How to Pre-Shrink Slipcover Fabrics

 In order for a slipcover to be washable and to not worry about the fabric shrinking, you'll want to pre-shrink the fabric before sewing.  Cotton and linen fabrics will continue to shrink even if they have been labeled "pre-shrunk" by the manufacturer.  The way to minimize shrinkage for a continued good fit is to wash and dry the fabric with heat before cutting the slipcover pattern.  Most workrooms expect materials to arrive ready for use, so you'll probably need to do the prewashing at home.  Be sure you have enough fabric - slipcovers take about 20% more fabric than upholstery, because of the shrinkage and because there are more areas that tuck into the furniture.

Preshrink your cotton or linen slipcover fabric as follows:

  1. Cut the fabric into 5 or 6 yard lengths
  2. Wash each piece separately in cold water
  3. Dry each piece separately on medium heat until fully dry
  4. Iron as needed - a spray bottle of water is a big help, especially for linen
  5. Fold pieces neatly or roll back onto the bolt for your workroom

While it may be tempting to use fabric softener, it can leave a residue that makes sewing difficult, so don't use any in the pre-shrinking process.  Also, while it is gentler on the fabric to air dry it, at this point in the project the goal is to work through any residual shrinking, so be sure to use the dryer to fully dry the fabric.  Once the slipcover is made, there will be very little further shrinking if the dryer was used.

Cotton and Linen fabrics are finished with a sizing on the surface for crispness, and this washes off in the laundry.  Some people really want a crisp look and decide not to wash the fabric at all, and plan to have their slipcovers drycleaned.  This is a more dressy look, but it can be expensive for professional cleaning!  If a slipcover is properly made, it is a breeze to clean since you just pretreat stains and toss it in the laundry. It will have a soft hand that will always have some wrinkles without the sizing. 

If you would like a crisp look, you can iron with Magic Sizing after the slipcover is made - it's available in grocery stores and adds that nice crisp finish back to the fabric.

Synthetic fabrics such as Sunbrella, Outdura and our polyester chenille Charisma generally do not shrink, so they do not need prewashing.  Sunbrella and other outdoor fabrics should never be put in the dryer. 

For information of washing your finished slipcover, please refer to our page, "How to Wash A Slipcover".

8 Comments | Leave a Comment

Comments on this post

Kerry Ann says...

Hi Jody,
You can definitely wash your linen fabric before upholstering. It’ll wash out the sizing which makes it crisp, so it’ll be nice and soft and pre-shrunk. If you’re using a white linen, you don’t have to be too concerned that the cushions will fade and not match the rest of the sofa. They may eventually be a bit lighter from washing, but not for a long time. So I think your idea is a good one, I’ve recommended it before – not everyone wants a slipcover. My one other recommendation is to have some extra linen so you can repair or replace the cushion covers if needed-it’ll greatly extend the life of your sofa. On a white sofa, I like to have enough for a second set of seat covers, since they get washed the most. Great question, thank you!

Posted on March 05, 2017

jody bass says...

I want to pre wash my linen fabric before having my sofa upholstered not slipcovered. I want the look of less crispness to the linen and also want to be able to take the seat covers off to wash. I have talked to the company where it was purchased and they with out a doubt recommend pre washing for either way I go. I also spoke to an upholsterer who has done this quite often. What are your thoughts? Have you seen prewashed linen upholstered sofas? Any other thoughts for me that I may have not considered?

Posted on March 03, 2017

Nancy says...

Mimi, I was wondering the same thing but I thought she said 6 yard pieces. I looked back at the article and she did in fact say 6 yard pieces for pre-shrinking. Looks like no worries then since that is 18 feet.i need 18 yards for my couch but will probably go for 20 to make sure there’s still enough after shrinkage. I guess if you can fit 18 yards in the washer, 20 will be ok.

Posted on January 23, 2017

Kerry Ann Dame says...

What about bringing your upholsterer fabric your didnt purchase from them?
Upholsterers love it if you can find a fabric among their selections that you like – it means an add-on sale for them. But any good upholsterer will be perfectly fine with using a fabric from elsewhere, as long as its appropriate for the job. This is called C.O.M. (customer’s own material) and is common. If you’re unsure, get a swatch of your proposed fabric and show it to your upholsterer, and if there are any concerns they can advise you.

Posted on January 19, 2017

Kerry Ann Dame says...

Hi Marilyn, Thanks for your question about shrinkage. All of our fabrics are intended for use on furniture, so they are preshrunk as part of the finishing process. They still have some residual shrinkage of about 5%, so it’s best to wash and dry your yardage once more before you have the slipcovers made. If you follow the washing instructions and put them back on damp, you should have no problem. Cotton is stretchy also, so if you have a mishap when washing them, and overdry your slipcovers and they are tight, you can rinse them again, put them back on damp and stretch to fit.
Also, we can wash your fabric for you when you order, so it’ll be ready to go when you receive it. Just select Fabric Washing Service.
I hope this helps with your decision!

Posted on January 19, 2017

Marilyn McClain says...

I want to put denim slipcovers in white on my couch. I am very concerned about the fact that they will shrink after made when I wash them. I can’t see the sense in having slipcovers if they shrink the first time you need to wash them. Give me an answer to this. It seems a big chance to take to have them made and then they shrink. What do upholsterers think about the customer bringing them preshrunk fabric they have not bought from the upholsterer?

Posted on January 09, 2017

Albert Leonard says...

Great info… I just like your various designs on fabric for slipcover. Thank you for sharing helpful article with us. yes i appreciate one thing that is the rub-rating of the fabric, which indicates how many times the fabric can be rubbed by a test machine before showing signs of wear. In recent month i repaired my slipcover at “Reyna’s Fast and Reliable Custom Upholstery” which is the best shop for slip cover in Atlanta area, US.

Posted on May 05, 2015

MiMi says...

Is cutting and washing fabric in 6’ lengths safe for an 84" sofa that I want to have professionally slipcovered? Don’t want to mess up yardage amounts for sewing. Thanks.

Posted on May 16, 2014

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