Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Does Paracord Shrink When It Gets Wet?

If you research this question at all, you will find quite a bevy of opinions. Some insist paracord shrinks anywhere from 10 to 12%, after getting soaking wet. Alternatively, others explain that true paracord, being made of nylon, is not susceptible to actual shrinking.

Personally, the many (and varied) opinions left me without a definitive answer, and since I am interested in fabricating paracord bracelets to a specific size, I was determined to find a more exact answer to the question. I decided to ask someone who has obviously worked with paracord a great deal more than I have, and consequently should know the real truth of the matter.

This individual has his own blog, devoted to paracord projects, and goes simply by the name of Stormdrane. If you are at all interested in paracord knotting and items made from paracord, I would highly recommend visiting his site. Here is what he said, when I asked him the question:

I've usually used good quality 550 type III mil-spec paracord, and have not had any noticeable 'shrinkage' issues with it. I have had folks request that I pre-shrink cord before tying a paracord bracelet for them, in the past when I sold some, but checking the length before and after, showed less than a 1/2" difference in a 10 foot length when wet, and after stretching it out by hand after fully dry, it was back even.

Some paracord distributors, like Ubraidit.com, sell 450 paracord, and they do mention shrinkage (as much as 10% to 12% for black and kelly green), but the difference in paracord construction is in the core strands. 450 has a few loose fibrous polyester strands instead of the twisted 7 inner nylon strands of military/commercial 550 paracord, and those fibrous strands do shrink up a bit and can make the outer sheath a bit 'wavy' in my experience.

So it comes down to what type of paracord you're using. If making a wearable paracord bracelet/watchband/collar with 450 type paracord, you can pre-shrink it to be on the safe side, and if using good 550 paracord, I wouldn't worry about it, but you can try test shrinking it with the cord you have to test it out.

So, there you have it, from someone who is quite obviously more of an expert on the subject than I am.

Of course two sources of information are always better than just one, so I posed the question to my supplier of 550 Type III paracord.  They apparently queried the maker of their paracord, and came back with the following answer to the question:

Nylon does wick up water & it will handle less easily when it’s wet.  It may feel like it & appear to shrink temporarily while it’s wet, but unless it is also exposed to high heat at the same time (for a period of time) it is not a permanent condition.

That seems to be completely consistent with the response I got from Stormdrane.

In essence then, the expert consensus seems to be that "real" Type III 550 paracord does NOT significantly shrink when exposed to water. However, there are many different cords being sold, some of them are passed off as 550 paracord, when in fact they are not. Any cord that contains fibrous strands no doubt will exhibit some shrinkage, but it appears "real" 550 paracord does not suffer significant shrinkage, or if it does shrink somewhat when wet, it tends to generally return to its original size and shape after being dried out.


  1. Just fyi....

    I found your blog searching for 550 paracord shrink.

    I have some that shrunk in the washer. I left it in my pocket, washed the pants and it DID shrink. It left the item unusable.

    I am now suggesting to the makers of these items that they "pre-wash" the paracord prior to making the product.

  2. @CO Flyguy,
    Thanks a lot for your comment. You hear all kinds of stories associated with 550 paracord and shrinkage. Apparently, there are some various vendors out there, and the product does exhibit different characteristics based on vendor of the cord. I soaked a bracelet and tested to see how much shrink I would get, and actually if there was any shrinkage, it was not significant as far as I could tell. Probably to be on the safe side, one should run a test on the particular cord they are using. I know I had some nylon cord that looked like paracord, but wasn't; and it really shrunk quite a little. Thanks again for your info.

  3. Washer and dryer = wet + heat, consistent with the manufacturers response. Of course it shrunk.

  4. Using black Rothco brand 550 cord, I made a bracelet. I took a shower while wearing that bracelet. The bracelet noticeably tightened around my wrist, and the weave tightened around itself to the point that the bracelet was no longer flexible. The design of the bracelet was such that pulling the central core out caused the bracelet to fall apart, but the friction of the tightened weave made that impossible. The paracord in question contains a core of 7 twisted strands.

    I would be interested to experiment with paracord, to see if presoaking the raw cord before weaving would allow the bracelet to get wet later without shrinking or tightening.

  5. I can tell you from experience that tying a bracelet and then dropping it in boiling water - as was once recommended to me, made the cord plastic-like and shrunk the bracelet considerably. In addition, the inner cords become brittle and defeat the purpose of a survival bracelet. I would not suggest trying to shrink any fitted items i.e. bracelets, collars, can koozies, etc. and if you do shrink the cord, i would not use boiling water.

    I will try pre-shrinking some using hot water and see what happens.

  6. I made a bracelet from 550 Paracord in Gecko and Fire and, wearing it all the time except when showering, it got wet, dried, got wet... And it is shrinking and getting harder to a degree I have to take it off as it hurts... It was rather loose in the beginning, but now it is too tight to wear.

  7. There are several vendors that call their paracord genuine 550 cord, inferring to the unsuspecting buyer that it is Mil-spec paracord, but in fact it is inferior cord. Perhaps the cord you used was not really Mil-spec or Commercial grade Mil-spec cord. My experience with "real" 550 paracord is that, if gotten wet and then air dried, it does not shrink that much at all, and if it does a small amount, after a few days it usually returns to the original shape. In other words it is very dimensionally stable.

  8. I just wove a dog collar out of the paracord sold at Joann Fabrics, pretty sure it is not mil-spec, but is cheap and very good for bracelets/collars. I put 3 cups of water in a glass bowl and microwaved it for 5 minutes. The water wasn't boiling, but very hot. I placed the collar in the water for 10 minutes. Here are the results...

    BEFORE placing paracord collar in very hot water: 15.25 inches
    AFTER placing paracord collar in very hot water: 14.75 inches

    The braids are noticeably tighter, but unlike the comment about a bracelet becoming harder, the collar is actually more malleable (flexible). I am very pleased with the results as the collar was a bit large.