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Updated: Oct 19, 2023

As part of her spring cleaning, Melissa sent her one-year-old curtains to her regular dry-cleaner for washing in preparation for the Chinese Lunar New Year. It was the first time the curtains were ever sent for cleaning. As she hung back her curtains after getting them back from the dry-cleaner, her heart sank. The curtains had shrunk by about 10cm! She stormed back to the dry-cleaner, accusing them of damaging her curtains.

So what happened? Have you ever experienced shrinkage in your curtains before?


In order to understand the reasons for the shrinkage of Melissa's curtains, it's important to understand, at least briefly, how fabrics are manufactured.

Generally speaking, fabrics are either woven or knitted, in a loose or tight structure. Regardless of the manufacturing method, much mechanical tensions, energy and forces are imputed into the fabric. These newly minted fabrics exist in a “highly strung” state, which means that they are actually artificially enlarged in size. It is like how a liquid occupies more space than a solid. The mass is the same, but the volume is different. This also means that if the same “highly strung” fabric ever loses this extra energy, its size will “shrink”, except that it didn't shrink due to externalities, but because it has returned to its relaxed, original state.

So, when a “highly strung” fabric is soaked in water, or Perc, which is a dry-cleaning solvent, together with various mechanical processes, the fabric releases the “trapped” energy, relaxes and returns to its original state. Its surface area will have decreased, meaning the fabric actually went through a process of shrinking. This “shrinkage” can be up to a whopping 5%!

This 5% shrinkage is not really visible in the case of garments, but when it happens to huge items like curtains, then it becomes very apparent.


There are only 2 reasons why curtains shrink:

1. Wrong method of cleaning. The curtain may require professional dry-cleaning but was put through a water washing cycle instead. This curtain is not made for laundry and so the fabric construction has been damaged through an incorrect cleaning method. One important thing to note about this form of shrinkage is that the magnitude can be up to 30%. If your curtains shrunk by anything more than 10%, it is 99% likely that the wrong method of cleaning had been employed.

2. The fabric wasn't pre-shrunk by the curtain manufacturer. I will explain what this means below.

As mentioned above, almost all new fabrics exist in a “highly strung” state. They are not suitable for any curtain making unless the “hidden energy” is first removed prior to commencement of construction. The removal of this energy will obviously return the fabric to its original state and no shrinkages will happen thereafter.

It is, therefore, the curtain manufacturers' responsibility to ensure that they send the fabric for pre-washing prior to construction. This will ensure that any “hidden energy” in the fabric will be released prior to the start of the sewing process. He must ensure that the piece of cloth is returned to its natural state. Without this important step, there is a very high risk that the fabric will continue to remain in its “highly strung” state after completion of the curtain construction. This energy will continue to remain even after a prolonged period of use by the consumer. And you guessed it, all the trapped energy will be released the moment the curtains are sent for the first cleaning! The end result will be like how Melissa above experienced, a “shrinkage” in her curtains. Except we all now understand, is not actually a shrinkage. Melissa's curtains are now in their relaxed state and therefore, actual length.

The “shrinkage” is only very apparent with the length because we make our curtains according to the height of our windows or ceiling. It doesn't really affect the width because curtains are meant to fit loosely horizontally, hence a 5% shrinkage is not going to be visible to the naked eyes. This is actually why most manufacturers will include a few folds of extra fabric at the base of the curtains to handle any possible “shrinkage”, but not at the sides.


Unfortunately, once the curtains are made without fabric pre-shrinking, there is no way to reverse the situation.

What I suggest to one and all is to get your curtain manufacturer to give a warranty against shrinkage of up to 10%. Get them to give you a guarantee that the curtain fabric you choose will be pre-shrunk prior to construction. Put this all down in black and white so there will not be any “misunderstanding” later. This is the surest way to protect yourselves against potential curtain shrinkage.


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