You bought some new T-shirts a few months ago. You have worn them all summer. Now you are getting ready to put them away for the winter. You would swear they were a little bit bigger when they were new, but you can’t be sure. Have your T-shirts shrunk? And if so, why?

The gradually shrinking T-shirt is a modern phenomenon we are all familiar with. Thanks to T-shirts being all-purpose apparel fit for just about any occasion, most of us wear them a lot. And the more we wear them, the more we realise that they shrink. It doesn’t matter whether we buy the cheap ones or the more expensive custom T-shirts with high quality printing. Shrinkage is shrinkage.

Thank the Cotton

The number one reason T-shirts shrink is the fact that they are made mostly of cotton. But we love cotton. We love it because it is soft, flexible, and breathable. It is one of the most comfortable fabrics on the planet. Cotton is perfect for T-shirts for that very reason. But it has a downside.

The good folks at The Print Bar, a company that produces custom T-shirts in Australia, explains that cotton is very sensitive to heat. Warmer temperatures can cause cotton fabrics to shrink. T-shirts aren’t in danger shrinking on hot days in the sun but soak them in hot water and it’s an entirely different matter.

One way around the problem is to wash your T-shirts in cold water. Even then, electric clothes dryers can cause shrinkage as well. So if you’re making the effort to wash in cold water, you might just as well hang your T-shirts up to dry rather than throwing them into the dryer with the rest of your clothes.

Other Things You Can Do

It sucks to put money into custom T-shirt printing only to discover your shirts are shrinking over time. But there are things you can do above and beyond being careful with the laundry. For example, you can buy your shirts one size too big. They will look and feel a little bulky initially, but they will start to fit better as they shrink.

Note that cotton T-shirts generally don’t continue shrinking forever. The fabric only has so much room to shrink; it will eventually stop. That’s why the ‘one size too big’ tip works so well. But moving on, you can also look for T-shirts that have been pre-shrunk by the manufacturer.

Pre-shrinking works by exposing the fabric to high heat prior to manufacture. T-shirt makers get as much shrinkage out of the way before they even produce the shirts. That way, customers are likely to see only minimal shrinking after the fact, if they see any at all.

Just the Way It Works

Now you know why T-shirts shrink. No, it is not a conspiracy designed to get you to buy more clothes. It’s just the way things work when you’re dealing with cotton fabric. And really, it’s no big deal. Cotton T-shirts don’t shrink that much. It’s not like you buy a shirt, wear it for six months, and then give it to the neighbour’s kid because it doesn’t fit you anymore.

On the other hand, a perception of constant shrinking may actually be more a matter of you gaining weight. That’s okay, too. You can always buy the next size up when it’s time to replace your current crop of T-shirts. From custom T-shirts to off-the-rack bargain shirts, tees abound. Buy as many as you want to fill out your wardrobe. Just remember that some of them may shrink.