Can dry cleaning shrink clothes?

Under normal conditions, the process of dry cleaning should not shrink your clothes. The process is called “dry” cleaning, because rather than use water to wash your clothes with, dry cleaners use a chemical solvent in a machine that both washes and dries your clothes. Among other things, these machines are specifically designed to avoid causing fabric shrinkage. In fact, your clothes are much more likely to shrink if they are washed in water.

However, if the dry cleaning machines are not maintained properly or if they malfunction during the cleaning process, shrinkage can occur. Fabric shrinkage during dry cleaning is usually caused by excessive heat or moisture in the solvent.

One component of the dry cleaning machine, called the “chiller”, prevents the dry cleaning solvent from getting too hot. A broken or malfunctioning chiller can cause the solvent to overheat, which may result in fabric shrinkage.

During routine operation, moisture builds up slowly in the dry cleaning solvent. A small amount of moisture in the dry cleaning solvent is actually necessary for the detergent to work effectively. However, too much moisture can cause fabric shrinkage. One component of the dry cleaning machine, called the “water separator”, prevents the moisture content of the solvent from exceeding safe limits. A broken or malfunctioning water separator will allow too much water to build up in the solvent.

Shrinkage can also be caused by garment manufacturing defects. Defective garments will often shrink the first time they are dry cleaned.