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Shrunken sweater in dry cleaning bag
Credit: Levi Brown

Q. Can dry-cleaning shrink my clothes?

Amy S.

New York City

A. It’s rare but possible.“Shrinkage is normally induced by water, but there’s no water added during the dry-cleaning process,” says Brian Johnson, the director of education at the Dry Cleaning and Laundry Institute, in Laurel, Maryland. So there’s little risk of having your favorite cashmere sweater come back sized for a Shih Tzu.

However, if you notice that your sleeves are two inches shorter, water is probably to blame. When clothing is dry-cleaned, it’s placed in a machine with a liquid cleaning agent. “Heat is then used to dry the fabric,” says Mel Jacobs, a co-owner of Cameo Cleaners, in New York City. The cleaning process doesn’t use water, but the machine is hooked up to a water source (for other functions besides dry cleaning). If any water leaks in and gets the clothes wet, they can shrink during the heat cycle. Here’s why: As the heat causes water molecules in the clothes to evaporate, the fibers draw closer together. (If the garment wasn’t properly preshrunk before you bought it, shrinkage is even more likely, even if the dry-cleaning machine isn’t malfunctioning.)

If your clothes seem to be shrinking with each trip to the cleaner, you might want to find a new one that uses a liquid carbon dioxide method (ask at an eco-friendly cleaner). This process uses pressure, not heat. And without heat, the chance of shrinkage, well, shrinks to zero.

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