Blending Natural and Manmade Fibres Helps Overcome Shrinking
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Blending Natural and Manmade Fibres Helps Overcome Shrinking

Naturally occurring fibres such as cotton or denim and manmade fibres such as nylon or acrylic are often blended by clothing manufacturers to create materials with the best characteristics of both types of fibre, not feeling artificial but able to withstand the high temperatures and agitation action of washing machines.

Despite all the advances in fabric technology over the last hundred years or so, our clothes still sometimes shrink or go out of shape when washed. But it isn’t necessarily the fault of our washing machines or dryers.

The problem of shrinking material goes back at least two thousand years, and even gets a mention in the Bible. Jesus is quoted as saying that you should not repair an old garment with a piece of new cloth, because the new material will shrink when washed and tear away from the older fabric.  Even if he had higher things in mind than giving housekeeping hints when he made that observation, it is still good, practical advice.

Shrinking and losing shape while being washed is caused by hot water and the washing machine’s agitating and spinning action.

The physics that led to your shirt being too tight are fairly simple: When cloth is produced, the fibres of which it is made are stretched under pressure. But washing reduces the pressure and, in a sense, eases the tension on the fibres so that they start to relax back to their natural state. This isn’t a problem if you wash gently by hand, as you would with more delicate fabrics, but it can be with the kind of material most of our clothes are made from.

Tumble dryers are even worse than washing machines for causing these problems, particularly if garments are tumbled until dry.

One solution is to use manmade fabrics in preference to those made from naturally occurring fibres such as denim, cotton or linen. Artificial fibres, including acrylic, nylon and polyester, hardly shrink at all.

Of course, the two types – natural and manmade – are commonly used together. If the proportions are right, you get the best of both worlds, all the comfort of natural and all the convenience of synthetic. Manufacturers vary both the types of fibres used and the proportions in which they are used, depending on what they are making. This may seem to be stating the obvious, but blending is as much an art as a science, and getting the proportions wrong can be a costly mistake in a factory.

Having said all that it still sometimes happens that, for no obvious reason, a garment will shrink in the washing machine even at a low temperature setting. Find the answer to that one and you could make a few million dollars!

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