Explains how to shrink clothes, with sets of steps for cotton, wool, silk, polyester, denim, shirts, pants and jeans — plus how to shrink parts of a garment but leave the rest intact.
Different materials shrink differently and require different methods when it comes to how to shrink clothes. So it is important to determine what the garment is made of before before you follow any of the steps below for how to shrink clothes. For example, cotton shrinks best, polyester is less likely to shrink.
The table of contents lists all the sections for how to shrink clothes. Depending on the item, you may need to use more than one method. Note: For cotton, wool, and polyester, if the shrinking method does not reduce size enough, try a second time and follow the preshrunk and older garment instructions at the end of this article.
- Settings when using the washing machine
- Settings when using the dryer
- How to shrink cotton
- How to shrink denim
- How to shrink wool
- How to shrink silk
- How to shrink polyester
- How to shrink a shirt
- How to shrink a cotton shirt
- How to shrink a hoodie
- How to shrink pants
- How to shrink jeans
- How to shrink clothes that are pre-shrunk or older garments
Settings when using the washing machine
For shrink-washing, set your washing machine on a high temperature. During fabric weaving, the fabric is constantly stretched and stretched. When the fabric is heated, the threads or threads become shorter because the tension is released. Using heat is the best way to shrink all types of fabrics.
Wash the garment on the longest possible wash program. You can shrink the garment even better if you not only heat it, but also moisten it and let it move around a lot. This is also known as “consolidation shrinkage”. As a result, cotton, denim, and polyester fibers lose tension, giving the garment a different shape. The longer you expose the garment to these conditions, the more likely it is that it will shrink.
Take the garment out of the washing machine immediately after washing. Do not let it air dry. If you expose the garment to air, the fabric cools very quickly and does not shrink as quickly.
Settings when using the dryer
Tumble dry the garment at a high temperature. Cotton, denim and polyester shrink when exposed to heat. Hot water ensures that the fabric is compressed and hot air has the same effect.
- Select the longest possible drying program. Movement (e.g. turning the tumble dryer) can cause the garment to shrink more. The fibers in the fabric get warm and move, causing them to shrink.
- Leave the garment in the dryer until it is completely dry. If you let the garment air dry, the fabric will cool too quickly. Denim can therefore stretch.
How to shrink clothes
How to shrink cotton
- Wash the cotton garment in hot water.
- Put it in the dryer. Turn the dryer on high heat.
- Check the size of the garment in different places during the drying cycle. This is especially important if this is your first time washing the garment and it is not a pre-shrunk garment. If it looks small enough, turn the dryer on low heat / air dry and let it run until the garment is dry.
How to shrink denim
- Follow the instructions above for how to shrink cotton, but be aware that because denim is thicker, it could take longer or take two or three cycles to get the right shrinkage.
How to shrink wool
- Wash the garment on a short wool wash program. Wool is a relatively delicate material. It should be handled with caution.
- Wool is made from animal hair, so it’s made up of hundreds of tiny fibres. When wool is exposed to heat, water, or movement, these scales mesh and stick together, causing the fabric to shrink. This process is also known as felting.
- Wool reacts very strongly to heat and movement, so a short wash program is very suitable.
- Dry the garment on a low heat. With wool, movement is just as important as temperature if you want to shrink the fibers. The movements of the dryer rub the fibres together and the wool shrinks. Wool shrinks very quickly, so it is best to use a low heat setting.
- Check the garment regularly during the drying program to see if it is shrinking equally on all sides. Because wool is so responsive to heat and movement, you can easily shrink the garment too much.
- If you accidentally shrink the garment too much, immediately soak it in cold water for half an hour. Then wrap it in a towel to dry.
- If you need to shrink a wool garment moe than this, follow method 2.
- Wash the wool garment in hot water.
- Put the garment in the dryer. Run the dryer on medium heat until the garment is dry.
How to shrink silk
- Use a mesh laundry bag to protect the silk if you are using a top loader. A top loader has a door that opens upwards, while a front loader has a door at the front. Top loaders have an axle that protrudes into the drum and turns and rotates the garments. The fabric can therefore be treated roughly. The mesh laundry bag protects the delicate silk.
- Wash the garment with a short fine program. Almost all washing machines have a delicate wash program in which the laundry is washed at a low temperature. This is ideal for shrinking silk. Not too much heat can pull the fabric tight, compressing the fibers and shrinking the fabric.
- Use a mild detergent. Do not use chlorine bleach as it can damage the silk.
- Check the silk garment from time to time. You can cut the washing program in half and take the garment out of the washing machine if it has already shrunk to the size you want.
- Wrap the garment in a towel for a few minutes. This will remove the excess water. Do not wring out the garment as this may damage the fabric.
- Let the garment air dry. Unlike many other fabrics, silk stays in good condition and does not stretch. You can hang up the silk garment to dry without damaging it.
- Do not hang the garment in direct sunlight as this can cause the color to fade. Also, do not use a wooden clothes horse, as the silk can stain the wood.
- Let the garment dry almost completely. You can now tumble dry the garment.
- Place the garment in the dryer for five minutes. Some tumble dryers have a special setting for silk. If this is not the case for you, switch the device to cold mode.
- Check the garment frequently to make sure the silk is not damaged. You can set an alarm so that you don’t leave the garment in the dryer for too long. Take the garment out of the dryer when it is sufficiently shrunk.
How to shrink polyester
- Wash the polyester garment in cold water.
- Put the garment in the dryer. Run the dryer on high heat until the garment is dry. Check it at intervals to see how the shrinking is going.
How to shrink a shirt
- You need to first work out what the shirt fabricis, and then follow the shrink-washing and dryer instructions for that fabric.
- If it is a long-sleeved shirt, particularly check the length of the sleeves, as you do not want these to end up too short for you to wear.
- If the sleeves look like they are now the right size, but the rest of the shirt is still too big, take the shirt out of the dryer and hang it on a padded hanger (to protect the shoulder seams) and clip some weights onto the folded cuffs of the sleeves. You can use bulldog clips to do this, and have plastic bags or socks filled with wheat as the weights. This will lengthen the arms a little as it cools down, then you can repeat the dryer process again. This also works if the sleeves have become too short during the process.
- The second method to shrink the body of the shirt while retaining the length of the arms (or vice versa) is to only wet through the part you want to shrink and then put the shirt into a hot dryer.
How to shrink a cotton shirt
- Wash the cotton shirt in hot water.
- Put it in the dryer. Turn the dryer on high heat.
- Check the size of the shirt at different times during the drying cycle.
- As with the instructions above for how to shrink a shirt, you need to keep an eye on the length of the arms, to make sure they do not end up shrunk too much for you.
- When it looks to be the right size, turn the dryer on low heat / air dry and let it run until the garment is dry.
How to shrink a hoodie
- First work out what the material is, and then follow the shrink-washing and dryer instructions for that material.
- As with the instructions for how to shrink a cotton shirt, for the how to shrink hoodie steps, you need to keep an eye on the length of the hoodie’s arms, to make sure they do not end up too short for you.
How to shrink pants
- First, you need to determine what the pants are made from, and then follow the instructions above for that material.
- However, just like with shirt arms, with pants you have to keep an eye on the length of the legs and make sure they do not end up too short. If you really only want to shrink the area around the waist and butt, but want to keep the existing leg length, just wet through the area you want to shrink and then follow the dryer instructions for that fabric.
How to shrink jeans
- Denim is thicker than cotton, but responds well to tough shrinking methods. Set the washing machine to 60 degrees and start the normal washing process. Depending on the washing temperature the garment can handle, set the washing machine to a temperature of 90 degrees.
- Basically, however, you should first start an experiment at 60 degrees and then increase the temperature if necessary, because making something bigger again is very difficult.
- The shrinking effect is increased if you put the clothes in the dryer immediately afterwards.
- Try not to shrink jeans by wearing them in the bath. This works less well than washer and dryer heat shrinking and is also much more uncomfortable.
- Be aware that drying jeans at a temperature above 40 degrees in the dryer destroys any leather parts of the jeans, including the label.
How to shrink clothes that are pre-shrunk or older garments
- Boil water.
- Soak the garment in hot water. Make sure the water covers the entire garment.
- Transfer the garment to the washing machine. Use insulated gloves or a long stick to avoid burns.
- Wash the garment in hot water with a very small amount of detergent.
- Once the wash cycle ends, place the garment in the dryer. Dry the garment on high heat.
- Check the size of the garment. If it is still too large, repeat steps 1 through 5 until the garment has shrunk enough
Genevieve Dumas is a design, fashion, food and style writer who has worked on major magazines and mastheads in the United States and Europe.