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Does Polyester Shrink in the Dryer? Facts & Prevention

a bright polyester scarf

If you’re a proud owner of polyester, you might wonder if it can go in your dryer or if it needs to be hung up. Your dryer can handle quite a bit, but polyester and polyester blends are found in plenty of clothes, and if you’re not careful, you may accidentally shrink your favorite shirt or pair of bike shorts.

While polyester does not shrink in a warm washing cycle, and it can go into a normal dryer rotation in most cases, soaking it in hot water or leaving it in the dryer for a long time can cause it to shrink or warp in other ways. In fact, polyester blends are more likely to shrink than full 100% polyester.

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What is Polyester?

Almost everyone owns at least one item made from or containing polyester, but what is polyester? Polyester is made from a polymer of synthetic chemicals, resulting in a durable fabric that retains its shape. In most cases, polyester is mixed with cotton or other fabrics as a blend to create clothing.

Polyester clothing is typically lightweight and can be chemical-resistant and easy to dry. For clothing, you will typically find polyester, as in 100% polyester, in athletic and other outdoor clothing. Polyester is used in several clothing products after blending with other natural fabrics like wool and cotton.

Polyester has many advantages, including being highly durable and affordable. It also tends to resist stretching, shrinking, and wrinkling. It also has a higher stain resistance than most fabrics, and it is also easier to maintain and dry. However, polyester and polyester blends are also prone to static build-up and poor breathability. This is more common with full 100% polyester garments rather than a polyester blend, which we often see in clothing.

One of the most common polyester blends is a mixture of polyester and cotton. The combination tends to be stronger, highly customizable, and faster drying than its natural counterparts. This particular blend is more resistant to shrinking compared to clothing that is either 100% cotton or polyester.

Polyester Shirt, close-up
Polyester Shirt, close-up (Image By: Damieng, Wikimedia Commons CC SA 3.0 Unported)

Does Polyester Shrink?

You may still be wondering if your polyester clothing will shrink. If you are not used to checking the labels of your clothing, we highly recommend doing so and checking whether your clothes are a polycotton blend or full polyester. Polyester is a very durable fabric, but it can still shrink under some circumstances. If you learn how to properly wash your clothes, especially based on the fabric types you own, chances are you can completely eliminate the odds of your clothes shrinking in the dryer.

The most common mistake with polyester is how you dry it. It shrinks when it is improperly dried in a dryer. Polyester dries fast and depending on the garment, you may benefit from hanging it to dry instead.

However, if you intend to throw it in the dryer, you need to be ready to maintain your dryer’s temperature carefully. Referring to the clothing tag’s washing and drying instructions will give you the necessary steps you need in order to avoid shrinking your favorite shirt.

Does 100% Polyester Shrink?

100% polyester is a different playing field when compared to poly-blends. In all honesty, it is quite difficult to shrink 100% polyester clothing. While it’s designed to be extremely durable, it’s possible to melt the fabric if exposed to a very high temperature.

The polymers in the polyester fabric were specifically made for their overall strength and durability. They can withstand anything you throw at them without stretching, shrinking, or warping. Therefore, polyester makes excellent outdoor gear and sportswear. However, pure 100% polyester fabric is essentially plastic.

Normal washing and dryer settings should never damage an article of clothing as long as it is 100% polyester. Even with all that said, you can destroy any fabric, even polyester, if you do not take proper care of it.

Does Polyester Shrink in a Normal Dry Cycle?

As we stated, polyester does not shrink during a normal dryer cycle. You should always follow the directions on your clothing tags, but most of the time, it is safe to run your clothes and polyester through a normal, low heat cycle. If your dryer has multiple heat settings, use the lowest setting available to minimize the risk. If drying polyester, you must ensure you do not expose the fabric to temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dryers use a combination of motion and heat to dry your clothes, and heat causes the fabric to constrict. Some materials will react even to low heat settings, but 100% polyester is not one of them. If your clothing is a polycotton or other polyester blend, you should always double-check your clothing’s instructions on the inside tag, just in case. In general, normal dryer settings should never cause damage to your clothing, but you can always take extra steps to ensure it doesn’t happen.

Steps to Reduce Chances of Clothes Shrinking in the Dryer

If you want to be extra careful, air drying your clothes is always your best bet. The polyester will air dry in 2 to 4 hours. If you are worried about your dryer being too warm or want to save a bit on your electricity, air drying is the way to go. You can hang your clothes up anywhere, and they will be good to go in a couple of hours.

Your second option for minimizing risk is to use the cool, dry setting. While this might eliminate the absolute joy of laying in the fresh, warm clothes out of the dryer, it can prevent shrinkage. The setting may also be called tumble dry, and it is a great way to eliminate any questions about how much heat your clothes can handle before they shrink.

How to Dry Polyester Fabric

Here is a quick guide on safely drying polyester fabric and polyester blends.

  • Check the settings on your dryer and make sure you are not putting your clothes in temperatures above 100℉.
  • Turn your clothes inside out before they are put into the dryer.
  • Run almost all the way through a normal heat or low heat dryer cycle, pausing a few minutes before it ends to reduce static build-up.
  • Remove the slightly damp garments and hang them up to finish drying to avoid static electricity.

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Final Thoughts

While you are more than welcome to wash your polyester and polyester blends on a normal wash-and-dry cycle, your goal should still be to take the best care of your clothing. Making sure to avoid excessively high heat, air drying your clothing, and limiting the tumble time are all small steps you can take to reduce the chances of shrinkage and the overall static buildup that is inevitable when drying polyester. You are more likely to accidentally shrink your polyester while ironing it than drying it.

Featured Image Credit: MAKY_OREL, Pixabay


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