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You might be wondering whether baby clothes will shrink in a tumble dryer. After all, if you're washing newborn clothes, you'll still want them to fit afterwards.
The good news is that you should not over-think this. The solution is to simply put the baby clothes in the dryer, but use the lowest heat setting that actually still has some heat (i.e. not cold, but low). The explanation is shown below.
Be aware that cotton will tend to shrink slightly in the dryer even on low, polyester won't. However, I suggest you not get too hung up about this difference - as a busy mom, you likely won't have time to air dry baby clothes anyway, regardless of fabric type. Also, if line drying indoors you run the risk of mold due to humidity of damp clothes drying in sitting room (unlike dryer which is vented to the outside).
Humidity, damp and mold from line drying indoors will pose a far bigger problem to you and your baby than shrinkage.
Most baby clothes are designed size-wise to fit that age of child, shrinkage or not. So if you have a 1 month old child, your child will fit the 0-3 month size regardless of shrinkage.
On the other hand, if your child is at the upper end of a size boundary, you can take into account shrinkage. For example, if you're buying a cotton item for your 3 month old baby, and the sizes are 0-3 and 3-6 months, you probably want to pick the 3-6 month size just to be safe. Don't size up unless you are on the borderline of sizing though - a 1 month baby is almost certain to fit 0-3 months sizing, even with shrinkage.
Having the dryer temperature on low is best for baby clothes, but I've found it also works well for adult clothing. We set our dryer on low and keep it on low for all of our laundry. It doesn't really take much longer for the load to dry and it's less harsh on the clothing.
Why any shrinkage won't be a big deal anyway
Cotton (and other fabrics that shrink) will shrink as a percentage of size, not a fixed amount of length. So your adult sized cotton t-shirt might lose half an inch in length the first time it's washed and dried, for example, because its total length is long. But a baby's onesie might shrink only by an eighth of an inch because it's shorter to begin with.
Most baby clothes are made to stretch a bit anyway (at least the knit fabrics are) so you have some wiggle room. That's why you shouldn't worry about if baby clothes shrink in the dryer.
There are a few baby clothes that shouldn't go in the dryer
There are some exceptions to putting baby clothes in the dryer. These do not relate to shrinkage, but rather to delicate fabrics or hand embroidered items, for example heirloom baby clothes. Those items of baby clothing should be air dried on a line or drying rack so as not to damage the fabric or delicate stitching. Outerwear also should not go in the dryer, nor should anything made with wool. Check the garment tag for information.
But they're not everyday items so air drying those once in a while should be do-able both in terms of health and timing.
Best places for cute yet affordable baby clothes
There are several options I recommend when you're looking for adorable baby clothes that won't break the bank. These are all from good U.S. brands. I like Gerber Childrenswear for onesies and other everyday basics. Yes, it's the same brand as the baby food and the baby insurance company - not many people know they also have a line of gorgeous baby outfits which happens to be budget-friendly. For another option, take a peek at Carter's - they have a good range of baby clothes at an affordable price point.
For something that's still affordable but offers you more choice of styles, take a look at The Children's Place. Although their physical stores look quite boutique and exclusive, their baby clothes are surprisingly affordable even when they're not on sale! Old Navy is another great option. You might be more familiar with their clothing for adults, but they have plenty of cute baby clothes with lovely unique designs - and I find their baby clothes to be much better value for money than their adult clothing.
If you're comfortable spending a little more, you might like to take a look a slightly more traditional twist on modern styles with Gymboree. They have lots of cute baby outfits of different types, and it's only slightly more expensive than the other stores I just mentioned. Or if you want an excuse to splurge, there's also Janie and Jack, which has beautiful yet comfortable baby clothing that would work wonderfully as a photo outfit or a going-home outfit for baby. They're only young once!
Where to dry baby clothes if you're not using a dryer
There are some reasons besides shrinkage issues where you might prefer not to use a dryer when washing baby clothes. These are:
- Decrease carbon footprint by natural drying
- Save money on electricity
- You're using a laundromat and it simply takes too long to use the dryer - you just need to get home
In any of the above situations, the best places to dry baby clothes without a dryer are:
- Outside in good weather on a clothes line or drying rack
- On a covered and well-ventilated porch using a drying rack or clothes line
If you are able to use a standard clothes dryer to tumble dry on low, at least for the first 12 months of baby's life, it'll make everything easier. It can take ages for cotton to line dry, so for the sake of your own sanity, don't make it hard for yourself, especially with a very young baby. I would not recommend line drying indoors on a regular basis because of the risk of humidity and mold which are not good for baby's health.