How to Wash Your Sweat Shorts - No More Shrinking or Pilling

As you can probably guess, I am a man that loves sweat shorts. Too many of my sweat shorts have gone to Goodwill because I did not wash them correctly.

Now some of you would say that washing sweat shorts is easy and that can be true.

The problem is that all sweat shorts are different. And I have ruined many sweatshorts after the first wash.

Below you will get my quick top 5 tips that are more like best practices. If you are looking for more detailed instructions go towards the bottom and I get into fabric builds and what works best.

Top 5 Sweat Shorts Washing Tips

1. Wash with Cold Water

Cotton shrinks when exposed to heat. You don’t want your sweat shorts to become spandex - the key is to minimize your sweat shorts’ exposure to heat as much as possible.

Most people think that only the dryer can shrinks clothes, but washing machines are just as responsible.

Also, warm water can pull color from fabric. If you want your colored sweat shorts to stay vibrant, remember to keep your washing machine set to cold.

2. Tumble Dry Low

Tumble dry low. The average home dryer generates heat up to 180°F (that’s about 82°C for all my brothers and sisters outside the US). All that heat can shrink your shorts.

Also, polyester waistbands can get ruined when you heat them up too much. The repeated exposure to heat can break down the elasticity and stretch them out.

3. Do Not Use an Iron

I know you stylish folk love to keep those seams tight, but the polyester in the fabric can melt if placed under too much heat.

If you need to iron, use a iron on the coolest and lowest settings possible. But let’s be real, if you are ironing your sweat shorts you’re not doing it right.

4. Do Not Bleach

Bleach is good for a lot of things. Making your hair blond, rhyming with the word beach, getting away with crime, and great for RUINING your sweat shorts.

Bleach will break down the natural cotton fibers if done too often. I want your shorts to look as good as the day you bought them, try to stay away from the hard stuff. But, if you absolutely need to bleach, use a non-chlorinated bleach like Clorox 2.

5. Do Not Dry Clean

The material that makes up sweat shorts, cotton and polyester, is strong enough to be washed at home. Save your time and money.

Specific Instructions for Fabric Builds

Thick Sweatshirt Fleece (330-400GSM) – Around 80%-20% Cotton/Polyester Blend

This is the build to most likely shrink. So keep your eye out on how much exposure to heat these shorts get. The hard part is that they take a long time to dry because of their thickness. This is what I recommend.

  • Wash in cold water (80°F/25°C).

  • Use a mild detergent. (Woolite)

  • Hang dry for 30 minutes, then tumble dry with low/no heat until completely dry to help remove any potential stiffness from air-drying.

Medium/Lightweight Sweatshirt Fleece (210-300GSM) – Around 60%-40% Cotton/Poly

This build is less likely to shrink due to a smaller percentage of cotton. You can expose this build to more heat than the thicker sweatshirt fleece.

  • Wash in cold water (80°F/25°C).

  • On the first drying cycle, tumble dry low with small load of clothes to reduce exposure to heat.

Thick French Terry – Around 90%-10% Cotton/Poly

French terry is less likely to shrink than sweatshirt fleece because of it’s fabric properties. It can absorb up to 27 times its weight in water.

  • Wash in cold water

  • Tumble dry low. You can tumble dry on medium heat if needed. But make sure to remove from the dryer right away.

Medium/Lightweight French Terry – Around 60%-30% Cotton/Poly

It is safe to say that this is the build that is least likely to shrink. This doesn’t mean go overboard. Wash like other clothes.

  • Wash in cold water (80°F/25°C).

  • You can tumble dry on medium heat.

Final Tricks and Hacks

General rule of thumb, the higher the cotton % the more likely to shrink. Cotton is a natural fiber that will shrink if exposed to high temperatures because a plant fiber’s natural response to heat is to shrink. Limit exposure to heat by washing with cold water and hang drying.

You get what you pay for. The more expensive the sweat shorts the less likely they will shrink. Careful with the cheap stuff. It’s not always bad, but it will likely require a lot more maintenance to keep your shorts looking right.

Air dry your shorts the first time you wash them. This is a little trick I learned from my Grandpa. If you air dry your shorts the first time you are less likely to experience shrinking the next time. Even if you put them in the dryer the next time.

Wash and dry inside out. This will prevent your colored shorts from fading. It minimizes direct contact to detergents and warm water.

Make sure to tie the drawstring. There is nothing worse then getting your drawstring lost in your waistband. This is a pretty common mistake. Tie them together before throwing them in the wash.

Check the tag. If the tag says that your item is pre-shrunk, then you are basically in the clear. The chances of your shot shrinking are slim to none.

I hope you enjoyed this article. I have had many issues with washing sweat shorts and knowing what I know now would have saved me a few pairs.

Let me know if these tips have you washing your sweat shorts like a pro!

Stay comfortable. Stay Awesome.


Michael Lamb

I discovered sweat shorts about 10 years ago. I fell in love with them, and I am glad I did.