If you’re new to crochet and you’ve just finished making your first ever blanket or clothing item, you may be wondering about how it will survive in the wash. Perhaps you’re worried that the washing machine cycle is too harsh for delicate, handmade items and that they may become distorted or irreversibly damaged.
Crochet items can shrink for a few reasons: being exposed to a high heat setting during the washing/drying process, washing a yarn fiber type that is susceptible to shrinking, or failing to block your crochet item properly before using/wearing it.
The good news is that the vast majority of crocheted items can be washed safely, particularly if you opt to hand wash and air dry your items over using a washing machine or dryer. It’s important to know which type of yarn you’re using and to always read the yarn label for specific washing/care instructions. Let’s answer some common concerns about shrinking crochet and what you can do to prevent your makes from shrinking.
There are a number of factors as to why your crocheted items may have shrunk, but before we discuss shrinking due to being washed, let’s touch briefly on how crochet can shrink due to your technique:
Crocheting Too Tight or Missing Stitches
Do you sometimes notice the edges of your work getting smaller as you go, creating almost a triangle shape when the edges are meant to be straight? This can be due to your tension being too tight at certain points.
It could also mean that you may have miscounted the stitches needed at the start or end of a row in the pattern, causing your project to become smaller or appear warped at the edges.
Aside from inconsistency in your crocheting, shrinking crochet is commonly caused by the following factors:
Washing/Drying Natural Fiber Yarns on High Heat
The most common type of yarn is acrylic, a synthetic man-made yarn that holds up very well to being washed on a regular washing machine cycle and will not shrink.
Some yarns, meanwhile, are made from natural fibers such as wool, bamboo, cotton, and silk which are prone to shrinking when put on a warm wash cycle or any setting higher than 90 degrees F (or 32 degrees Celsius).
Always check the yarn label for specific washing guidelines, but a good rule of thumb is to wash any natural, non-synthetic yarns on a much gentler cold wash cycle between 60 and 90°F (15 to 32°C). Also, be sure to dry all crochet items on a ‘gentle/delicate’ dryer cycle to prevent shrinking.
In the meantime, why not stick to using synthetic yarns for your crocheted blankets or clothing items? Unlike man-made yarn of the past, you’ll find that many are beautifully soft and non-itchy and won’t shrink on a higher wash cycle!
Synthetic yarn types include:
Forgetting to Block Your Crochet Items While Damp
‘Blocking’ is the process of shaping your crocheted/knitted items using water or steam to flatten out any curled-up corners and edges, helping you achieve an overall more professional result. Blocking isn’t necessary for every crochet item, but it is recommended if you make a blanket or item of clothing like a shawl or sweater.
Even after your crochet item has been washed and dried on a gentle, low-heat cycle, the item will still naturally shrink a little and may appear smaller or curled at the edges. So to have it looking closer to the garment or blanket in the pattern picture, many crocheters will block the item at certain points to even out the shape using rust-proof pins and a blocking board. Here’s a great tutorial on 3 different ways to easily block your crochet items!
Cotton yarns are pretty tough and durable in the wash compared to wool yarn fibers and will naturally stretch a little when worn or used over time before springing back to its original size after being washed.
However, they should still be washed on a gentle cold wash cycle of 60-90°F to limit shrinkage as much as possible. Some cotton yarn labels will tell you how much shrinkage you can expect after washing.
Yes, crochet clothes can shrink when exposed to high-temperature wash and dry cycles. Take proper care of your crocheted garments by ensuring you always check the label of yarn you use for each project for specific washing/drying instructions.
When in doubt, it may be best to hand wash your crocheted clothing items with detergent and cold water to give them the most gentle clean possible and reduce wear and tear.
Felting occurs when woolen crochet items are washed at high temperatures, causing the fine yarn fibers to become tangled together. This resulting felting causes the wool to shrink by 20-50%.
Yarn felting is a deliberate technique to turn yarn into a piece of soft, fuzzy fabric (which is particularly effective when making cuddly toys). But if you don’t intend to felt your woolen yarn projects, just be sure to wash them on a gentle 60-90°F cycle, or better still, hand wash them!
How to Stop Crochet from Shrinking?
To sum up, you can prevent your crocheted blankets, clothing, and other accessories from shrinking by:
- Remembering to block your finished projects when damp
- Checking the yarn labels and washing natural fiber yarns on a gentle 60-90°F (15-32°C) cycle
- Be aware of your crochet tension and stitch counting
- Opting for hand-washing your crochet items where possible to be kinder to your makes and the planet!
Other Crochet Care Tips!
When washing alongside other clothes, place your crochet items inside a mesh laundry bag to prevent the yarn from snagging or felting against buttons, straps, or hardware.
Be careful with acyclic mix yarns – these may be made up of mostly synthetic yarn (60-70% perhaps), but check the label to see what else they are mixed with. It may be a fellow synthetic fiber like Polyester, but if it is wool or another natural yarn fiber, this will result in some shrinkage, so opt for a gentle cycle/hand wash!