Clothing in real life, especially untreated wool, has a nasty habit of shrinking if you don't follow those cryptic symbols on the tag; and nobody knows what they mean. At worst this means it'll become a size smaller, probably just annoyingly too snug, forcing you to abandon it.
Not in media, however, where this trope is more extreme. Even the slightest dash of water could reduce an expensive three-piece suit to the size of atoms. Even things that shouldn't logically shrink aren't safe from incorrect cleaning!
Most likely to occur in animation, where they can show the clothes shrink in real time, but not limited to that medium.
Compare Red Sock Ruins the Laundry, where a piece of clothing changes color as a result of being washed with another piece of clothing.
- Knights of the Dinner Table: In one story, Gordo goes through a period of disillusionment with favourite team, the Oakland Raiders, and gives away his Raiders jersey. Bob takes it as a present for his nephew Hunter, who loves pirate stuff. A week later, Gordo is over his pique and sheepishly asks Bob if he can have his jersey back. Bob obliges, but explains that it shrunk in the wash, and hands over the now child-sized jersey. As there is no way it will fit him now, Gordo gives it to Hunter anyway. Hunter is overjoyed until noticing it is a Raiders jersey and declaring "The Raiders suck!"
- Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School has a group of cadets assembling a water bazooka to attack a guard dragon to get their volleyball back. Only due to a misfire they soak their commanding officer, after putting his wet hat back on it comically shrinks down to size.
- Done as a prank in Down Periscope. The Stingray's crew shrink Lt. Lake's uniform to the point where she attends parade with her cleavage on display. Her trousers end up being so tight that she is unable to walk properly.
- According to Jennifer Beals, the loose sweatshirt from Flashdance happened because it got shrunk in the wash and had to cut a large hole to fit her, though it kept falling off-shoulder.
- Used in Lethal Weapon 3 as an excuse why Murtaugh's uniform no longer fits after 15 years of being out of it, blaming the cleaners for shrinking it. Riggs however doesn't believe a word of it.
- Invoked by Aunt Petunia in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone when Dudley's old sweater keeps shrinking every time Petunia tries to force it over Harry's head, until it's small enough to fit a hand puppet. Though it was obviously magic, Petunia came to the more logical conclusion, sparing him from severe punishment.
- In the Judy Moody book Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid, Judy and Stink glue cotton balls to a cap to make a fake powdered wig for Stink's presentation about President James Madison. When they put it in the dryer to make the glue dry faster, well...
Stink: Yikes! I said press "start"! Not "shrink"! Now it looks like...an elf wig. An ant wig!
- In one episode Boy Meets World, Cory is making a The Real World-style documentary about his friends. At one point, his parents watch a clip from it of Eric doing the laundry for the first time at college, and Mrs. Matthews worries that his clothes with shrink because he's putting them in hot water. A minute later Eric walks in wearing comically undersized clothes.
- Eerie, Indiana has the episode "The Incredible Shrinking Stanley", in which Stanley gets splashed with special soap from the Eerie laundromat and starts shrinking.
- Full House: In "Play it Again, Jesse", Stephanie borrows a sweater from D.J. against the latter's wishes and accidentally gets some mustard on it when she samples some Funky Franks at the supermarket. When she gets home, she frantically puts the sweater in the washing machine. When she gets the sweater out, it is clean, but has shrunken small enough to fit Michelle (who is delighted, especially because she says it'll fit her Barbie dolls).
- One plaintiff on Judge Rinder had sued his friend for damaging his clothes that he had been asked to look after while he was out of the country. Among the damages was a cashmere sweater that was unwearable after being washed in a washing machine and that's not the worst he did.
- In the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers episode "I, Eye Guy", Bulk and Skull try to make a mess of the school science fair and one project gives them an unwanted makeover and forcibly dresses them in drag. In the end, they're given their old clothes back, but they're shrunken from being sterilized.
- Mimpi Metropolitan: One of the many bad things that happens during Bambang, Alan and Prima's attempt to start a laundry bussiness is Alan accidentally shrinking Topan's shirt.
- Mr. Bean: Teddy is shrunk in the wash in "Tee Off, Mr. Bean". Of course, he's back to normal again next episode.
- In The New Avengers, Purdey undergoes a trip through a car wash, emerging to find that her jumper and skirt have become considerably shorter.
- Happens to one of Kochanski's only two outfits in Red Dwarf when the dryer ends up being set too high. Kochanski is by this time too tired to care.
- The Saddle Club: In "Show Ponies Part 1" Ashley rode Comanche. Veronica gave Ashley her coat after it shrunk in the wash since it wouldn't fit her anymore.
- Sesame Street has an episode in the 1990's where Baby Bear got a new tie from his aunt. After it blows away in the wind and lands in the mud, Baby Bear washes it only for it to shrink down to finger size, leaving him to spend the rest of the episode's plot trying to find a way to fix it.
- One episode of Seinfeld concerns Jerry trying to get a drycleaner to admit that he had shrunk one of Jerry's shirts in the wash. As seen here.
- Dilbert: One early strip had Dilbert buy a pair of shrink-to-fit pants that are too large, because he expects them to shrink in the wash. He insists that after one cycle, they'll fit like a glove and they do - like a glove with two fingers.
- FoxTrot: In a series of strips where Roger was left in charge of the household, this was one of the many mistakes he made. When Paige (rightly) flips out over her now-shrunken clothing, he counters that her brothers aren't complaining; enter Peter, wearing a shirt half its proper size, remarking "That's because we can't BREATHE!"
- Garfield: In the November 4, 1980 strip, Garfield decides to give his teddy bear Pooky a bath, only to have him come out about a third of his original size.
- Peanuts: In one strip, Lucy attempted to wash Schroeder's piano, and it shrunk to a toy-sized piano.
- In the opening of Chuck Rock, Chuck's Loincloth is in the wash, so he puts on some leaves instead.
- In Costume Quest, the yeti monster turns out to be a guy in a suit; the reason why the yeti hasn't been seen is that the suit shrunk in the wash. Fortunately, it's shrunk to the correct size of a fourth-grader.
- Day of the Tentacle has a puzzle where you must put a sweater in a dryer for 400 years so it'll become wearable for a hamster.
- The Double Fine browser game Host Master Deux has Tim shrinking producer Greg's T-shirt down to size so Tim can wear it. If you use too hot a wash, the shirt will shrink to a tiny size and then disintegrate.
- Metal Gear Solid has Sniper Wolf showing Absolute Cleavage because her jumpsuit shrunk in the wash (which may or may not have been done on purpose by Decoy Octopus).
- In Rolo to the Rescue, entering a washing machine will cause Rolo to become miniaturized.
- Toontown Online features the Head Shrink enemy that will occasionally threaten you with the taunt "Do you shrink in the wash?"
- In The Amazing World of Gumball episode "The Dress", Gumball is forced to wear his mom's wedding dress because his father shrunk all his clothes in the wash. When he's inevitably spotted by the other kids, they don't recognize him, and in fact, they're all smitten with him except for his sister Anais (yes, even the girls, Miss Simian, and his own brother).
- In one episode of American Dad!, Hayley gets angry at Reggie for shrinking her purple top in the wash.
- In the Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode "T-Shirt of the Living Dead", Shake steals an ancient Egyptian T-shirt from the museum and absent-mindedly throws it into the washer with a full bottle of bleach and hot water. However, the hieroglyphs on the shirt's tag said that it should only be washed in cold water, so it shrinks to the point that only Meatwad can wear it.
- Classic Disney Shorts:
- "Donald Gets Drafted": Donald Duck is outfitted with an army uniform several sizes too big, which is doused with water and shrinks until it fits.
- "Don Donald": At the end, Donald falls into a puddle and his huge sombrero shrinks into a tiny beanie.
- "Pluto's Sweater": In trying to take off the sweater, Pluto falls into a pond and the sweater shrinks around his head. Minnie takes it off and puts it on Figaro, who had been laughing at Pluto the whole time.
- "Hello Aloha": Goofy creates a grass hut to live in, but the rains cause it to shrink around him and it turns into a grass skirt for him.
- In the Class of 3000 series opener "Home", when the kids are sitting in the rain, Eddie complains that his cashmere sweater is shrinking. Madison adds that the tuba on her head is shrinking as well.
- A Wing Dings blackout on Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines has Dick Dastardly fuming as his newly washed uniform is shrunk and fits ill on him. To rectify it, Klunk pushes Dastardly into the wash water which shrinks him enough to fit his uniform.
- In the Dennis the Menace episode, "Laundry Business", Dennis, Joey and Gina start their own clothes-washing business to pay Mr. Wilson back for all the windows they broke playing baseball. One of the clothes they wash is Mr. Wilson's favorite sweater. After all the clothes are washed improperly thanks to Dennis' antics, Mr. Wilson is horrified when Joey shows him the sweater, which is now small enough to fit Joey himself.
- DuckTales (1987) has the episode "The New Gizmo Kids on the Block", where Fenton's metallic Gizmo suit shrunk in the wash, allowing Scrooge's nephews to wear it.
- Though it doesn't actually happen, this Trope is mentioned in Super Ducktales. When GizmoDuck's suit is hijacked by the Beagle Boys, Huey, Dewey, and Louie save him by switching the Megabyte Beagle's remote control with one for a GizmoDuck toy. When Megabyte tries using the toy remote control and the toy appears, he goes, "What did he do?! Shrink in the wash?!"
- Becomes the key to saving the day in the Filmation's Ghostbusters episode, "Mummy Dearest". Airhead, a ghostly mummy, has been turned into a giant and set loose to terrorize the oil fields. When the Ghostbusters' Dematerializer (the weapon they use to bust ghosts) is damaged and thus useless against anything larger than a couple inches in height, the Ghostbusters hit upon the idea of using a car wash to shrink Airhead down to size.
- It's also played for laughs both times the Ghostbusters drive through the carwash and their uniforms shrink and even fall apart as a result.
- House of Mouse has the short "Car Washers", which ends with Mickey telling Pete that his car shrunk in the wash (actually, he, Donald and mostly Goofy had wrecked the car so much they decided to buy a new one as a replacement, but could only afford a miniature model). Pete is incredulous of this, but then he ends up forced through the car wash and becomes tiny, yelling at Mickey, Donald, and Goofy in a high-pitched voice.
- Subverted in the Josie and the Pussycats episode "A Greenthumb Is Not a Goldfinger". All six protagonists have been captured by Amazon basin natives, who plan to shrink the Pussy Cats' heads in their potion cauldron. To prove that Pussy Cat magic is stronger than the natives' magic, Alexandra dunks her brother's shirt into the potion, which has no effect. Alexander's shirt was the only one guaranteed not to shrink.
- Looney Tunes: In the short Porky's Naughty Nephew, a beach party for cartoon animals has a shower there to help guests with their clothing problems. A mouse gets doused and his oversized suit shrinks to fit him, while a hippo gets doused and he shrinks to fit his undersized suit.
- In the episode "Rebel Without a Glove" of The Looney Tunes Show, Bugs shrinks his gloves in the wash, forcing him to wear leather ones until his replacements arrive in the post; causing him to change personalities.
- The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack: In the episode "Whale Times", the evil whale, Harvey, is defeated by Bubby throwing him into a laundry machine and shrinking him. And then he gets eaten by a squid named "Glubbie".
- This happens after Sweetie Belle washes Rarity's clothes without permission in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. In this case, it's only one specific wool sweater that shrinks after it's put out to dry. Rarity is very angry at first, and then later realizes that the smaller size makes it a perfect fit for her cat.
- Robot Chicken: In the "Big Horror Movie Brother" segment, Ghostface pisses off Freddy by shrinking his iconic sweater.
Freddy: YOU FOOL! The label CLEARLY says permanent press!
- In "Chuckie Grows", Chuckie's clothes shrink after Grandpa Lou washes them with an entire box of laundry soap and sets the dryer to Extra Hot. This leads the babies to believe that Chuckie grew.
- Discussed in "Cynthia Comes Alive"; Angelica tricks the babies into thinking that a teenager named Cindy hired to work at the Java Lava coffee house is her Cool Teen Cynthia doll come to life, due to Cindy's resemblance to Cool Teen Cynthia. Cindy is very lazy and rude to the customers, and when the babies overhear Chas saying he's going to go broke, they think it means he's going to break like one of their toys. They also overhear Betty telling Chas that he needs to bring Cindy down to size, believing that they need to shrink Cindy so she can become a doll again. When they come up with ideas on how to shrink Cindy, Chuckie brings up the time Chas put his pajamas in the washing machine and they came out small, which gives Kimi the idea that maybe Cindy will shrink if they wash her.
- The Simpsons: In "See Homer Run", Marge washes Homer's "Safety Salamander" mascot suit (since it hasn't been washed once since he got it) while he, as the Salamander, is running for mayor. When the suit rips apart while giving a press conference, the townspeople, having preferred the Salamander and not the man inside, don't take Homer seriously and he doesn't get the 5% necessary votes to win the election.
- SpongeBob SquarePants:
- In the episode "To SquarePants or Not to SquarePants", SpongeBob leaves his pairs of pants in the dryer and gets distracted by an extra-long phone conversation with Patrick. When the dryer stops, Gary takes out his shell, turns the dryer back on, and all of SpongeBob's pants are miniaturized, forcing him to buy a new pair.
- Happens to Man Ray's detachable head in "Shuffleboarding" when he throws it like a flying disc at SpongeBob during their battle at the laundromat, only for it to fly into a washer and shrink because it's dry clean only.
- In the Tex Avery cartoon "Little 'Tinker", a skunk, trying to attract girls, mimics Frank Sinatra, buying a "Frankie Suit", a huge pile of clothes he's dwarfed in until he sprinkles himself with a watering can and it shrinks up and contracts, ending with him looking like a walking broomstick.
- In the sketch, "Honey, I Shrunk the Clothes Trailer" from the Tiny Toon Adventures episode, "K-Acme TV", when Hamton and Gogo get jobs at the laundromat, and they accidentally shrink Fifi's dress to the size of a doll's dress.
- In the Tom and Jerry short "The Zoot Cat", after Tom falls into the fishbowl, his zoot suit shrinks until it pops off. Jerry then jumps into it, and it fits perfectly.
- Woody Woodpecker: In The Barber of Seville, Woody wraps a hot towel around an Indian chief's head, causing his feathered headdress to shrink into a shuttlecock.
Chief: You give Chief the bird, me give you scalp treatment!