We’ve all heard the horror stories of clothes coming out of the laundry looking like they’d fit a cat instead of the person they should fit. Worse still are the stories of clothes coming back from the dry cleaners that way. But does dry cleaning actually shrink clothes or is it something else?
In general, the dry cleaning process is designed not to shrink fabric. Dry cleaning uses a chemical solvent and machines in order to clean clothes rather than detergent and water. If clothes return from the dry cleaners shrunken, something in the process went wrong.
Any fabric is made up of fibers in the same way your computer is made up of bits of silicon and plastic. When cleaned in a traditional manner, water permeates fabric allowing the detergent to clean the fabric properly. Heat, usually from the dryer, is then used to evaporate the water and dry the clothes. In some fabrics, evaporating water causes the fibers to be drawn closer than they were originally, thus shrinking the fabric.
If clothes return from the dry cleaners shrunken, there might be a problem with the equipment your dry cleaner uses. The machines use water for running parts unrelated to actually dry cleaning clothes. These parts can leak if the machines aren’t put together correctly or are damaged.
Today, clothing usually comes pre-shrunk or is made of manmade fabrics that eliminate the need for pre-shrinking. Pre-shrinking is the result of the fabric being washed and the fibers being compacted together. Repeated washing results in the fibers becoming looser, rather than tighter. This makes pre-shrunk fabrics more resistant to shrinking, though not completely so.
Fabrics that are not pre-shrunk will shrink more often than not when you wash them. If clothes have been improperly pre-shrunk, it’s possible they will come back from the dry cleaners shrunk.
Is It My Dry Cleaner’s Fault?
As a rule of thumb, most dry cleaners know what they’re doing. If a garment comes back shrunken, it’s okay to talk to the dry cleaner about it. If garments are repeatedly coming back shrunken and your dry cleaner denies responsibility, it might be a good idea to find a new dry cleaner.
Keep in mind that, over time, most fabrics shrink due to repeated washing.
Shrinking clothing at the dry cleaners is rarer than the internet would have you believe. Though garments will sometimes come back shrunken, it’s important to know why.