Can Dry Cleaning Shrink Clothes? [Answered!]

As opposed to washing, dry cleaning is considered a much better option for doing your laundry for certain types of garments.

I prefer it myself, for dress shirts and blazers, as well as other high quality pieces I own.

There is a myth surrounding dry cleaning that needs to be busted. People seem to think that dry cleaning won’t shrink their clothes. There is less truth behind this than you think.

Can dry cleaning your clothes shrink them?

Can Dry Cleaning Shrink Clothes?

Under normal conditions, dry cleaning shouldn’t shrink your clothes.

Dry cleaning, by definition, doesn’t use water at all. It needs a different solvent, which is organic, that gets rid of the stains in your clothes. In fact, the clothes that you do put through dry cleaning are more likely to get cleaner than with a wash. They are also more likely to be preserved for much longer.

This is why clothes have labels of “dry clean only” on them.

However, the malfunctioning of dry cleaning machines, can cause your clothes to shrink. Fabric shrinkage during dry cleaning is first and foremost caused by excessive heat or moisture in the solvent.

Let’s dig a little deeper – why can dry cleaning shrink clothes?

To understand why this happens, we need to understand the process of dry cleaning.

Chill, man

There is a component of the dry cleaning process, which is called the chiller. It prevents the dry cleaning solvent from overheating.

Through a non contact process, which works through convection and conduction, it’s constantly chilled. Through many cycles every hour, the solvent is prevented from being heated to its boiling point. This also prevents it from catching fire.

However, a solvent can overheat when the chiller is broken or malfunctioning. This can result in the excessive heat of the solvent being absorbed by the clothes. Thus, the shrinkage occurs.

Moisture issues

The other problem with the dry cleaning process can be a buildup of moisture.

This is a gradual process, which is inevitable if regular monitoring isn’t done. A small amount of moisture in the dry cleaning solvent is necessary so that the detergent works perfectly.

Too much moisture, however, can cause fabric shrinkage.

To prevent this, there is a component in the dry cleaner called the water separator. It prevents the moisture content of the solvent from exceeding its limits. Any malfunctions can thus cause a lot of water to build up.

Why do clothes shrink?

Why Do Clothes Shrink?

Clothes are made up of many fiber threads knitted together. These collectively form what is known as fabric.

These threads aren’t completely aligned and stuck to each other obviously. There are gaps in between them. Hence, when your clothes shrink, it’s actually the space between the threads that is getting smaller.

Clothes usually shrink because of water. If you notice that your sweater’s sleeves have gotten shorter, it’s usually because of the water.

If you notice that your shirt’s collar has shrunk or that the sleeves have gotten tighter, it’s also water.

However, while water is responsible, heat is also another cause. Just like a wet page crumples up when it dries, wet clothes will crumple up (shrink) when they dry after being washed with hot water. Heat usually shrinks the entire garment, not just the sleeves or the collar.

You will notice that your entire sweater or pair of pants has shrunk from every dimension because of heat.

How can you stop clothes from shrinking?

This type of shrinking is usually reserved for fabrics like wool and cotton. Natural fibers are vulnerable to this type of shrinking repeatedly. However, with artificial fibers like nylon or polyester, it’s unlikely that they will shrink at all.

Dry cleaning is usually meant to avoid this shrinkage completely. However, it can also sometimes cause shrinking for clothes made of natural fibers.

Finally, garment defects are also another reason why clothes shrink. Defective clothes will, at times, shrink the first time that they’re washed or dry cleaned. Garments actually need to be shrunk before they’re bought. This is to prevent any more shrinkage during a wash.


In short, dry cleaning doesn’t shrink your clothes as opposed to washing. However, if the machines used for dry cleaning malfunction or are not maintained properly and if the garment is defected, then your clothes may shrink. Hopefully your dry cleaner has a guarantee (they probably don’t).

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