I’ve made numerous laundry mishaps in the duration of my adult life. From bleeding colors to shrinking sweaters, I’ve done it all — but I’ve learned from my mistakes. At this point, I’d much rather ask the experts whether my polyester pieces will shrink in the washer or dryer than ruin a perfectly good load of laundry.
If you’re as cautious as I am, you’re probably interested in the answer to that question as well. Well, since I’ve already done the research, I’ve compiled all of the information you’ll need right here. In addition to explaining how polyester reacts to high temperatures, I’ll also share some tips on how you can avoid having your clothes shrink in the laundry. But first, let’s talk about polyester.
What Is Polyester?
To be perfectly frank, I’ve spent most of my life avoiding polyester. All I knew was that the material wasn’t of natural origin, which immediately made me suspicious of it. On top of that, most of the polyester blend shirts I owned would become rather pungent as the day wore on. That certainly isn’t something that would endear you to an item of clothing, is it?
However, I now have a much better understanding of polyester. There’s a time and a place for this synthetic polymer. After all, there’s a reason why it’s such a popular choice for athletic and outdoor clothing.
To begin with, polyester tends to be much more durable than cotton while maintaining a similarly lightweight structure. Aside from being difficult to rip, polyester is also somewhat resistant to chemicals. Presumably, that means that the color of the fabric won’t fade easily, even if you use a harsh detergent on it.
That’s actually one of the many reasons why polyester is such a popular choice for curtains and other decorative items. Moreover, between the material’s strength and its quick-drying properties, it’s no wonder so many companies have polyester athleisure lines.
Different scientific advances have also made polyester more comfortable than it ever was. Most polyester clothes nowadays don’t even trap odor the way those old shirts would. But, with all these wondrous features, you might be wondering: how does this material handle high temperatures?
How Does Polyester React to High Temperatures?
According to everything we just learned, polyester seems to be some kind of miracle material. It’s a durable and fast-drying material that holds color impressively well. What’s more, it’s probably one of the cheapest materials you can find. But there’s still one test we have to run to get to the bottom of today’s topic: how does polyester handle heat?
Like most materials, polyester performs pretty well at body temperature and slightly hotter conditions. Thanks to its durable structure, it doesn’t change its shape in those conditions.
However, that doesn’t mean that you’re free to put polyester in boiling water or dry it at high heat. If the piece in question is made of a polyester blend — so it’s partly made of cotton or another organic material — it will be more likely to shrink in high temperatures.
While polyester is sturdier than most materials, you don’t really want to test it against extreme temperatures. Even pure polyester has its flaws, no matter how far we’ve come from those odor-trapping shirts of yore.
For example, the material stains fairly easily, which will require you to wash it more aggressively. However, if you put stained polyester into the dryer at high heat, the discoloration will most likely set. Since this material is fairly quick-drying anyway, there’s no need to use a dryer in the first place.
How to Ensure Your Polyester Clothes Don’t Shrink
At this point, we know that polyester is at least somewhat susceptible to shrinking in high temperatures. So what can we do to prevent that from happening?
Follow the Recommended Washing Instructions
If you want to ensure the longevity of your clothes, the most important thing you have to do is read the label! No matter what material the piece is made of, the manufacturer probably knows more about their product than you do.
The labels on pure polyester fabrics usually specifically prohibit the use of heat. You’re supposed to wash your polyester pieces inside out, without using overly stripping compounds like bleach. When you take the piece out of the wash, you can’t tumble dry it, wring it, or do anything that can potentially warp the shape of the item.
Instead, you can dry the piece in the shade after shaking the kinks out. If you iron it, you have to mind the temperature of the iron, and only use it on the inside of the material. All this goes to show that high temperatures can indeed endanger polyester clothing — at least according to the manufacturer.
Of course, this could be a case of brands wanting to protect themselves in case their products warp while in the washing machine. However, if you want your polyester piece to last, I’d still obey the washing instructions to the letter. Still, if you’re not particularly trusting towards washing machines, you can always wash your sensitive items by hand.
Wash Your Sensitive Items by Hand
If you take it upon yourself to wash potentially sensitive items by hand, you should be able to prevent your clothes from shrinking. In this case, the key lies in using gentle motions and detergents.
In fact, you could even skip the detergent altogether. There are all sorts of products you can use instead, from shampoo or bar soap, to baking soda or vinegar. Either way, you’ll clean your polyester clothes without affecting their shape.
Most importantly, washing more fragile items by hand allows you to have full control of the temperature of the water. Really, you can just put your polyester product in a large bucket of lukewarm water, put a bit of soap in, and let it soak. That way, you wouldn’t even have to wring or twist the material, which is another bonus.
Does Polyester Shrink If You Wash or Dry It?
Ultimately, pure polyester is durable enough to stay put even at high temperatures. The only way it would shrink is if you actually put it in boiling water. Even then, it would only be by a small margin. However, not many products are pure polyester — most of them are polyester blends.
Therefore, the real problem is in the other part of that blend. The truth is, you can only guess how it will react to high temperatures. When in doubt, it’s best to just follow the washing instructions on the label. Generally, you can wash most items at 30 degrees Celsius or about 86 degrees Fahrenheit.