Can dry cleaning shrink clothes?

Under normal conditions, the process of dry cleaning should not shrink your clothes. The process is called “dry” cleaning, because rather than use water to wash your clothes with, dry cleaners use a chemical solvent in a machine that both washes and dries your clothes. Among other things, these machines are specifically designed to avoid causing fabric shrinkage. In fact, your clothes are much more likely to shrink if they are washed in water.

However, if the dry cleaning machines are not maintained properly or if they malfunction during the cleaning process, shrinkage can occur. Fabric shrinkage during dry cleaning is usually caused by excessive heat or moisture in the solvent.

One component of the dry cleaning machine, called the “chiller”, prevents the dry cleaning solvent from getting too hot. A broken or malfunctioning chiller can cause the solvent to overheat, which may result in  fabric shrinkage.

During routine operation, moisture builds up slowly in the dry cleaning solvent. A small amount of moisture in the dry cleaning solvent is actually necessary for the detergent to work effectively. However, too much moisture can cause fabric shrinkage.  One component of the dry cleaning machine, called the “water separator”, prevents the moisture content of the solvent from exceeding safe limits. A broken or malfunctioning water separator will allow too much water to build up in the solvent.

Shrinkage can also be caused by garment manufacturing defects. Defective garments will often shrink the first time they are dry cleaned. You can read about the Garment Manufacturer’s Dilemma and find out why manufacturing defects are inevitable in one of my earlier posts.

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12 Comments on “Can dry cleaning shrink clothes?”

  1. John Says:

    Thanks for the great info..

  2. Bonnie Mikesell Says:

    I took a pair of expensive white pants to the cleaners and they shrunk. These pants have been dry cleaned several times and I never had a problem. I was told there was a yellow stain and in trying to remove it they have to dry clean several times and that caused them to shrink. They were a bleached white look. I had bought two pair of these pants at the same tim so I was able to compare. Is he being honest with me or did they lander them by mistake?

    • Darrell New Says:

      It does sound like the cleaner may have laundered your pants, but if they did, it was most likely intentional. Water based stains do not come out in dry cleaning very easily. To remove a water based stain, the garment must either be laundered or pre-treated with a water based stain remover prior to dry cleaning. If not all of the stain remover is removed from the fabric prior to dry cleaning, the residual moisture can cause fabric damage, dye loss, or shrinking. Regardless of what actually happened, the cleaner appears to be admitting that his efforts to remove the stain resulted in shrinking. So, he should accept at least partial responsibility and offer you a store credit. If you like, I can send you a Claim Form that you can complete and submit to the cleaner.

  3. Lee Deron Says:

    i sent a whole bunch of expensive curtains for dry cleaning.
    now they shrink, 5-6cm above the floor. it was down to the floor with extra 1cm, more like dragging b4 the dry cleaning. im so dissapointed. my room looks ugly now. and so does my living room.
    now my windows are wearing miniskirts instead of bridal gowns… :(
    after reading the details from this site, i believe they use a normal washing machine to clean it. yet they charged me the dry cleaning fee for each kilograms.. now im pissed!

    • Darrell New Says:

      Hello Lee,

      Was this the first time that you had these drapes cleaned? What are they made of? Is there a care label attached to the drapes? If so, what does it say? Did the cleaner ask you to sign a release before cleaning the drapes? Do the drapes have a “backing” on them?

  4. Julie Says:

    I sent in drapes too, very expensive, about $3,000 for 5 pair and now they sit 3 + inches off the floor where before they sat 1/2 inch off the floor. I did not sign a release, I have had them dry cleaned only once about 5 years ago, at a different D. Cleaners. They are made of cotton, definately shrinkable if washed. Do I have a case to get them replaced?

    • Darrell New Says:

      Hi Julie,

      Drapes and other “rarely” cleaned items are notorious for shrinking, fading, and other types of damage. For this reason, the cleaner should have asked you to sign a release of responsibility prior to cleaning. If they did not, then they assumed the risk and they should be willing to reimburse you for the loss.

  5. shelby Says:

    I took a pair of pants to be dry cleaned for the first time and they came back shrunk about two sizes and are completely unwearable. I had the same pair of pants dry cleaned but in black, which came back fine. Both are the same size and same materials (56% viscose, 39% cotton, 4% spandex) so I do not understand why just the khaki pair shrank and not the black? I also have these same pants in two other colors which I have yet to dry clean because I am too nervous for them to also be ruined. The instructions just say dry clean only and turn inside out to iron cool. I can tell at least with the khaki color that they most likely ironed without turning them inside out.. would this shrink them? Any help is appreciated. I would love to not ruin my other two pairs!

    • Darrell New Says:

      The cleaner most likely washed your khaki pants in water, rather than dryclean them. This usually does not cause khakis to shrink, but for “dryclean only” khakis it does.

  6. evan kallan Says:

    Appreciate your thoughts on how dry cleaner should respond in the following situation:
    I brought in custom-made slipcovers for a loveseat–7 pieces [Base cover and 6 cushion covers], 100% cotton. Although they were “fitted” to my 2 tuxedo-style loveseats with piping, as with most slipcovers, they were not “snug”.
    When I asked if they could be cleaned, noting a stain from my dog laying on cushions– He assured me that cleaning would be no problem, only that some residue from the stain might remain. No release was offered to me.
    When I picked the covers up after the agreed upon date, they look a bit wrinkled, but I wasn’t too bothered until I attempted to put the covers on the loveseat.
    The base cover totally shrunk– the largest piece cannot be closed, even after over 10 days of trying to stretch it over the frame. The zipper runs along the back corner and can be closed only about 1/3, with huge gap of inches. The skirt bows in each direction and the original skirt is very visible underneath- — a way too mini skirt. The cushion covers are extremely tight and must be twisted to get them on to the extent I can. It is a sad sight!
    I’ve brought them back to the cleaners–with a few photos of the problems. He’s a quiet guy, but he was less than forthcoming with next steps. He suggested that I find a “professional furniture place” to stretch them out. After discussion, he agreed to press them & try to stretch them– at no charge.
    Sorry to say, this did not resolve the issues. I’m just grateful that I didn’t bring the covers for the 2nd loveseat in at the same time, although since they are a matched set, both will have to be replaced.
    In your opinion, how should the dry cleaner handle this?
    What is my recourse if he fails to take some responsibly?

    Thank you for your time.

    • Darrell New Says:

      Hi Evan,

      Cushion covers and other infrequently cleaned textiles like this are notoriously dangerous to clean. The cleaner should have asked you to sign a release. Since he didn’t, he accepted the responsibility, so he should offer to reimburse you for the loss. If he doesn’t want to pay you cash, he should offer you a store credit, at least.

      Unfortunately, there is no easy way to force him to do the right thing. Small Claims court is always an option, but usually not worth the trouble.

      I recommend having new covers made and presenting him with the bill.

      Good luck!

      • evan kallan Says:

        Darrell,
        Thank you for your feedback. Sadly, the cleaner in question seems to be less than honorable.

        He’s has been not forthcoming at all. I flat out asked if he has insurance, which he denies having. When pressed, he asked what I would like him to do? My answer–Take some responsibility for the damage done.
        “It is not my fault– I took out the stain.”

        You gave no indication that there would be risk of shrinkage, let alone to this extent. The covers are useless.

        “I don’t have the moulds to press these shapes.”

        In that case, you should have declined the job. No mention was made of moulds until after the damage was done, when you told me I should find a place that handles furniture and see if they could fix it.

        We went around in circles and I left in disgust.

        I will take your advice, but have no hope whatsoever.

        He’s lost a customer for sure, but this is a lousy businessman, IMO.

        Thanks for listening.


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