Does Steam Ironing Shrink Clothes?

Steam ironing is an effective way to remove wrinkles from most clothes, with the exception of some delicate fabrics. Modern steam irons also have multiple functions, including ironing, steaming and sprinkling. With so much going on, you may be wondering if steam irons shrink your clothes.

 

Steam ironing does not shrink clothes, but extreme temperatures when used on certain fabrics and inappropriate ironing techniques can damage or burn your clothes. In addition, the effects of steam ironing depend on the quality of the fabric, the washing and drying conditions and the methods used.

Certain fabrics require different temperatures for steam ironing. However, clothes made of the same fabric do not necessarily have the same properties as they are manufactured differently. So you have to adapt your steam ironing techniques and temperatures to the fabric.


Why steam ironing doesn’t shrink clothes

Steam ironing does not expose your clothes to the same conditions as a washing machine or dryer. While most fabrics respond to heat by shrinking, the temperature of a steam iron and the typical pressing method causes the fibers to relax, flattening and stretching clothes. Rowenta DW9280 Steam Iron with Digital Display, Stainless Steel Soleplate, 1800 Watt, 400 Holes, Blue

Clothes generally shrink during washing as the fabric absorbs moisture and returns to its natural state. Likewise, the heat and tumbling action in dryers cause some shrinkage. In fact, Whirlpool’s tissue technologist Lucinda Ottusch explains why clothes shrink more in top-loading washing machines than steam ironing.

In general, steam ironing prevents clothes from shrinking. A steam iron also won’t damage or burn your clothes, unless you use a high temperature setting for a specific fabric or leave the hot device on your clothes for a while.

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Modern steam irons have optimal settings

Our everyday fabrics have a specific heat threshold, which means that the fibers can withstand up to a certain heat temperatures without undergoing adverse transformations such as shrinkage.

Here are the recommended ironing temperatures for some common fabrics:

Fabric / Fiber Ironing temperatures Warnings / Notes
Linen 446°F (230°C) Depending on quality, blend or ratio, etc.
Cotton 400°F (204°C) Depending on type, number of threads, blend, etc.
Polyester 298°F (148°C) Depending on type, quality, blend, etc.
Wool 298°F (148°C) Subject to delicacy, embellishments, etc.
Silk 298°F (148°C) Depending on the type, fineness, etc.
Nylon 275°F (135°C) More heat sensitive than other fabrics.
Spandex 275°F (135°C) More heat sensitive than other fabrics.
Rayon 374°F (190°C) Depending on the type and quality.
triacetate 392°F (200°C) Subject to manufacturer’s guidelines.

In general, when steaming most fabrics, you don’t need the maximum temperature setting as you get a flat and wrinkle-free finish with less heat. Plus, materials like silk and wool don’t necessarily need the crisp finish you’re looking for in a softer fabric, like cotton.

In theory, steam ironing can damage, burn and deform clothes if the temperature setting is not strictly regulated. However, modern irons do not reach the highest temperature levels for any fabric, as most companies do limit heat at any setting

These are the typical temperature settings on most modern steam irons:

Setting / Level min. Temperature Avg. Temperature Maximum Temperature
1 167°F (75°C) 203°F (95°C) 239°F (115°C)
2 221°F (105°C) 266°F (130°C) 311°F (155°C)
3 293°F (145°C) 347°F (175°C) 400°F (204°C)
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Your steam iron may or may not have these exact settings or temperatures in different modes. However, the industry standard for irons and steam ironing is around 250°F (121°C) to 360°F (182°C).

So when steam ironing, you are unlikely to reach the extreme heat required to damage the fibers or molecular structure in your fabrics to the point that your clothes shrink. However, your steam iron does not work on its own; fabric quality also plays a crucial role in shrinkage.


Some clothes were meant to shrink

Most clothing brands and their member companies have specific production processes that they adhere to. As such, the clothes you buy may be regular, stretched, or pre-shrunk.

Some companies stretch fabrics during manufacture to reduce costs. Conversely, some brands pre-wash and pre-shrink their clothes so that customers don’t shrink too much. The type of treatment determines the extent to which your clothes shrink.

An unshrunk and unwashed dress may shrink after washing and drying, but this has nothing to do with steam ironing. Likewise, a dress made of stretched fabric may shrink after the first wash. In contrast to, pre-shrunk clothes probably won’t shrink at all during washing, drying or steam ironing.

Unfortunately, there is not much consumers can do about these manufacturing processes or treatments. Instead, you can only follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning, washing, drying, steaming, ironing or steam ironing, as stated on the label.

While steam ironing won’t shrink your clothes, it’s best to avoid inappropriate temperatures and pressures. It is also best to pay attention to the way you use a steam iron with certain fabrics.

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For example, a fabric like silk requires gentle steaming or ironing on the lowest heat setting. On the other hand, nylon does better if you put a cloth between the iron and the fabric.


Is it better to iron or dry-clean clothes?

Certain fabrics, such as linen and cotton, are best ironed and dry cleaned. In addition, it is best to dampen linens and cottons before ironing if they have hard creases. Fabric such as wool, on the other hand, should be steamed rather than ironed. So it depends on the type of fabric whether you are ironing, steaming or doing both.

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Is dry cleaning bad for clothes?

Dry cleaning is not bad for most clothes, such as clothes made from linen, cotton, wool, polyester and silk. In addition, steaming is faster and safer than conventional ironing. Some clothes even need to be steamed along with the pressure of the iron to effectively remove creases.

Can you shrink cotton with a steam iron?

You cannot shrink cotton with a modern steam iron with a typical maximum temperature of around 204°C. However, you can get creases with an incorrect ironing method and cause burns if you leave a hot steam iron on a cotton garment.


Final Thought 

Steam ironing will not shrink most fabrics, including linen, cotton, polyester and silk. However, it is best not to iron wool and to put less pressure on silk garments. In addition, do not use steaming or ironing techniques on waxed fabrics, suede, and leather.

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