Why Do Clothes Shrink in the Wash?

published on July 20, 2020

Knowing the do's and don'ts of washing your clothes can be a difficult to fare when looking at the tag especially when it comes to shrinking but what is it exactly about different materials that make some safe to wash at home and others dryclean only when you get down

To it folks this is a quick lesson in material chemistry one that will give you the scientific know-how to stop yourself from destroying your favorite ensemble first you need to understand the materials that your clothes are made

Out of we can break clothing fibers down into three categories synthetic plant-based and animal-based each of these types of fibers have a chemical makeup that will respond to cleaning methods differently

And many clothing garments can be made out of a mix so knowing how they interact with water is key here folks synthetic fibers are polymer chains built out of small units or monomers that are usually derived from petroleum

These include materials like polyester nylon polypropylene and many more most synthetic fibers are hydrophobic or water hating which is why they're often used as outerwear to shed water or underwear to breathe and let moisture

Escape from the skin for the most part these types of materials have no issue with water and don't really shrink when machine washed a second we have plant derived materials like cotton linen and hemp that have fibers with chemical

Structures made of cellulose which are long polymers of glucose molecules these types of materials are perfectly fine to clean in the washer at home because the cellulose fibers are polar and therefore hydrophilic or water-loving

This quality allows these types of materials to absorb and release water without any lasting effect on their structure be careful though because high temperatures both with washing and drying can potentially warp these

Materials but for this reason many clothing manufacturers pre shrink threads so you don't have to worry about it protein-based fibers like silk and wool are a totally different story these

Materials have polar and nonpolar sections arranged in tube-like structures which make the inside hydrophilic but the outside hydrophobic these exteriors are excellent for light exposure to water like when it rains

Because it rolls right off but when things really get wet your garmet is in big trouble because water can eventually break through into the hydrophilic interior where it sticks around this is why will

Take so long to dry once it gets fully soaked these water molecules cause the of the fiber structure to swell and to accommodate that swelling the exterior of the fiber has to contract lengthwise when the water eventually evaporates the

Fibers remain in the shortened configuration and your favorite sweater is now misshapen or way too small there's a couple ways to get around this you can buy a specially treated wool or wool blended with synthetic fibers

Specifically designed to withstand cleaning in a washer however if you do have untreated wool wash it by hand with wool friendly detergent regular detergent interacts with the hydrophobic surface helping transport water into it

Causing damage to its structure a low-temperature short wash time in a mild detergent all helped to reduce stress on fibers to limit damage just make sure to reshape your clothes when you lay them out to dry or the wool may

Dry misshapen and then there's dry cleaning which saves your clothes from any contact with water when looking at the label if you read dry clean it's actually more of a recommendation than a necessity it's when it says dryclean

Only that you should do so because these are the clothes that are prone to shrinkage contrary to what you might think dry-cleaning isn't dry at all instead of using water this method of cleaning relies on chemicals like

Perchloroethylene or perc for short this chlorinated molecule can't penetrate protein based fibers so it doesn't cause any shrinkage when you bring you clothes to the cleaners they're cleaned with a mixture of perc and detergent both of

Which have specific purposes perc is an oil loving non-polar solvent so it does a great job of lifting nonpolar stains from the fabric like that sweat ring around your collar or that greasy spill from lunch the detergent on the other

Hand helps lift any water-soluble stains that the perc can interact with after a final perk rinse the laundry gets spun and tumble dry all within the same machine but a word of caution some synthetic fibers can actually dissolve

In dry cleaning solvents so if you see this symbol believe it by keeping your eyes on the materials that your clothes are made of you're also keeping an eye on their unique chemical interactions plants and synthetics are good to go in

Water but protein based animal fibers will always need some special attention and maybe even the dry cleaners yet another reason to keep your chemical knowledge fresh and clean if you have any other household chemistry questions

You want to answer let us know down in the comments any other laundry life hacks or tips to share post them down there as well and we will see you again soon

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