Why are clothes getting stretched?

Why are clothes getting stretched out of shape – especially sleeves? I’ve had a lot of jumpers and cardigans that have not lasted as long as I’d expect. The sleeves in particular have stretched so much that they cover my entire hand. Other clothes have sleeves that have stretched to over twice as wide and have become very baggy.

Many modern clothes aren’t made as well as they used to be, but maybe there’s another cause? Not paying attention to the wash labels is the most likely cause. Washing them on the wrong wash cycles. Or tumble drying them when they shouldn’t be put in a dryer. Or drying them on too high a heat-setting. Many garments now have ludicrous wash label instructions such as having to reshape them and lay them down flat to dry, or only washing them on delicate cool wash cycles.

Most laundry just gets put on the 40 degree cottons wash

A lot of people just put most laundry into the washing machine on the same wash programme – commonly the 40 degree cottons cycle with full spin.

This seems to work ok. Most people don’t have the time or patience to sort out laundry into small loads, especially if something needs washing and can’t wait until a decent sized load needing the same cycle builds up.

However, you may not realise it could be shortening the life of some clothes. It may be subjecting them to too much physical strain, or too high a temperature, causing sleeves to stretch and lengthen or go baggy.

Ridiculous amount of stretching

This particular jumper is so stretched that in order to wear it I’d have to fold back the sleeves about 4 inches. Needless to say I’ve now thrown it away because that was ridiculous. But for sleeves to become stretched this much something must be damaging the fibres. If you want to avoid this sort of damage always check the wash symbol labels on new clothing you buy before washing fades them so much they can’t be read.

What do the various wash symbols mean?

You might be surprised at how many modern t-shirts, shirts and jumpers have restrictive washing, tumble drying and ironing instructions, which if ignored will damage the item. To find out what they all mean read here – What do all the wash symbol labels mean?

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Read the wash labels before buying clothes

After finding another of my favourite sweat shirt / jumper’s ruined, with baggy and stretched sleeves I managed to read the wash label. The label says “hand wash only – dry on a flat surface”. My wife doesn’t tumble dry them but washes them in the washing machine.

This is undoubtedly why it has stretched so badly. To be fair, these wash instructions are ridiculous. Who has the time to sort out every individual item of laundry and pander to their silly washing and drying requirements? Especially when they are as ludicrous as this.

So the answer is to realise that despite us having washing machines for many decades, many clothing manufacturers are making clothes that we are supposed to only wash using 18th century methods.

Not only that but we can’t use a dryer to dry many of them, nor even hang them up anywhere. They seriously expect us to carefully stretch them out on the kitchen table and leave to dry. The lesson is to always read the wash labels before you buy any clothes to make sure they don’t have silly washing instructions that non compliance with can seriously shorten their lives.

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10 thoughts on “Why are clothes getting stretched?”

  1. I do Alex. In the first paragraph I say, “Not paying attention to the wash labels and washing them on the wrong wash cycles, and or, either tumble drying them when they shouldn’t be put in a dryer or drying them on too high a heat setting may be the culprit.”

    In the penultimate paragraph I say, “so if you want to avoid this sort of damage always check the wash symbol labels on new clothing straight away ” and then in the last paragraph I say, “You might be surprised at how many modern t-shirts, shirts and jumpers have restrictive wash, tumble dry and ironing instructions, which if ignored will damage the item”.

    As it happens I’ve had more jumper sleeves go the same way and when I checked the latest one I can see that it says on its wash label – “hand wash only and dry by laying down flat.” These instructions have been completely ignored by the wife and have caused the sleeves to go baggy and elongate again. I’ve added a few extra paragraphs at the end and changed the “may be the culprit” to “is the culprit” to make it more clear :)

  2. It is more complicated than labels. Water comes into play and all those salts and enzymes in the detergent. It’s been nearly 10 months that I have been trying to find the solution to this problem. All my knits and T-shirts, basically anything soft, is being irreversibly altered in just 1 wash! However, I never had this problem until I installed a resin based water softener. With soft water, my clothes even come out of the washer shredded! I did notice more problems of tears on the areas that were exposed to perspiration so I assume it is related to the higher salt (sodium chloride) content in the soft water.

    Overall, I think soft water is making the fibers too soft to endure any spin cycle at all. I am trying magnesium sulfate to reharden my water (1st try shows improvement). and I will try calcite (gypsum) as well. I am sick of limp, super soft, stretched, aged looking knits and T’s. I prefer my firm, hard, and hey even scratchy, but forever lasting clothes. The water softener producer has no answers after much arguing. I have finally come to the conclusion that most people are simply used to separating and struggling with laundry, using delicate cycles and not spinning occasionally. I on the other hand, was used to iron rich- even rusty water, but tossing everything in together without a care and laundry came out perfect, except for whites (that needed delicate bleach or peroxide). Is this possible? That I did not know I was blessed with laundry ease? Or is my water just ‘too soft’ now.
    There has to be a solution to re-create a similar environment (without the iron) as before the water softener.

  3. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

    Hello Kathi. If your issue definitely only started after installing the water softener then it may well be related to it. I have an article here which advises that you shouldn’t use a water softener on water supply in the washing machine as it makes the water far too soft Connecting a washing machine to a softened water supply. However, I haven’t been aware of any likelihood to damage laundry. If you cannot stop the water to the washing machine being softened I would at the very least reduce the amount of detergent you are you using and use the amounts suggested by the detergent for very soft water. I would also consider not using any fabric softener.

  4. Curious to see if anyone has found remedies for stretched clothes. My mom washed a dress accidentally that was for hand wash and it’s gotten a lot of the stetch snags in it and fades. Any ideas?

  5. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

    Hello Kim. Unfortunately, once stretched, clothes are irreparably damaged. A lot of good clothing is ruined by not paying attention to the wash labels.

  6. Leonie Karydis

    I have purchased a Bosch washing machine, i hate it. All my clothes have stretched, it has nothing to do with washing instructions. I previously had a 15 year old washing machine that washed my clothes a lot better than my new Bosch. Very dissappointed……

  7. Yes, I have the same problem with stretched clothing. I started using washing soda to soften the water and improve the cleaning power of my detergent and now all my clothes -even those that were snug-are becoming stretched to the point of needing to be discarded. This is the problem I have not changed the temperature on my drier or anything else. If using a fabric softener/ or hair conditioner will stretch clothes that are too tight then the reverse is true. The major culprit is the washing soda and possibly the detergent.

  8. Finally found a discussion on clothes getting damaged in the w.m.
    I have a top load w.m.
    IMHO, I don’t think it’s the water or the clothes.
    It’s 2 main things :


    The machine is no substitute for hands when it comes to washing.
    It is useful for washing bedsheets n towels though because we aren’t too concerned about shape.
    The reason we buy knitwear ( tshirts etc.) Is because of its stretchable fibres. So a tshirt that fits a small built person comfortably could also be worn by a person of medium built … it would just be more snug on his/her body.
    Congratulations to modern mass production! A dream come true for manufacturers…. one size fits all!!!!
    Nowadays even Jean’s have elastic fibres in them.

    In all machines, after the wash cycle, the clothes are spun in order to remove the max. Possible detergent in them. So the clothes are treated to spinning even before the drying cycle.
    Spinning before rinsing = less detergent = less water / less rounds of rinsing with fresh water = water being saved ( but clothes getting damaged!!!!!)

    Imagine if:
    During handwashing, we squeezed, wrung the clothes and flung the clothes like cowboys .. about 5/6 times!!!

    1) I put every single garment in mesh bags. Smallest sized ones are the best as the clothes dont get a chance to move much. Mesh bags have to be filled to about 80% ( eg. 2/3 small tshirts) .. not stuffed … not half empty either otherwise they will get tugged due to the force of the machine.
    I have found this has actually reduced stretching significantly.

    2) Use the soak option.
    Because the clothes are in mesh bags, soaking for about 20 mins…makes sure that the clothes are immersed well…

    3) Never use Normal cycle for ANYTHING that’s stretchable.. I use SOAK + GENTLE all the time… ( even for towels n bedsheets). Who needs a towel with frayed edges???

    For curtains, wool cycle ( gentlest) works for me.

    Hope this helps.


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