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What Are Pre-Shrunk T-Shirts?

Have you ever laundered a new t-shirt and discovered that it shrunk two sizes in the wash? If so, you’re probably a fan of preshrunk t-shirts! Preshrunk t-shirts go through a special process that helps the shirts avoid more shrinking later on.

Preshrunk t-shirts undergo a compacting process that simulates shrinking. The preshrinking process prevents most clothing from shrinking further under normal wear and tear. For this reason, many clothing lines offer preshrunk items such as t-shirts to give buyers a product that will not get smaller in the wash.

In this article, you will learn about the preshrinking process. You will discover how to get the right fit in preshrunk t-shirts. Finally, you will get tips on finding the best preshrunk t-shirts!

Pre Shrunk T Shirts

What are Pre-Shrunk T-Shirts?

Manufacturers make pre-shrunk t-shirts out of cotton knit fabric that has already experienced a finishing process to compact fibers and minimize future shrinking.

Without this finishing treatment, 100% cotton will likely shrink up to 10% in the washer and dryer the first time you clean it. This happens because cotton fibers undergo a lot of stress during the manufacturing process. This causes the fibers to expand and stretch out beyond their original shape.

Moisture and heat relax those stretched fibers, encouraging them to return to their original, more compacted shape. Some cotton clothing might shrink a full size, or even two sizes when this happens!

Different manufacturers employ slightly different heating and compacting processes as part of the preshrinking treatment. In general, t-shirt manufacturers will put the cotton knit through a stretching process first. This balances out the strain put on the yarns both vertically and horizontally as the yarns were spun and knitted into fabric.

Next, some manufacturers use special, expensive drying machines. These look like large tubes with internal hot-air blowers spaced out inside them. The fabric tumbles through these enormous dryers and the hot air causes its fibers to relax and start to resume their original shape.

Finally, all pre-shrinking typically involves a compactor. This machine uses steam for shortening the fabric. It essentially condenses or compresses the material by removing some of the air from between the threads.

The compactor gives the fabric something called “dimensional stability,” which means that it will not stretch out a whole lot in one particular direction but will hold its shape over time!

Today, many manufacturers use some type of pre-shrinking process. It prevents customers from getting upset after a purchase!

As a final note, you do not always need to turn up your nose at t-shirts that don’t have that pre-shrunk label! Pre-shrinking makes a huge difference for an all-natural material like cotton.

But these days, you will find a lot of t-shirts made from knit polyester. As a synthetic material, this fabric will not shrink in the wash and does not necessarily need that pre-shrinking treatment.

How Much Do 100% Cotton Shirts Shrink?

Cotton shrinks at different rates depending on many factors, but it can shrink an untreated 100% cotton shirt up to 20%. This may reduce the shirt size by two full sizes! Typically this huge amount of shrinking only happens if you intentionally expose the tee to lots of heat and moisture.

Cotton shrinks more easily than many other types of material. This is because of its porous, breathable nature. The manufacturing process that turns raw cotton into cloth puts a lot of tensile pressure on the cotton fibers.

Think about all those cotton fibers getting twisted together as they spin into long filaments of yarn. This spinning process stretches out the cotton fibers from their original shape.

By the time you get the cotton in the form of a t-shirt, the fibers have been stretched out tensely for a long while! The moisture and heat of washing encourage them to “unstretch” and snap back to their original shape.

T-shirts will commonly shrink about half a size the first time they go in the wash, even if you use the recommended settings of cool water and on a delicate or permanent press cycle. Of course, if you use hot water, you may get that dramatic two-size shrinkage instead!

You can deal with the shrinking by purchasing a shirt a size up from your normal size and expecting the shrinkage. Alternatively, you can hang the shirt up to air dry after washing instead of putting it in the dryer–this often minimizes shrinking in any cotton item.

Finally, you can avoid the whole problem by purchasing a preshrunk cotton tee instead!

How Do You Pre-Shrink Shirts?

How To Pre Shrink Shirts

Manufacturers pre-shrink shirts by putting the cotton knit material through a steaming machine called a compactor. This forces some air out of the threads and shortens the material, shrinking it before making it into shirts.

You can’t actually “pre-shrink” a shirt at home. Once you buy the shirt, it’s already a shirt! Plus, you probably don’t have the space or the money to buy these giant factory machines.

What you can do is wash the shirt according to the instructions on the care label inside it. This should keep it safe from most shrinking.

If you plan to sew a shirt out of cotton, though, you can certainly pre-wash that material before sewing! You should always do this, so the shirt does not turn out too small after all your sewing work.

Are Preshrunk Shirts True to Size?

Most of the time, pre-shrunk t-shirts come true to size, so you can safely purchase your normal size just as you would in any shirt! For example, a pre-shrunk t-shirt in a medium-size should fit you the same way as an untreated t-shirt in a size medium. The point of preshrinking is to make sure that a shirt stays at that size, rather than shrinking down the minute you wash it.

That said, many manufacturers provide a sizing chart that offers detailed descriptions of how a shirt will fit. The most foolproof way to make sure a t-shirt will fit is to know your measurements (or try the shirt on, if you have that option!).

Of course, you should also pay attention to the cut of the shirt. T-shirts come in multiple different styles, and a slim-fit tee will fit you quite differently from a regular or straight-cut tee!

You may also wonder if it’s difficult to comfortably stretch out a preshrunk shirt. Cotton knit has a super flexible, forgiving stretch to it because of the way it is made. This means that preshrunk shirts should still feel nice and stretchy as you wear them!

Do 100% Cotton Preshrunk Shirts Still Shrink?

While preshrunk shirts will resist shrinking in the wash, you may see anywhere from 1% to 5% of further shrinking in your preshrunk shirt. If you like the shirt exactly how it fits you when you bought it, you may want to try air drying it instead of placing it in the dryer. If you do not expose the shirt to heat, it should not shrink at all!

Preshrinking does not eliminate the possibility of all future shrinkage. What it does is remove some of the air from the weave of the fabric, making it less likely that the shirt can shrink too much more.

Some manufacturers claim that an untreated shirt commonly shrinks 10% of its size during the first wash, while a treated shirt will only shrink 5% at the most.

Can You Shrink a Preshrunk Shirt?

It is possible to shrink a preshrunk shirt slightly, even as much as half a size. That said, if you do discover that your preshrunk shirt is many sizes too large for you, you should probably buy one in a size that fits rather than trying to shrink it more than a half size or so.

On top of that, while you can use the following method to shrink cotton, there is no way to guarantee that every part of the shirt will shrink simultaneously or to a precise measurement. This means you could end up with a skewed shirt or a shirt that shrinks too much.

All of that aside, you can use this method to shrink cotton clothing, even preshrunk shirts!

  1. Fill up a large pot with water, but leave enough space that your shirt can fit inside.
  2. Bring the water to a boil on your stovetop.
  3. Gently lower the shirt into the boiling water so that it gets entirely submerged.
  4. Allow the shirt to boil for five to ten minutes.
  5. Carefully drain the hot water and use a long-handled spoon to squish some of the water out of the shirt.
  6. Next, run the t-shirt through a normal washing machine cycle using hot water.
  7. Finally, place the shirt in the dryer.

That much heat exposure will shrink even a preshrunk shirt! Remember that if your goal is to avoid shrinking your shirt, you should always wash it in cold water and allow it to air dry.

Does Shrinking a Shirt Ruin the Design?

Shrinking a shirt yourself can damage the design printed onto the front of the shirt, but this will not happen during the factory preshrinking process.

Here is the difference: preshrinking takes place before the cotton knit gets made into a shirt and before the design is screen printed or heat set onto the shirt!

In contrast, if you accidentally shrink your shirt at home in the wash, you may scorch, twist, or skew the printed design on the shirt. Generally speaking, you can avoid this by washing your favorite tees in cold water.

Preshrunk vs Prewashed

The biggest difference between preshrunk and prewashed t-shirts is that pre-shrunk clothing goes through a treatment that compacts the fabric to prevent stretching, while pre-washed clothes get washed after being made.

Pre-washed clothes may or may not have gone through a preshrinking treatment as well. Most of the time, you should assume that a garment has not been preshrunk unless the product description specifically says so, though. For this reason, most pre-washed clothes can more easily shrink in the wash than preshrunk clothing.

Pre-washed tees often hold their colors better than preshrunk shirts, though. If you have sensitive skin, you may also prefer the prewashed option because it does not involve any chemicals, leaving the material purer to the touch.

Ultimately, though, preshrinking treatments tend to help t-shirts hold their shape better than a pre-wash.

Best Pre-Shrunk T-Shirts

These days, many popular brands offer excellent preshrunk t-shirts, including Hanes and Gildan! Check these products to get an idea of how easy it is to find the best preshrunk t-shirts today.

Hanes Preshrunk 100% Cotton T-Shirt

Hanes Preshrunk 100% Cotton 6.1oz. Beefy-T - T-Shirt with Pocket, 3XL-BlackThis tbasic t-shirt features a classic double-stitched collar and hem, thick 100% cotton, and a handy front pocket.

Hanes “Beefy” shirts use thicker cotton knit fabric that feels heftier and more solid as you wear them.

Like most Hanes products, this shirt uses ring-spun cotton for extra softness, too! Plus, it goes through that special preshrinking process to help it hold its shape during normal wear and tear.

Gildan Women’s Crewneck Cap Sleeve T-Shirt

Gildan - Heavy Cotton Women's Short Sleeve T-Shirt - 5000LThis fitted women’s tee with cute cap sleeves and a double-stitched crewneck comes in dozens of different colors!

The shirt contains 99% cotton and 1% polyester to make a soft, durable jersey knit. Plus, like most Gildan shirts, the fabric goes through a preshrinking process, so you can feel safe in throwing it in the washer at home!

This classic women’s tee will also wow you with its soft, breathable knit fabric. Plus, it comes in sizes ranging from S to 3X!

Gildan Men’s Ultra Cotton T-Shirt

Gildan Adult Ultra Cotton T-Shirt, Style G2000, Multipack, Royal (2-Pack), SmallIf you’re looking for a solid, heavyweight preshrunk t-shirt, look no further than this durable pack of two Gildan tees! These plain, sturdy men’s tees will fit the bill for working around the house or doing yard work. These shirts feature 100% US cotton.

The shirt has a regular cut and offers tape shoulders and neck. The thick jersey knit fabric should not shrink in the wash if treated only with cold water!


Preshrunk t-shirts allow the buyer to purchase exactly the right size without worrying that it will shrink in the wash and become too small. Manufacturers use a preshrinking process that involves machines such as an industrial dryer and a compactor. These machines cause the cotton knit fabric to consolidate and shorten.

Preshrunk shirts may continue to shrink if not given proper care. Typically, preshrunk cotton t-shirts washed in cool water on a delicate cycle will hold their shape and resist shrinking.

Have you ever tried a preshrunk shirt? Did you like it? Leave a comment below to let us know!