Does Steaming Shrink Clothes? Avoid Steam Fabric Shrinkage

does steaming shrink clothes

Have you ever nervously steamed a silk shirt, worrying does steaming shrink clothes? You’re not alone!

With the introduction of steam washing machines, steam dryers, and closets, it’s no longer the humble clothing steamer you need to worry about. After all, when steaming your clothes, you control the steam level and proximity to your clothing.

Garment steamers relax fibers in clothes and, if anything, help clothes that have shrunk in the wash expand back to normal sizing. This doesn’t work with all textiles but works well on cotton elastane shirts and other cotton blend fabrics. 

In this post, I’ll discuss the differences between clothing steamers, steam cycles on laundry appliances like your washing machine and dryer, and fabrics prone to shrinkage. You’ll know when to use a steam cycle and when to avoid it!

Why Do Clothes Shrink?

Heat can cause shrinkage of your clothes. It is generally longer exposure to heat from hot water washes and putting items in the dryer that causes shrinkage.

Steaming is a gentler alternative to ironing, particularly for delicate fabrics. But remember, too much heat or incorrect steaming can cause fabrics, especially natural ones, to contract. The key is moderation and understanding the science of fibers! They tend to relax and swell with heat and moisture but might shrink when they dry.

For the best results, ensure you always read the care label before washing, and when using a garment steamer, use a protective steam bonnet for delicate items like wool and silk, and always start with the gentlest setting. 

Does a Steam Washer Shrink Clothes?

loading clothes in a steam washing machine

Modern steam washers promise superior cleaning, but can they shrink your clothes? Yes, the steam feature in modern washers could contribute to clothing shrinkage. Steam can affect fabric texture, particularly with materials like wool and silk, which are susceptible to heat.

While steam provides superior cleaning performance, too much heat or improper use can lead to shrinkage and possibly color fading. To prevent shrinkage, it’s essential to use the correct settings for the type of fabric you’re cleaning. These fabrics are prone to shrinking, and steam washing isn’t recommended: 

  • Viscose
  • Lyocell
  • Rayon
  • Silk
  • Wool

The benefits of using steam for cleaning clothes include better stain removal and reduced allergens, making it an excellent option for bedding and non-delicate items. However, some fabrics might require alternatives to steam for gentle care. If you’re worried about the potential for shrinkage or damage to delicate items, consider using cold water washes and drying on low heat.

Always follow the care instructions on your garments to ensure they maintain their shape and texture. You are more likely to ruin clothes made of natural fabrics, such as cashmere, wool, or hair from animals.

Does a Steam Dryer Shrink Clothes?

man wearing shrunk clothing from steam dryer

Steam dryers are excellent for refreshing and de-wrinkling clothes but require careful use. Avoid steam cycles on extremely delicate or shrink-prone items, such as urethane foam, down feathers, delicate items, wool, wool blankets, leather jackets, silk, lingerie, foam products, or electric blankets to avoid shrinkage.

A steam dryer can be great for mixed fabrics like a 70% cotton and 30% poly blend.  

Some models inject steam during the drying cycle, while others may have a separate steam cycle. According to Whirlpool, the steam feature can also help remove static and be gentler on certain fabrics. 

Fabrics made from natural fibers such as cotton, linen, wool, and silk have a higher tendency to shrink when exposed to high heat or steam. The heat can cause the fibers to contract and tighten, leading to shrinkage.

For instance, wool is particularly prone to shrinking because of its natural crimp, which can tighten up with heat and moisture. Cotton and linen can also shrink under high heat, especially if not pre-shrunk or treated to resist shrinking.

Silk is another delicate natural fiber that can shrink or damage if exposed to high heat. Check the care labels on clothing for instructions to prevent unwanted shrinkage, as some fabrics may require low heat or air-drying.

Steaming Natural Fiber Clothing

does steaming clothes shrink them

Animal and plant-based fabrics (such as suede and linen) can shrink from heat exposure and agitation. You should never wash suede or leather. These are dry-clean-only fabrics. 

Cotton and linen can contract when moved around the washing machine. The agitation from twisting and spinning can cause the natural fibers to contract and pull tightly. 

Use the gentle wash setting or wash these types of clothing by hand. 

You can use a steamer on a low steam setting if you have velvet or suede clothing. Velvet and suede should not be exposed to high levels of moisture. Try steaming from the inside out rather than the outside for velvet and wool clothing with a lining. The lining will be an additional barrier between your steamer and the fabric.

Use A Low Steam Setting on Your Garment Steamer

If you are worried about shrinking your delicate apparel when steaming, and your steamer has multiple heat settings, start by steaming on the lowest setting. 

This will output less steam and, ultimately, less heat on your clothing. 

If you also have attachments for your garment steamer, such as a steam bonnet, use this. This will put a protective layer between the sole plate of your garment steamer and your clothing. The mesh of the bonnet also helps to diffuse the steam. 

A Steam Iron Will Shrink These Fabrics

does steaming your clothes shrink them

You should never iron wool, silk, and synthetic apparel that have silk-like qualities. They will most likely shrink and burn under the heat of the iron. Wool can also go shiny when exposed to a heat plate, such as the base of an iron, or directly to the sole plate of your steamer.

Using a clothing steamer is an excellent way to remove wrinkles from cashmere, wool, synthetics, and silk. Ensure that you use a low heat setting to start, and as mentioned above, use the steam bonnet.

Use a sweeping motion from the top to the bottom of your garment. Try not to hold the steamer in one position for too long. 

If you have trouble removing the wrinkles, try increasing the steam level or using a slower sweeping motion. 

Shrinking of Viscose, Lyocell & Rayon Fabrics

Viscose is a rayon that can easily shrink when exposed to water and heat. Other rayon textiles include lyocell, which you may know by the brand name of Tencel, and Bemberg, which can be steamed with a clothing steamer.

You should avoid using a steam dryer for these items and only wash them in cold water; don’t use the steam setting on your washer, either.

Remember, read the care instructions. If the label says dry clean only, refresh it using your clothing steamer but do not put it in the wash. 

This blog post shows you how I steamed a dry clean only coat, and it came up beautifully!

What is the Best Fabric Steamer for Delicate Apparel?

My favorite handheld steamer for 2024 is the Electrolux Portable Garment and Fabric Steamer.

This is an excellent quality brand, with a ceramic soleplate, two steam settings, and 1500 watts of power. There is also an electromagnetic pump for strong, continuous steam output.

The Electrolux steamer includes a fabric brush and lint brush. You can use this handheld steamer vertically and horizontally, and the long 8ft power cords allow maximum portability.

Read the full review of the Electrolux Steamer here.

Does Steaming Shrink Clothes?

does steam cleaning shrink clothes

Steaming is a wonderful way to remove wrinkles from even the most delicate attire. Generally, using a garment steamer to de-wrinkle your clothes should not cause any shrinkage.

The benefit of a garment steamer is it is much more gentle than ironing, far more cost-effective than dry cleaning, and an excellent choice to refresh dry clean only fabrics.

If you are unsure, test the steam in an inconspicuous area of your clothes – for instance, under the arm, to see how it fares.

If the item is very valuable to you and you are concerned about using steam, it may be better to take it to the dry cleaner.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will steaming jeans shrink them?

No, steaming jeans with a clothing steamer will not shrink them.

Does steam shrink cotton?

Using a clothing steamer on cotton is unlikely to shrink it, however, steam washing or a steam dryer may, particularly if the cotton has not been pre-shrunk during the manufacturing stage.

Can an iron shrink clothes?

Yes, an iron can shrink clothes, especially if used on high heat with moisture-sensitive fabrics. To prevent this, always use the correct temperature setting for the fabric and avoid excessive heat or steam.


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