts, and socks, among other fashion products.

Does 100% Polyester Shrink

As a synthetic fabric, polyester is also resistant to heat. Therefore, polyester is resistant to shrinkage and does not shrink in standard settings. Specifically, to get the polyester to shrink, you will need to have a temperature of more than 140 degrees Fahrenheit – for polyester blends. 100% polyester will shrink at temperatures between 160 – 178°F (71°C – 81°C). 

100% polyester fabric comprises synthetic fibers. Therefore, the material has the characteristic to resist high temperatures and not change its size at all. For that reason, your polyester textiles last long and hardly shrink even when washed in a washing machine regularly.

Shrinking 100% polyester is not a simple undertaking and can sometimes end up with a damaged polyester. However, if you have a lot of time and are ready to put in an effort, you may shrink the fabric.

Can You Shrink Polyester?

You can shrink 100% polyester or a polyester blend. However, it is essential to note that 100% polyester will shrink differently from a polyester combination.

For 100% polyester, you will need more time and effort as the fabric is 100% synthetic and resistant to heat.

If you have a blend of polyester and another natural fiber, it will be easier to shrink the fabric since the natural fiber will complement polyester’s poor shrinking values. The higher the percentage of natural fiber in your polyester blend, the easier it will be for you to shrink polyester.

Shrinking 100% polyester requires you to ensure temperatures between 160 – 178°F (71°C – 81°C). If the heat used has more temperature than 180°F, you will most likely ruin your garment. In addition, the fabric will most likely melt once you go above 178F.

How Much Does Polyester Shrink?

The critical factor determining the extent to which polyester will shrink is the percentage of polyester in the fabric. 100% polyester does not shrink in standard settings since it is a synthetic fiber.

If you have pure polyester, you will need 160 – 178°F (71°C – 81°C). However, the shrink will not be a lot. For 100% polyester, the polyester shrinkage is usually between 2%-3%. If you need to shrink your fabric further, you will need to repeat the procedure a couple of times.

For a polyester blend with a high percentage of natural fiber such as cotton or wool (for instance, 30% polyester and 70% cotton), the blend shrink will be between 3% – and 5%.

When you are shrinking 100% polyester or a blend of polyester with a washing machine, you must ensure that your washing machine is set to the highest water temperature setting. That is because irrespective of the polyester percentage in the fabric, you will need high temperatures to get the synthetic fibers in the fabric to shrink.

Different Ways To Shrink Polyester Clothes?

You will need very high temperatures to shrink polyester, whether 100% polyester or a polyester blend. As a synthetic fiber, polyester shrinks when subjected to high heat.

To shrink the fabric, you can use different methods. However, irrespective of the method used, you might find that you did not achieve the shrinking you wanted once you have completed the process. In such situations, you will need to repeat the shrinking process until you are happy with the shrinking size.

Nevertheless, when repeating the shrinking process, you need to be careful. If you repeat the process at short intervals, you could ruin your garment as the fabric might either melt or deform in the process.

From my personal experience, you should never shrink polyester for more than three consecutive times on a single day. You should set the fabric aside and try the procedure another day.

Note that the heat needed to shrink polyester blend is lower than that heat required to shrink pure polyester.

Let’s now look at different methods to shrink polyester and the advantages and disadvantages of these methods.

Shrinking Polyester Using A Washing Machine And A Dryer

One of the way to shrink polyester items by using a washing machine and a dryer in your house. Indeed, this is the main reason why many clothes shrink when washed. A very hot dryer will also leave your clothes shrunk.

When you use a dryer, the dryer tosses the fabric around in the hot, enclosed area inside the dryer. As polyester fibers get thrown around, they slowly tighten, resulting in shrinking.

Fabrics that are 100% polyester and polyester blends can all shrink by putting them in a dryer. For 100% polyester, you have to set the dryer on high heat setting. You might also need to have your garment in the dryer for a long time since if fabrics stay in the dryer for a short time, you might not achieve any shrink or a minimal shrink size.

Even though you can shrink polyester directly by placing it in the dryer, I prefer to start the process by washing the fabric with a washing machine set at the hottest water setting and the longest wash cycle. In addition, when washing the clothes, ensure you turn them inside out before washing.

The heat during the washing and drying cycles has to be set at the highest setting. This is because the polyester content in the blend makes the fabric have high heat resistance properties. Indeed, if you don’t set the clothes dryer on high heat, you will not achieve the shrink you want.

Advantages of With A Washing Machine And A dryer

The shrinking process is easy and swift since you need to wash the polyester fabric, put in the dryer, and let the dry cycle complete.

If you want to achieve a small or bigger shrink size, you can easily regulate this by regulating the time polyester items stays in the dryer.

Disadvantages of using the washing machine and a dryer

If you are not careful, you could have a more considerable shrink than expected as you wait for the drying cycle to end.

Polyester is known to have fast drying characteristics. Thus, when polyester is exposed to a lot of heat for a long time in the dryer, there is a chance that the fabric will have a lot of wrinkles and could also be damaged.

Using Hot Boiling Water To Shrink Polyester Clothes

In this method, you will be soaking polyester in hot water.

You will require boiling water, a stainless steel basin that is big enough to submerge the polyester garment in water, a stove or heat source, and a wooden spoon or metal tongs.

It is also essential that the polyester you want to shrink is obtained directly from the wash and it is wet since by washing the fabric first, the shrink process will have been activated long before you put the garment in the boiling water.

Put water in the stainless-steel basin and bring it to a boil using the heat source. When the water starts boiling (you will see bubbles), put your polyester items, which is wet and direct from the washing machine, in the water. Use the wooden spoon or metal tongs to ensure that the polyester item is fully immersed in the water.

Leave the polyester garment in boiling water for about 60 minutes. If your garment is 100% polyester, you may extend the time the garment is in the boiling water by five or ten minutes. If you need the garment to shrink further, soak it in hot water for a long time. Polyester is highly resistant to heat and will thus need to be in contact with heat for a long time so that the shrinking exercise will be successful.

Proceed to dry the polyester clothing on the cloth line. If you do not want the garment to shrink further, you should hang it inside the house where it does not have any contact with sunlight. Alternatively, you can use the dryer to dry your garment.

You should be careful that the polyester item does not shrink too much. You might not be able to effectively stretch it back. Also, before drying the clothing on the clothesline, ensure you have wrung out the excess water from the clothing.

Advantages Of Shrinking Polyester With Hot Water

The method is simple and easy to undertake.

All the materials needed are readily available – you can shrink without a washing machine and dryer.

You have direct control of the shrink process as you can regulate the water temperature if need be while using a washing machine and dryer is not possible.

Disadvantages Of Shrinking Polyester With Hot Water

You will need a lot of time to prepare for the shrink process and spend a lot of time in the actual shrinking process.

You might ruin the garment, especially if the water becomes too hot.

You can only get to know whether you have been successful or not after you have dried the garment.

Using A Washing Machine To Shrink Polyester

A hot wash in with your washer and then drying the clothes on the cloth line can shrink your fabric. All that is needed in this method is the washing machine.

When washing machines are washing clothes, they produce heat from the water temperatures, and the ensuing friction as fabric inside the washing machines is tossed around. It is this heat that is inside the washing machine that will shrink your garment. Moreover, this is why clothes do not shrink when you hand wash them in cold water.

To use a washing machine, you have to set your washing machine’s temperature at the highest point. 100% polyester or a blend of polyester will shrink under very high heat.

The only difference when using a washing machine is that for a 100% polyester item, you will need to wash the garment with a cycle longer than the cycle to be used with a polyester blend. You can use detergent in the wash cycle if the clothes are dirty.

Once the polyester garment has been washed and shrunk in the washing machine, you will hang the garment to dry. Then, finally, you will hang the fabric on a clothesline.

When washing clothes with a washing machine and you don’t want to shrink them, always ensure you use a lukewarm water setting.

Advantages of using a washing machine

It is an easy process where all that is required from you is to put the polyester in the washing machine and set the temperature settings.

The method is environmentally friendly.

After washing, you can put it in the dryer and get added shrink.

You are sure that the temperatures you want in the washing machine are what you get as long as you have the correct setting.

Disadvantages of using a washing machine

If your washing machine is not well calibrated, you could ruin the fabric.

Once you have set the temperatures and turned the washing machine on, you do not have any other control of the shrink process as you have to wait for the wash cycle to end.

This method might not be the best since tossing your garment inside the machine could result in uneven material.

Whenever you are washing your polyester clothes, and you don’t want to shrink them, use a permanent press and cool water setting. This setting washes the clothes in warm water and rinses them in cold water. During the was, this water relaxes and eradicates any creases in clothes. In this setting, there is no chance that fabric can shrink or fade.

Using Clothes Iron To Shrink Polyester

Unknown to many, when ironing the polyester garment, you can shrink the garment. For that reason, it is always recommended that you read the tag of your garments and ensure that you iron the garments as per the specifications given by the manufacturer so that you take good care for polyester fabrics.

You need hot water to wash the garment. Thus, the hottest water setting should be used to wash polyester fabric.

Once the wash cycle is over, you will need to directly remove the garment from the washing machine and place it on the iron board (the garment will be wet and not dried). Ensure that your polyester cloth does not fade during the process by washing and ironing the clothes when turned inside-out.

To safeguard your fabric from any damages caused by iron, cover the garment you have just placed on the board with a pressing cloth – preferably made of cotton.

Set your iron to either low or medium heat. Even if polyester requires a lot of heat to shrink, avoid using high heat setting when ironing the garment as high heat will leave your garment stiff, and you don’t want that.

Don’t use an iron steam function.

Gradually iron the fabric from one end of your polyester cloth to the other. Ensure that iron has passed through every part of the garment. Iron the garment till the point where it is dry.

Advantages Of Using Iron

This is a straightforward process that anyone can do as long as you have iron.

The process does not take a lot of time since it only lasts when you will be ironing the garment.

From the setting of your iron, you can control the heat used in ironing. For example, for 100% polyester, a medium heat setting will be perfect, while for a fabric that is not pure polyester, a low heat setting will be fine.

Disadvantages Of Using Iron

If you are not careful when ironing the garment, you could ruin the garment since if you mistakenly set the iron heat to maximum, polyester fibers could melt.

If you do not have prior experience, you might find it hard to determine where to stop ironing the fabric.

Does Polyester Blend Shrink?

A polyester blend is a fabric made of polyester fiber and fibers of another fabric. Therefore, it is essential to know the type of fabrics in the blend to determine whether the polyester blend will shrink.

If the blend is made of two synthetic fibers such as polyester and spandex, the blend would be hard to shrink though shrink is possible. However, blends that comprise polyester and a natural fiber such as wool or cotton will be easy to shrink the blend.

The percentages of the fibers in the blend will also determine the ease of shrinking. For example, shrinking will be easy if the natural fiber content in the blend is more than the synthetic fiber. On the other hand, if the blend has a high percentage of synthetic fiber, high heat and time will be needed to shrink the fabric.

Does cotton polyester blend shrink?

Yes, a cotton-polyester fabric will shrink. Cotton is a natural fiber and shrinks when exposed to temperatures above 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Polyester can also shrink when exposed to temperatures between 155 to 178 degrees Fahrenheit.

A cotton-polyester material can shrink up to 3% since it has 50% polyester and 50% cotton.

Does linen polyester blend shrink?

A fabric of linen and polyester will shrink. Linen is a natural fiber, while polyester is a synthetic fiber. The percentages of each fiber in the fabric will determine how you shrink the garment.

If the linen percentage in the blend is higher than that of polyester, you will not need very high temperatures. On the other hand, if the percentage of polyester is higher than that of linen, a lot of heat and time will be needed to shrink the garment.

Does polyester and spandex blend mix?

A blend of polyester and spandex can shrink at temperatures above 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Both polyester and spandex are artificial fibers with known high heat resistance values. Nevertheless, the garment will need to come into contact with a lot of heat for a long time.

The two best methods to shrink a polyester and spandex fabric are using a washing machine and a dryer and boiling the garment in hot water.

The garment has to be washed with the highest temperature setting of the washing machine for about 45 minutes. You will then dry the garment with the highest temperature dryer setting. Once the dry cycle is over, you should let the garment dry in the dryer for an additional 20 minutes.

Does Rayon Polyester Blend Shrink?

A rayon polyester material will shrink as rayon has a high shrink value despite being classified as an artificial fiber. Indeed, as long as the polyester content in the fabric is less than 30%, you can shrink the rayon polyester fabric.

If polyester in the fabric is less than 30%, you need to be very cautious since rayon in the fabric could result in your fabric being damaged once it is exposed to a lot of heat in the process.

Does Modal Polyester Blend Shrink?

The modal polyester material typically shrinks. Modal is a natural fiber, while polyester is an artificial fiber that is not vulnerable to shrinking. To shrink this fabric, temperatures of about 150 degrees Fahrenheit will be required. A washing machine and a dryer will be enough to shrink the modal polyester fabric.

You can also shrink the fabric by using a clothes iron and boiling the garment in hot water.

Concluding Thoughts

Polyester is an affordable man-made fiber, making it a popular choice for almost all cloth manufacturers.

In this article, we have looked at different methods that can be used when you want to shrink a polyester shirt or any other garment. I have used these methods in the past and successfully shrank my polyester clothes. If I don’t want to shrink the clothes, I always wash the clothes and use cool water while washing as hot water can cause shrinking.

You should use the methods you feel most comfortable with to try to shrink the clothes. If you don’t want to shrink your polyester clothes in the wash, always ensure you use a warm water wash setting while washing polyester clothes.

Lastly, always be careful when shrinking polyester since a lot of heat could damage the polyester. For example, while you have to use the clothes dryer on a high temperature setting, I suggest you occasionally remove the clothes from the dryer and check whether you have achieved the desired shrinkage. Likewise, ensure you wet polyester material before shrinking.

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