What Is Cotton Dry And When Should You Use It?

What is Cotton Dry on a Tumble Dryer?

what is cotton dry on a tumble dryer

The cotton dry setting on a tumble dryer is a high-temperature and high-speed cycle intended for cotton fabrics only. Fragile fabrics, such as silk or polyester fabrics, can melt from the high temperature of the cotton setting.

Cotton fiber is tough, resilient, and should not shrink if you use the correct dryer setting.

When Should You Use the Cotton Dry Cycle in Your Clothes Dryer?

100% cotton fabrics reap the most benefits from the cotton dry cycle, but there are other items you can dry on the cotton setting. Some of these include:

  • Denim, unless it is a denim blend with delicate fabrics
  • Sheets
  • Socks
  • Towels

The stronger the fabric, the better when deciding if the cotton cycle is safe to use.

Synthetic Dry vs Cotton Dry Differences Explained

synthetic dry vs cotton dry differences explained

The most significant difference is that synthetic dry is a gentler cycle – but these two tumble dry settings have quite a few more differing qualities.

Synthetic Dry

When in doubt, use synthetic for your laundry. Synthetic dry is a low heat, low-tumble setting for delicates, like linen garments, silks, satins, and laces.

Using the synthetic cycle is not as fast as the cotton dry setting, but erring on the side of caution and using it instead of the high-temp option prevents shrinkage and damage to your fabrics.

A few items you should always wash on the synthetic setting are:

  • Bras with underwire
  • Anything viscose
  • Acrylic fabrics – usually found in sweaters
  • Nylon

Also of note is linen. Linen sheets and towels are okay to put in the dryer on the cotton setting – but professional dry cleaning is best for linen clothing.

Cotton Dry

As mentioned above, cotton dry works by aggressively tumbling your clothing in high temperatures, so they dry quickly.

Heavy, dense fabrics work best with the cotton dry setting. Make sure to add your favorite dryer sheet in for extra softness!

If you have cotton blend garments, I recommend going with a lower heat setting. High heat on a cotton/synthetic fabric blend or foam material could lead to catastrophic results.

Also, if you are worried about your cotton items shrinking, try washing them with cool water – it helps the fabric retain its original size.

Which Should You Use?

I consider myself a cautious person, so I always use synthetic if I am in doubt. Even denim these days is not regular cotton, so check the labels on everything you want to dry before pushing the start button.

Most business casual clothing, such as blouses, suits, and jackets, should never go through the cotton dry cycle. Also, never put wool, rayon, or cashmere on any setting in the dryer. Doing so means severe shrinkage and damage to your expensive garments.

That said, towels are always a safe bet for hot water washing and cotton drying, as are bed linens and washable rugs. That is good news, as those items tend to latch onto bacteria and germs, and the high temperature kills them.

Which is Hotter, Cotton Dry or Synthetic Dry?

which is hotter cotton dry or synthetic dry

Cotton dry is hotter than synthetic dry, but below are some specifics regarding the temperatures of both.

  • Cotton cycle – the temperature is about 135 degrees.
  • Synthetic dry – around 125 degrees to 130 degrees.

Regardless of the size of the load, cotton cycles are almost always faster than the synthetic dry setting. The higher temperature allows clothing to retain heat and dry quickly, while delicate fabrics take much longer.

Do not get impatient – it is better to have a delicate garment intact than to risk damaging it on the cotton cycle!

Which Dryer Setting is the Hottest?

which dryer setting is the hottest

The cotton cycle is pretty much always the hottest setting available on a washing machine, but you can check the user manual on your particular machine to see what all the options are.

How to Avoid Cotton Shrinking

how to avoid cotton shrinking

Cotton is one of the most adored fabrics because of its versatility and lightweight qualities, plus it is hypoallergenic. However, this beloved fabric is also notorious for shrinking.

Fortunately, there are ways to combat cotton shrinkage – read on for my top recommendations.

1. Hand Washing

Yes, it is time-consuming, and yes, it requires more effort than pushing a button, but it might save your favorite dress or shirt from shrinking to the size of a toddler!

Here is how to hand wash your cotton garments to keep them in top condition:

  • Look over the piece of clothing for stains or marks. Then, check the label for hand-washing instructions. You can use your ordinary detergent or mild soap if you are concerned about damage.
  • Fill your sink up with room-temperature or cool water. Add your detergent and any other products you want to use to wash your clothes (like fabric softener).
  • Gently move your clothes around in the water until everything is submerged. You can even spin the items like an actual washing machine.
  • Rinse out all soap, wring out the clothing, and lay flat to dry.

Hand-washing is particularly beneficial for cotton underwear, bras, and hosiery, as it is delicate but allows you to concentrate on areas prone to bacteria and dirt.

2. Using a Washing Machine

If hand washing is off the table for you, you can use a washing machine to prevent shrinking. All you have to do is wash your cotton clothing at a cold temperature and on a delicate cycle.

Another benefit of using a washing machine is that it prevents pilling and thinning. It also takes much less time than washing garments by hand. After you wash your cotton fabrics in cold water, make sure to dry them on a low or medium heat setting.

3. Air Drying

Air drying is the most foolproof and eco-friendly way to ensure your cotton garments do not shrink.

Other benefits of air drying include reduced static cling and, more than likely, a lifespan increase for your cotton clothes. You will also save money on your power bill and use less energy.

My favorite way to air dry clothes is to hang them outside on a clothesline. The natural fibers of cotton respond wonderfully to air drying. Fresh air makes them soft and supple, and you never have to worry about shrinkage.

How to Unshrink Cotton Clothes

how to unshrink cotton clothes

So, you put your cotton clothing in hot water and at the highest tumble dry temperature, and now your favorite pieces no longer fit.

Do not fret! You can get your shrunken garments back to their original state in a few easy steps:

  1. Put the garment(s) in a bowl of lukewarm water
  2. Splash in a few spoons of baby shampoo
  3. Let them soak for half an hour
  4. Rinse
  5. Wring the garment out
  6. Lay flat and stretch to its original form, and weigh down the corners to prevent possible shrinkage
  7. Air dry – do not put it in the tumble dryer or let the garment retain moisture

You may have to do this a few times, and it may not return to its original size entirely, but this method will at least make your tiny garments wearable.

James Marshall
About the author

James is a business management professional and consultant with a former background in maintenance, repair, and hands-on projects. He enjoys DIY tasks and maintenance around the home as well as part-time writing. Read more »