Does Viscose Shrink In the Dryer or When Washed?

Though on the surface, taking care of the laundry can seem like a simple task, anyone who has ever had a beloved item of clothing destroyed by the washer or dryer will attest that in some cases, laundry can be anything but simple. 

Viscose is one fabric that tends to cause a little confusion, with many individuals wondering what the impact will be if they add it to a standard wash, or try to speed up the drying process in a dryer.

Fortunately for you, we have put together the ultimate guide to viscose, including the rules to follow when washing and drying, and the main things to avoid. You can enjoy your viscose clothing for longer, help your pieces to stand the test of time, and come out of the dreaded laundry chore relatively unscathed. 

Without further ado, here is everything you need to know about washing and drying viscose for the best results!

What Is Viscose?

Before we take a closer look at the best way to care for your viscose, it is important to understand just what we are dealing with – understanding the nature of the fabric ensures that you are equipped with the tools to care for it properly.

Viscose is a synthetic fiber that has become very popular over the years, and which is often found in clothing and common household items such as towels, blankets, sheets, etc.

Viscose is also known as rayon, cellulose acetate, and polyester, and is often a popular pick as a silk alternative, offering many of the same qualities without the hefty price tag.

As we mentioned, viscose is a man-made fiber and one that is derived from wood pulp. The fibers are spun together into yarn, then woven into the fabric, which is then used to create items of clothing and essentials for around the house. 

This material is durable, soft, and wrinkle-resistant. It’s also hypoallergenic, machine washable, and stain-resistant – these all help to contribute to the popularity of the material, as it is durable and sturdy enough to handle the challenges of everyday life. 

The lower cost is another major bonus; viscose is cheap to produce, making it a popular inclusion in a number of other fabrics, especially when it comes to mass-produced goods.

Many people choose to buy cheap clothing made from synthetic materials such as viscose because they are fast and convenient, allowing individuals to follow their favorite trends and fashions without breaking the bank.

Clothing types made of viscose material are also lightweight and warm without weighing you down. 

As with any material, however, there are downsides to be aware of when using and choosing viscose. Most synthetic fabrics aren’t meant for heavy use, however, increasing the risk of damage, tears, and shrinkage. 

One of the largest downsides to viscose is that it does not breathe well, so it is recommended that you do not wear it while exercising, or during hot weather. 

If you live in an area where temperatures regularly exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit, it may be wise to consider other fabrics that offer more breathability to ensure that you are comfortable and supported while working out.

Letting yourself get too hot during a workout can result in heat exhaustion and can cause serious health concerns.

Washing Viscose Clothing

When it comes to washing viscose, there are two basic methods that are available to you: the first is handwashing, and the second is machine washing. 

Handwashing is a great option for those who want to keep their clothes looking fresh and clean, but don’t have access to a washing machine, and can also be useful for reducing damage to your clothes – including shrinkage. 

As long as you are careful to use gentle detergents, this method should leave your clothes feeling soft and smooth without causing any damage.

Handwashing also makes it easy to remove stains, since you can simply rub them away with your fingers. However, this method is not ideal for large areas of color, as the rubbing action will cause fading over an extended period of time.

If you prefer to wash your clothes by machine, you will find that using a gentle cycle on the washing machine will allow you to get the most out of your viscose garments. Using cold water will also help prevent shrinking, and make sure you rinse your clothes thoroughly after each wash. 

Despite your best efforts, however, there is always a risk of shrinking your garments, and we will take a closer look at this below.

Does Viscose Shrink In The Washer or Dryer?

While there are plenty of reasons to celebrate viscose – it is cheap, affordable, and durable – the news is sadly not all good: when put in the washer or the dryer, viscose is at high risk of shrinking, and this can leave your clothing damaged and, in some cases, unwearable.

Viscose is essentially a semi-synthetic fiber that is particularly delicate as a result of the treatment of the fibers during the manufacturing process. 

As we noted, it is a more affordable alternative to silk, but there are also key differences: namely, that viscose lacks the raw strength of pure silk. This is largely due to the chemical processes and treatments that take place during the manufacturing process, and we will look at this in greater detail momentarily.

Machine drying or washing viscose garments can cause them to shrink, particularly if you use warm water and lots of agitation during the washing process. Using a machine washer or a dryer can also cause your material to tear, leaving small tears. 

What Causes Viscose To Shrink So Easily?

As we mentioned, viscose has a tendency to shrink when washed. This is largely as a result of the process that viscose goes through while it is being prepped and created, and the overall structure of the material. 

When making viscose, the manufacturers will use chemicals to treat plant materials and wood pulp, and these will then transform the pulp into lengthy, extended filaments. The manufacturer then spins these filaments into yarn, creating a fabric that is largely constructed from plant cellulose.

Natural cellulose is strong, but the processed form used for making viscose loses that strength, and so the fibers, and the eventual final garment, become structurally weaker.

The treated fibers are still able to absorb water just like natural plant cellulose, but when they are wet, their strength weakens – this is because the water changes the shape of the fibers.  

The stronger the cellulose bonds, the less likely it is you will damage the fabric. The more water in the viscose, however, the weaker the cellulosic bonds are and the more chance there is for you to damage the fabric. 

Wet viscose is usually easy to shrink, tear, or misshapen, making your clothing more vulnerable and susceptible to damage, including tearing or shrinking.

These issues can be exacerbated to a greater extent the more that the viscose is moved or agitated – the greater the movement, the increased risk of a tear, or the fabric shrinking – washers and dryers, therefore, can cause a lot of damage to viscose, as they throw and move the fabric around a lot during the washing or drying process.

In addition to issues with washing at high heat, viscose fibers also shrink when heated, even though they usually seem quite soft and plush – this can cause issues when you are using the dryer.

A way to counteract this problem is to line dry your clothes instead of putting them into a dryer; this offers the added bonus of helping you to do your part for the planet. 

According to many manufacturers of viscose fabric, you should keep your clothes outside until they’re completely dry – this will help to prevent them from shrinking, and extend the lifespan of your clothing. 

You might also try ironing your wet clothes once they’ve been dampened. However, if you do so, it’s best to start at a lower temperature setting before increasing it when you notice any problems with the fabric.

How Much Does Viscose Shrink In The Wash?

The amount of shrinkage may vary according to the brand of the material you purchase, whether you wash it on delicate or regular cycles, and how often you wear it, depending on the type of garment you need. 

Viscose also shrinks differently depending on whether it will be blended with other fibers and whether it was made using different methods.

As we have noted, viscose is made from cellulose fibers, but some companies use a different chemical process than others, which can affect its strength – not all final viscose products are created equal.

Viscose shrinking is unpredictable because the processing changes the fiber structure. The same washing cycle may shrink two pieces of viscose fabric from different manufacturers in a slightly different amount. 

In addition, it should be noted that many manufacturers often use anti-shrink treatments on their fabrics or pre-shrink their fabrics before they’re sewn into clothing, and this can also impact the extent to which your viscose shrinks.

Because it is unpredictable (and thus not measurable), there isn’t a precise way to measure how much viscose shrinks after each wash. If you want to get a better idea of how much your fabric might shrink, look at the percentage of viscose in the blend. 

Blended fibers tend to be slightly less prone to bad shrinkage, so any material that is made from a blend will shrink a lot less than a garment that is made of 100% viscose material.

It should be noted, however, that even if your fabric is blended, if it includes another high-shrink fabric included in the blend, such as wool, shrinkage could be greater.

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Can Viscose Shrink More Than Once?

Viscose can be shrunk every time you wash it – this is especially risky if you use hot water, heavy machine cycles, and lots of detergents. The amount of shrinkage will depend largely on the manner in which you wash it, and the technique that you use. 

Viscose garments may shrink a small amount if washed by hand in cold water, but they may shrink a lot if washed in the washing machine the next time.

Unlike fabrics such as cotton, trying to ‘pre-shrink’ a viscose item will not prevent it from shrinking during future washes.

Garments with a shrink-resistant coat will not shrink as much when they first come out of the wash than they will after the coating wears off. The first few washes may appear to shrink the garment, but the pre-shrink effect will eventually wear off.

How To Prevent Viscose From Shrinking In The Wash

To get viscose to look its best, dry clean it, rather than exposing it to water – this is the best option for ensuring that your pieces look and feel your best for longer.

If you take it to the dry cleaner, you’ll be able to avoid water damage and accidental shrinkage, while still keeping your garment fresh and ready to wear – this option allows you to enjoy the best of both worlds.

If you don’t want to take your viscose clothes to the cleaners, there are still options – you can use a home dry cleaning kit to clean them at home. Put the clothes in an underwear bag or a dry cleaning/laundry bag, add the at‑home laundry detergent and tumble the clothes in your washer. 

Use only motion, not heat, and look at the package for cycle times. Afterward, if the clothes are still wet, put them on a rack to dry or hang them up on a clothesline.

If you don’t want to use a dry cleaner kit, or if your washer doesn’t have a no-heat option, you can wash viscose by hand with gentle soap, and then allow it to line or air dry naturally.

Treating Stains On Viscose Material

As we have mentioned, large amounts of movement or agitation during the washing process can increase the risk of damage to your material and may exacerbate the risk of shrinkage. Removing stains by hand, therefore, is a process that needs to be treated with care, and a light, delicate hand will offer you the best results.

Use cold water and mild soap – never use anything too harsh or abrasive, or you risk causing serious damage to your clothing, including increasing your risk of tears and shrinkage. 

If you spot any stains on your clothes during wear, or while you are completing the washing process, you can treat them by washing them gently in the sink with cold water and detergent, then hang them out to dry. Put them in the sink and let them soak for 15 to 30 minutes, then drain the water. 

After filling the sink back up with cool water, swish the clothes again, and repeat this process over and over again. You may need to empty and refill the sink more than once.

If the water doesn’t bubble anymore, drain the water from the sink. Squeeze the water out of the clothing using a gentle touch – try not to be too harsh here – and then lay the garment out somewhere smooth and flat to allow it to dry. You can also take this opportunity to reshape and adjust as required. 

Another option is to hang the items on a rack to dry or peg them out on a clothesline until they are totally dry.

The most important thing to remember is that you should avoid any temptation to hang the clothes up dripping wet – this can cause the weight of the water trapped within the material to weaken the fibers, increasing the risk of damage, tears, holes, and shrinkage.

Does Viscose Shrink In The Dryer?

Water makes viscose weak and vulnerable to damage, but most serious shrinkage will not become immediately obvious with washing alone. In many cases, the worst of the damage will not become apparent until you dry the garment out – usually by putting it in the dryer. 

Yep, we have more bad news for you: while they may be super convenient and useful for getting your laundry dried and pressed in a hurry, using a dryer will risk shrinking your viscose fabric even more than washing machines.

Heat and motion are two of the main causes of fabric shrinkage; heat is caused by friction between the fibers and air. These factors easily shrink and dissolve viscose, so a dryer with heat is the worst method for drying viscose clothes.

Ideally, it is a good idea to keep viscose away from the dryer as much as possible – it will not do your fabric any favors. Unless you use a heat-free tumble cycle for at-homes dry cleaning, there is no reason why you should put your viscose clothes into the dryer. 

If you use the at-home laundry method, use it sparing­ly; though effective, this can also increase the risk of your viscose garments shrinking, so it is best to avoid it as much as you can.

Shaking wet viscose around in a hot environment is the quickest way to damage the fibers and cause them to lose strength – and this is exactly what is happening when you are using a tumble dryer for your viscose clothing.

Even if you want your viscose items to shrink, for example, to help them fit more closely, you should still avoid using the dryer. 

The heat and motion might cause it to shrink unevenly or break down its fibers, which could lead to holes and tears; you may end up with clothes that are the right size, but that are ultimately unwearable as a result of damage.

How Much Will Viscose Shrink in the Dryer?

It is hard to tell the extent to which a dryer will shrink your viscose garment; there is no real measurable consistency to this. As a rule, however, the hotter the dryer, the greater the chance that your fabric will shrink, and the higher the risk of damage to your clothing.

There is also a risk of damage if you tumble without heat – though this reduces the risk of shrinkage, it can cause holes and tears.

Viscose is a delicate fabric even though it comes from the same source as natural fabrics. Natural fibers can be washed more aggressively than viscose and other synthetic fibers. As we have discussed elsewhere, chemical processing during the manufacturing process makes the fibers vulnerable, increasing the risk of damage.

How to Prevent Viscose From Shrinking in the Dryer

If you do make the decision to use a dryer for your viscose garment, there are a few steps you need to take to reduce the risk of damage. To minimize shrinkage, you should put your viscose items into a mesh bag (like an underwear bag) and use a low heat dryer setting. 

If you don’t use it, you will run the risk of shrinking your viscose item. The mesh bag will also keep the clothes safe from snags and tears, so they’ll last longer.

Even at low temperatures, viscose fibers can be shrunken. In addition, tumble-only cycling won’t dry your viscose clothes completely, but it might be enough for most people. After a tumble cycle (or spin), the water content of the viscose fabric will be lower than before. 

You can hang-drying the clothes now without risking too much shrinkage or damage – used in this sense, you can reduce the risk of damage by taking most of the weight of the water out of your item.

Drying viscose flat is always the best option for keeping your clothing in good condition. It helps the garment maintain the right size and shape, especially for heavier garments like dresses.

Can I Pre-Shrink Viscose Clothing?

In some cases, you may be able to harness the power of the washer and dryer to pre-shrink your clothing and materials to reach an ideal size. While simply throwing your items into the dryer will help them to shrink, it reduces the level of control that you have over the process and the end result. 

Instead, it is better to use the “soaking” method to pre-shrink your garments. Remember, the composition of viscose means that it tends to hold water at greater volumes than other materials such as cotton; this can help to make this method super effective.

Start by getting the garment as wet as possible – for best results, you should use hot or warm water if your goal is to majorly shrink the whole garment, or cool water if you are targeting a particular section or aiming for less dramatic results. 

Swish the item in the water, encouraging it to soak up as much water as it possibly can, and then submerge it completely in the water.

Leave the item to soak for an extended period – usually around three hours for a major shrink, and around 20 minutes for something smaller. The longer the item is soaked, the more it will shrink. 

Once you have soaked the garment for the desired period of time, remove it from the water, and use two clean towels to “press” the material – avoid the temptation to twist or wring the garment out, as this can cause tearing.

You should also avoid hanging the garment – the weight of the water can cause it to stretch out of shape, destroying all of your hard work.

Instead, find a flat surface, and lay the item out gently. Grab a hairdryer, switch to cool heat, and slowly move the dryer all over the surface of the garment – the more targeted the heat, the greater the shrinking effect. Try and keep the dryer moving evenly, or you could end up with uneven results. 

Finally, lay the item flat to allow it to dry completely. Remember that viscose can shrink more than once, so you will need to continue to follow the tips we have discussed when washing your item in the future, or you risk damage and additional shrinkage, or your item being pulled out of shape.

Can I Reverse Shrinkage on Viscose?

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, there may be nothing you can do to prevent your item from shrinking, and the only option that you have is to attempt to reverse the process. 

Whether you have followed the steps above to deliberately shrink a garment, or have had a laundry day disaster, the news is not all bad – you may be able to fix the mistake by gently pulling and stretching the item when wet;’ take care to make sure that you do this evenly and smoothly, or you risk the item becoming misshapen.

In the case of more serious shrinkage, or in situations where your garment has shrunk, using additional softening agents can help restore your garment to its former glory. In some cases, however, the damage can be irreversible.

Start by dissolving one tablespoon of your softening agent – usually baby shampoo or hair conditioner – in a bowl of water heated to room temperature. The conditioning component will loosen the fibers of your fabric, while still offering protection.

Stir this in gently, avoiding bubbles, and then add the garment, taking care to submerge and soak it completely. Leave this for no longer than 5 minutes, and then remove the item and press it between two towels – remember, do not twist or pull it, or you risk damaging the fabric. 

Lay the item out on a towel, and start to gently pull the fabric, starting from the center, and working slowly – take care not to pull too hard. Once you have reached your desired shape and size, leave the item to dry naturally.

Final Thoughts

One of the biggest fears people have about buying new clothes is that they will shrink and become too small – but if you are careful, and choose items wisely, you can protect yourself against the worst of them, and ensure that your clothes can stand the test of time.

Amanda Brown

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