Why Do Clothes Shrink in the Wash?

iStock/aurumarcus
iStock/aurumarcus

It's an everyday tragedy of the modern world: you have a favorite piece of clothing that fits just so, but when it comes out of the wash, it's shrunk. Did you offend the clothing gods with your style? Is Maytag in league with American Apparel to keep you buying new clothes? No. In fact, your shrunken clothes didn't even really shrink. Let's take a look at what's going on.

The name's Bond, Broken Bond

A cotton t-shirt is made of cloth -- made of woven together threads, which are in turn made up of cotton fibers. These fibers are constructed of long molecular chains, which are linked end-to-end by hydrogen bonds. As the fibers are spun into thread and the thread is woven into cloth, the fibers and the polymers they're made of get pulled, stretched and twisted and the hydrogen bonds holding everything together get stressed.

This stress is relieved when you throw the shirt in the wash. The energy in the heat and agitation that clothes are exposed to during washing and drying break the stressed out bonds and the polymers are free to relax and return to their natural, pre-stretching size. In turn, the fibers, the threads and the cloth get smaller and you wind up with a shirt just big enough to fit the cat (come here, Mittens, it's time to play dress up!)

Wooly Bully

Pull out a piece of your hair (c'mon, it'll be fun). Pull it through your thumb and pointer finger by the root end, and then again from the opposite end. It doesn't feel as smooth the second way, right? That's because the hair is covered with small raised scales that are arranged sort of like shingles on a roof, all pointing in the same direction. Wool fibers have these scales too, and processing these fibers and making a wool sweater disrupts the natural fiber alignment and allows the scales to snag one another. The heat, water and agitation that meet the sweater in the washer and dryer basically ratchet the scales together and tighten up the contact between the fibers in the yarn and the yarns in the fabric, clumping everything together and giving the cat yet another clothing option.

Avoiding Shrinkage

"¢ Buy shrink-proof. Clothes made from cotton can be treated with shrink-resistant or durablepress finishes, which form cross-links between parallel polymer chains and help the polymers withstand the stress of manufacturing and keep them from relaxing during washing. Wool sometimes undergoes a shrink-proofing treatment that uses chlorine to lessen the profile of the scales. It also coats the fibers with a resin to smooth them out.

"¢ Buy clothes made from natural-synthetic blends. Polyester doesn't absorb as much water as cotton does, so it doesn't take on as much bond-breaking energy and shrinkage is limited.

"¢ Prewashed or preshrunk clothing has already been washed by the manufacturer several times. The tension in the fibers has already been released and shouldn't shrink anymore when you wash the clothing again.

What Happened to the Physical Copy of Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' Speech?

AFP, Getty Images
AFP, Getty Images

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave a speech for the ages, delivering the oratorical masterpiece "I Have a Dream" to nearly 250,000 people.

When he was done, King stepped away from the podium, folded his speech, and found himself standing in front of George Raveling, a former Villanova basketball player who, along with his friend Warren Wilson, had been asked to provide extra security around Dr. King while he was speaking. "We were both tall, gangly guys," Raveling told TIME in 2003. "We didn't know what we were doing but we certainly made for a good appearance."

Moved by the speech, Raveling saw the folded papers in King’s hands and asked if he could have them. King gave the young volunteer the speech without hesitation, and that was that.

“At no time do I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we got this historic document,’” Raveling told Sports Illustrated in 2015. Not realizing he was holding what would become an important piece of history in his hands, Raveling went home and stuck the three sheets of paper into a Harry Truman biography for safekeeping. They sat there for nearly two decades while Raveling developed an impressive career coaching NCAA men’s basketball.

In 1984, he had recently taken over as the head coach at the University of Iowa and was chatting with Bob Denney of the Cedar Rapids Gazette when Denney brought up the March on Washington. That's when Raveling dropped the bomb: “You know, I’ve got a copy of that speech," he said, and dug it out of the Truman book. After writing an article about Raveling's connection, the reporter had the speech professionally framed for the coach.

Though he displayed the framed speech in his house for a few years, Raveling began to realize the value of the piece and moved it to a bank vault in Los Angeles. Though he has received offers for King’s speech—one collector wanted to purchase the speech for $3 million in 2014—Raveling has turned them all down. He has been in talks with various museums and universities and hopes to put the speech on display in the future, but for now, he cherishes having it in his possession.

“That to me is something I’ll always be able to look back and say I was there,” Raveling said in the original Cedar Rapids Gazette article. “And not only out there in that arena of people, but to be within touching distance of him. That’s like when you’re 80 or 90 years old you can look back and say ‘I was in touching distance of Abraham Lincoln when he made the Gettysburg Address.’"

“I have no idea why I even asked him for the speech,” Raveling, now CEO of Coaching for Success, has said. “But I’m sure glad that I did.”

In What Field Was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a Doctor?

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Martin Luther King Jr. earned a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University in 1955. He’d previously earned a Bachelor of Arts from Morehouse College and a Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary. His dissertation, “A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,” examined the two religious philosophers’ views of God in comparison to each other, and to King’s own concept of a "knowable and personal" God.

In 1989, some three decades after King had earned his doctorate, archivists working with The Martin Luther King Papers Project discovered that King’s dissertation suffered from what they called a “problematic use of sources.” King, they learned, had taken a large amount of material verbatim from other scholars and sources and used it in his work without full or proper attribution, and sometimes no attribution at all.

In 1991, a Boston University investigatory committee concluded that King had indeed plagiarized parts of his dissertation, but found that it was “impractical to reach, on the available evidence, any conclusions about Dr. King's reasons for failing to attribute some, but not all, of his sources.” That is, it could have been anything from malicious intent to simple forgetfulness—no one can determine for sure today. They did not recommend a posthumous revocation of his degree, but instead suggested that a letter be attached to the dissertation in the university library noting the passages lacked quotations and citations.

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