February 06, 2018

One of the things you’re probably concerned about when caring for your garment is how much it will shrink after it goes through the washer and dryer. First, different garments have different care instructions. In general, the cotton garments should be cold washed, and either line dried or low tumble dried and cool ironed if necessary.  Rayon garments should be cold washed and hang dried with cool ironing as well, if necessasry. Silk garments are the most delicated and should be cold washed and hang dried without twisting out the water. And if ironing is needed then a cool iron should be used.

Having said all that, we know it’s hard to resist the convenience of using a dryer. So what happens if you dry your garments in the dryer? We decided to find out with a 100% cotton and a 100% rayon Aloha shirt. We did not do this test on silk. Maybe we’ll sacrifice a silk shirt for a future article. But for now, let’s just see what happens to the cotton and rayon shirts.

brand new unwashed cotton and rayon hawaiian shirts

The first thing we did was take some simple measurements. We measured the length of the shirt from the top shoulder seam right at the collar down to the bottom of the shirt. Then we measured the length between the armpits for the width. Once we recorded those numbers, we put the shirts in the washing machine and washed with cold water, air dried, then cool ironed them. Here are the measurements after air drying and cool ironing both shirts.

cold washed, hang dried, cool ironed Hawaiian shirts

Next, we washed the shirts in cold water again. This time, we put the shirts in the drying on low heat making sure we left then shirts in long enough to dry. Then we cool ironed the shirts. Here are the measurements after that step.

tumble dried Hawaiian shirts

And finally, we washed the shirts again, this time we ran them in the dryer on high heat until they were dry. Then we cool ironed them. Here are the measurements after that process.

Hawaiian shirts measured after tumble dry high

One thing that surprised us in this experiment was that the shirts suffered their biggest shrinkage after the first dryer test, which was set to tumble dry low temperature. While the rayon shirt shrank a little more in the high temperature dryer, it wasn’t as significant as the first dryer test. Upon further inspection, we found that the dryer we used actually gets pretty hot even on the low temperature. So we probably shrank our shirts more than they would shrink in a better dryer with a cooler tumble low setting. And after the first dryer test, perhaps most of the shrinkage had already taken place (due to the higher than expected heat).

Another factor that comes into play is the length of time that shirts are in the dryer at any given temperature setting. It’s very possible that the shirts will suffer more shrinkage from a long dry time at a lower temperature setting than a short dry time at a high heat setting. If you’re drying a large load of laundry, it takes longer for the clothes to dry. And this would subject the shirt to prolonged exposure to that heat. It’s quite possible that the duration of the heat exposure can have as significant an impact on shrinkage as the temperature setting.

Anyways, after all of our analysis, we have come to a few simple conclusions.

  1. The rayon shirts are more susceptible to shrinkage than the cotton shirts.
  2. The rayon shirts shrank slightly when hang dried.
  3. If you hang dry your shirts (cotton or rayon), you probably wont experience significant shrinkage. Any shrinkage may not even be noticeable.
  4. If you put the rayon shirt in the dryer with medium or high heat, it will likely shrink about half a size. (If you blast it for an hour, it will shrink by more.)
  5. As a rule of thumb, hang dry your Aloha shirts and dresses. Why take a chance on shrinking it? And if you must use a dryer, be sure your dryer is not like ours and gets hot even on the low setting. Use the coolest setting you can and don’t leave it in too long.

So that’s it. Hang dry your shirts or dresses and only use a dryer as a last resort….and never use high heat. If you follow those steps, your new Hawaiian shirt or dress will bring you years of enjoyment.

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