Steamers relax fibers in clothes and if anything, helps clothes that have shrunk in the wash expand back to normal sizing. This doesn’t work with all types of textiles but works really well on cotton elastane shirts, and other cotton blend fabrics.
So to the question, does steaming shrink clothes, the answer is not really. It’s not the steam itself that could cause shrinkage to your clothes, it is the prolonged exposure to heat and high temperatures that could cause shrinkage. Ensure you read the care label on your clothing before washing in a steam washer, steam dryer or using a clothing steamer.
Why Do My 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 cause shrinkage.
Ensure you always read the care label before washing for the best results. I’ve written a general guide below on how steam affects different types of fabrics and what steam setting you should use on your clothing steamer.
Steaming Natural Fiber Clothing
Both animal and plant based fabrics (for example suede and linen) can shrink from both heat exposure and agitation. You should never wash suede or leather, these are dry clean only fabrics.
Fabrics such as 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.
If you have velvet or suede clothing, you can use a steamer on a low steam setting. Velvet and suede should not be exposed to high levels of moisture. For velvet and wool clothing that has a lining, try steaming from the inside out, rather than the outside in.
The lining will act as an additional barrier between your steamer and the fabric.
Use A Low Steam Setting
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.
Avoiding Shrinkage of Wool, Silk and Synthetics
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.
Steaming 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 top to the bottom of your garment. Try not to hold the steamer in one position for too long.
If you are having trouble removing the wrinkles, try increasing the steam level or use a slower sweeping motion.
Shrinking of Viscose, Lyocell & Rayon Fabrics
Viscose is a type of rayon, which can easily shrink when exposed to water and heat. Other rayon textiles include lyocell which you may know of by the brand name of Tencel and Bemberg can be steamed.
You should avoid using the dryer for these items and only wash in cold water.
Remember, read the care instructions. If the label says dry clean only, you can refresh it using your clothing steamer, but not put it in the wash.
There is a great example here where 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 2021 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 a strong, continuous output of steam.
The Electrolux steamer includes a fabric brush and lint brush. You can use this handheld steamer both vertically and horizontally and the long 8ft power cords allows for maximum portability.
Conclusion – Does Steam Cause Shrinkage in Clothes?
Steaming is a wonderful way to remove wrinkles from even the most delicate attire. As a general rule, 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 ever unsure, make sure you 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, perhaps taking it to the dry cleaner may be the better choice.
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