cotton in cold wash

Does Cotton Shrink in Cold Water?

Cotton is a natural fibre that comes from the cotton plant. The fibres are spun into thread, which is then used to weave or knit fabric. 

Cotton fabric is soft, durable, and comfortable to wear. It is also absorbent and breathable. However, one downside of cotton is that it can shrink.

While it can shrink in hot water, many people are also concerned about whether or not cotton shrinks in cold water. 

In this article, we will explore the answer to that question and offer tips on how to avoid cotton shrinking. Let’s take a look.


Does Cold Water Cause Cotton to Shrink?

cotton shrink

Cotton can shrink when washed in cold water, but not as much as it would in hot water. Shrinkage is likely to be minimal when washing in cold water, as long as the cotton item isn’t tumble dried.

Heat will cause cotton to shrink much faster than with cold temperatures. Therefore, if you want to prevent shrinkage then not only is cold water advised but you should also be careful when drying it.

When cotton shrinks, it does so because the fibres contract. This can happen when the fabric is wet or dry.

Exposure to heat will cause the fibres to contract more than exposure to cold water. That’s why you’ll often see instructions to wash cotton clothes in cold water and avoid tumble drying them on high heat.

This contraction of the fibres can happen in cold water washes, but it won’t happen to the same extent. However, if you wash cotton items in cold water and then put them in a high-heat dryer, they’ll shrink regardless.

How much cotton shrinks depends on a number of factors, including the type of cotton, whether or not it is pre-shrunk, the weave of the fabric, and how it was washed.

Pre-shrunk cotton usually only shrinks about 3%, whereas non-pre-shrunk cotton can shrink up to 20%.

This means that a shirt that is size large may shrink to a medium after being washed in cold water. Therefore, you need to either account for this shrinkage or avoid it.


How to Avoid Shrinking

Why Do Clothes Shrink

There are a few things you can do to avoid shrinking your cotton clothes. First, always check the care label before washing. The care label will tell you what temperature to wash the garment at and whether or not it can be tumble dried.

A cold water cycle is usually recommended at either 30 or 40 degrees Celsius but it’s also vital how you dry the clothes. The best way to do it is to air dry them in a place that is warm but not too hot. Both radiators and a tumble dryer should be avoided. 

The other plan is to account for the shrinking by buying clothing a size up. You can then put them in a regular wash and dry them as normal. They will shrink in size but won’t end up too small for you as you’ve already planned for it. 

Trying to judge this can be difficult as not all cotton is the same and many clothes are blended with different fabrics, such as polyester. It may also be pre-shrunk, which we’ll talk about more in the next section. 


What Is Pre-Shrunk Cotton?

pre-shrunk cotton

Pre-shrunk cotton is cotton that has been treated to resist shrinking. The fabric is washed in hot water and then tumble dried on high heat before it is made into clothing. This treatment shrinks the fibres so that they won’t contract as much when exposed to water or heat later on.

As a result, pre-shrunk cotton clothes are less likely to shrink than regular cotton clothes. This is often still some shrinking but this is often not noticeable and anywhere from 1-5%. It means you can often buy these clothes in your true size without worrying about them getting smaller.

The problem is that labels often won’t tell you whether or not the cotton has been shrunk and therefore it can be a bit of a guessing game. The best solution is to always wash your clothing as instructed on the label. 


How to Unshrink Cotton

how to unshrink cotton

If your clothes do shrink, there’s no need to panic. There are a few ways to unshrink them. First, try soaking the garment in warm water for ten minutes. Then, gently stretch the garment back to its original size.

It’s best to do this on a flat surface so you can ensure that you’re stretching it back into the right shape. Be careful not to tug on the clothes too much as you may either rip the fabric or tear the stitching. Gently work it back to its original size and then air dry it. 



Cotton shrinks because the fibres contract when exposed to water or heat. While cold water may shrink them slightly, avoiding high heat when washing and drying them can help to prevent significant shrinkage.

If your clothes do shrink, then with a little effort you’ll be able to unshrink them. With these tips in mind, you can enjoy your cotton clothes without worrying about them shrinking!