Do Baby Clothes Shrink in Dryer and During Washing? [Guide]

assorted color of baby dress

Your baby’s wardrobe is normally made up of cute onesies, practical vests, warm socks and hats, cozy cardigans, and the inevitable lacy dress with ruffles if you have a girl! Extra care is sometimes necessary when washing and drying your little one’s clothes. But do all baby clothes shrink in the laundry?

Taking care of baby clothes when doing the laundry is essential if you want to avoid getting irritated every time your little one’s favorite garment suddenly shrinks. But, why do baby clothes shrink, and does this apply to every brand selling infant clothing? And, what can you do to protect your infant’s clothes on laundry day? Read on for all the answers!

Why do baby clothes shrink? 

Natural fibers such as cotton, silk, linen, wool, and hemp have a looser weave that stretches when washed or dried, resulting in shrinkage. Synthetic fibers such as polyester and nylon are less likely to shrink. A blend of these fibers often protects baby clothes from shrinking. 

Is it normal for baby clothes to shrink?

If your baby clothes and accessories such as sheets are made from 100% cotton, wool, linen, silk, or hemp, you can expect them to shrink by at least 3% during the wash. Greater care needs to be taken with clothing and accessories such as swaddles, blankets, and cloth diapers that are made only with natural fibers. 

If you’re an owner of a smart sleeper bassinet, you may be on the hunt for alternatives to the SNOO sheet which is known to shrink if not carefully washed and dried! This is because it’s made with 100% organic cotton. 

Some manufacturers will pre-shrink cotton clothing and baby accessories to prevent further shrinkage when washed and tumble-dried. 

Baby clothes made with a combination of man-made and natural fibers aren’t prone to shrinkage. Synthetic fabrics such as polyester, nylon, spandex, acetate, and acrylic won’t shrink but they can become permanently wrinkled after a spin in the dryer if you use high heat. Select the low heat cycle for better results.  

While woolen baby clothes may be durable, they’ll shrink if washed on a warm cycle. Avoid the temptation of placing them in a dryer. Woolen clothes should only ever be air-dried if you want to prevent them from shrinking! 

If your daughter’s beautiful vintage dress is made from silk, it’ll shrink instantly if washed in the washing machine. Silk fabric should only be hand-washed, using cold water and a mild detergent. Never place this type of baby clothes in the dryer. Instead, air-dry the garment in the shade. 

The science of why baby clothes shrink

What’s the science behind why baby clothes shrink? Basically, different fibers are used to make clothes – natural and synthetic. Synthetic fibers are man-made polymers. Examples of these are polyester, nylon, rayon, and acrylic. The fibers are strings of petroleum-based chemical chains. This type of fabric normally doesn’t shrink in the washing machine and dryer. This is because the temperature doesn’t get hot enough to interfere with the fibers’ structure. 

The structure of natural fibers (from animals and plants) is different. They’re tangled up and curly. When weaving into fabrics, the fibers need to be stretched and pulled. However, this doesn’t prevent them from returning to their natural curly state if given half a chance! 

Mechanical energy and heat are the ideal conditions for the process called shrinkage to happen. There are three types of shrinkage and they happen during the laundry process when washing and drying baby clothes made with natural fibers.

During washing in hot water

  • Fabric that’s undergone relaxation shrinkage during manufacturing will shrink slightly, up to 1 percent, when washed in warm water. 
  • Felting shrinkage often occurs in baby clothes made with wool. In this case, the fibers are shorter and when heated during a wash cycle, water gets in between the scales of the fibers causing them to contract further. 
  • Consolidation shrinkage happens during the mechanical action of the washing machine, causing the fibers to return to their naturally curly state. 

During tumble drying

  • The natural moisture content of the fibers causes shrinkage through over-drying. Cotton has 5% moisture compared to wool with 17% natural moisture content. 
  • Tightly woven fabrics such as jeans are less likely to shrink as much as loosely woven baby cardigans when exposed to low heat.
  • The mechanical energy and heat of the tumble dryer also result in the shrinkage of baby clothes made with natural fibers. 

This video demonstrates the science behind why clothes shrink when washed or tumble-dried. If you like things in written form, you might want to look at my other article on tumble-drying baby clothes.

Here are some common brands baby clothes shrinking

Zara baby clothes shrinking

Zara clothing does have a reputation for shrinking on the first wash! Materials and care instructions are noted on the garment’s tag. Always check the label out before tossing your baby’s outfit in the washing machine or dryer. Some care tips from Zara include the following:

  • Cotton: Can be washed using conventional methods, but refer to the garment’s tag for specific instructions.
  • Tencel: An artificial fiber, it doesn’t shrink nor crease. 
  • Wool: Hand Wash in cold or cool water or dry clean.
  • Polyester: Doesn’t shrink and is fast drying. 
  • Linen: Hand Wash only to prevent shrinkage.
  • Silk: Hand Wash and don’t tumble dry.

Carters baby clothes shrinking

It’s not unusual to have your baby’s Carter’s onesie shrink after the first wash and parents do recommend using a cooler wash cycle, just to be safe! They also recommend buying one size larger so you don’t have to stress when there’s shrinkage. 

The manufacturers tell you to read the label for special washing and drying instructions. They also recommend only using the low heat or gentle cycle if putting the clothes in the dryer. To play it safe, air dry your Carter’s baby clothes to avoid shrinkage.

Hudson baby clothes shrinking

Hudson baby clothes normally look bigger than the size they claim to be but this does help with shrinkage problems after the first wash! The material may also become stiffer and less flexible after being washed. It’s recommended to use a normal wash cycle at a low temperature

Hudson baby clothes can shrink in the dryer even at low temperatures so rather opt for air drying on the line. 

Old Navy baby clothes shrinking

Old Navy baby clothes do have some shrinkage after the initial wash but in most cases it’s negligible. If there is some shrinkage it’s often in the length of the garment and not in the width, making the piece of clothing still comfortable to wear. 

You can give your Old Navy baby clothes a good stretch after washing and drying them to make them wearable again if they do happen to shrink slightly on laundry day! When buying toddler 2T or 3T Old Navy clothing, opt for the larger size if you want to ensure your kid’s garment still fits after being through the washing machine and dryer. 

H&M baby clothes shrinking

H&M baby clothes are pre-shrunk so you shouldn’t have a problem with them shrinking in the washing machine. However, H&M state that they do accept a 3% shrinkage on woven garments and 5% on knitwear or jerseys. Ironing the clothes after a wash helps to regain their original shape and size. 

Always read the care instructions on the garment’s label. Washing and drying instructions are clearly stated on the garment’s tag. Woolen baby clothes should be hand washed or you can select the wool cycle if your washing machine has this setting. Squeeze out any extra water after a wash and dry flat.

Gerber baby clothes shrinking

Gerber baby clothes can shrink so always read the fabric care tag on each garment before tossing them into the washing machine. The label will instruct either a warm or cold wash. Turning the garments inside out will also reduce fading of colors and graphics (but won’t prevent shrinkage!) 

The manufacturer of this brand recommends using a shorter drying cycle with a low-temperature setting. This will help to prevent your Gerber baby clothes from shrinking. But. always check the care label before using the tumble dryer!

Next baby clothes shrinking

Next baby clothes are made with organic cotton, 100% cotton, or a cotton mix. This already tells you to take care when washing and drying them! All Next baby clothes are machine-washable and can be tumble-dried. However, always use low heat or a delicate cycle on the dryer and a cool wash in the washing machine to prevent shrinkage. 

100 cotton baby clothes shrinking

100% cotton baby clothes do shrink if washed at high temperatures. And, they’ll decrease in size when dried in the tumble dryer at high heat! If the label indicates the item has been pre-shrunk, the garment won’t shrink as much after the first wash. 

Organic and 100% cotton are the one and same fabric with the same risk of shrinkage. Baby clothes made with pure cotton should only be washed on a cold wash setting or by hand. Air drying is better than using the dryer to ensure there’s no shrinkage. 

BabyGap clothes shrinking

Similar to most other baby clothes brands, BabyGap clothing can shrink if washed using the hot cycle. They’ll also shrink if tumbled dried at a high heat setting. Always use the lowest temperature when washing and delicate setting on the dryer. 

BabyGap clothes are machine-washable and fabrics may be a blend of cotton and polyester, or 100% organic cotton. Fabric composition and care instructions are available on the brand’s site, depending on the garment you purchase. Check the outfit’s label for washing and drying instructions as well. 

Some baby clothes that won’t shrink

Baby clothes made with a blend of synthetic fibers such as polyester and natural fibers such as cotton won’t shrink in the washing machine or tumble dryer. However, always keep to the lowest heat settings to make certain the garment doesn’t shrink. 

Quick Tip! Using a front-loader or high-efficiency washing machine may also prevent shrinkage in baby clothes with their gentler cycles and no central agitator.  

How to prevent baby clothes from shrinking

The best way to prevent baby clothes from shrinking is to always read the garment’s care instructions on the tag. Here are some general care tips for preventing shrinkage in baby clothes.

During washing

  • Separate clothes according to their fabric and make sure they’re washed at the right temperature.
  • The safest setting for washing baby clothes to prevent shrinkage is a cold wash or delicate.
  • Handwashing in cold water is recommended for delicate fabrics such as silk or wool.

During drying

  • Always select the low heat, gentle, or delicate setting when using the tumble dryer.
  • Be guided by the number of dots in the tumble dry symbol for setting the right heat cycle when using the dryer. One dot means low heat or normal, two dots mean medium heat, and three dots mean high heat. 
  • Select a shorter drying cycle when using the tumble dryer. Never overdry baby clothes.
  • Air drying baby clothes made with natural fibers will prevent shrinkage.
  • Flat drying woolen garments prevents shrinkage as well as helps in regaining the original shape.

How to unshrunk baby clothes

We’re all familiar with that sinking feeling when we realize we’ve shrunk baby’s clothes in the wash! But, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to dump shrunken baby clothes. Here are some tips for “unshrinking” baby clothes so they’re still wearable:

  • Soak in lukewarm water: This method works well for cotton and woolen garments. It helps to relax the fibers, making them stretchy for a comfortable fit again. Make sure the shrunken garment is fully submerged in the lukewarm water (normally at room temperature.) Reshape while in the water.
  • Add baby shampoo to lukewarm water: Add 15ml of baby shampoo to 950ml lukewarm water. Mix well to make the solution more effective. Soft or gentle shampoos help to relax the fibers of the fabric, making it possible to reshape the garment. Soft conditioners such as a moisturizer for baby hair can also be used. Leave the garment to soak for at least 30 minutes. You may need to replenish it with more lukewarm water to prevent it from getting too cold. Reshape the garment while it soaks in the solution.
  • Roll up in a towel: Place the wet garment soaked in the shampoo solution in a large clean towel and roll it up. Leave for up to 10 minutes before removing and stretching back into shape. 
  • Use borax or vinegar: Always dilute these ingredients in water to prevent damaging the outfit. This solution only works on natural fibers such as wool and shouldn’t be used on synthetic fabrics. Soak the garments for up to 30 to 35 minutes. Start stretching and manipulating the clothing item, underwater, after 25 minutes. Squeeze excess water and stuff the garment with rolled-up towels when done. This helps to reshape and dry the garment without it shrinking again. 

Always be gentle when reshaping the garment while wet as you don’t want to damage the fabric fibers further. Hang dry on a hanger to help keep the original shape once you’re done manipulating the item. Wash again to rinse out the shampoo, conditioner, borax, or vinegar but make sure you only use the cold wash cycle to prevent the garment from shrinking again!

Watch this video for some great tips on unshrinking baby clothes.


Extra care when doing laundry day for your baby clothes will keep your little one’s clothing in good shape. This includes using baby detergent (e.g. Dreft) and the right temperature settings when washing and drying clothes in the dryer. You’re more likely to prevent shrinkage as well as other damage such as fading, pilling, or warping of the garment. 

I highly recommend you always read the garment’s tag for care instructions. And, if you really want to avoid the risk of shrinking baby clothes, select those made with a blend of natural and synthetic fibers. Or you might want to consider going for air drying instead of tumble-drying.

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