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How to Shrink Clothes the Right Way

Understanding the right shrinking processes could help you achieve the look you desire without compromising the garment’s fabric or fit. So let’s take a deeper look at how to shrink clothes.

a woman with a beautiful swathe of blue silk standing by the ocean at sunset

Yes, you read that right. Most of the time, we take extra precautions not to shrink clothing, but every so often, you may want to shrink an item. Perhaps you find a pair of jeans or a sweater that is perfect other than being a size too big. (Although some oversized items like blazers are very in vogue now.)

In these cases, knowing how to shrink clothes properly can be a useful skill to have. Whether it's for aesthetics or a better fit, shrinking your garments at home is fairly simple.

Understanding the right shrinking processes could help you achieve the look you desire without compromising the garment’s fabric or fit.

So let’s take a deeper look at how to shrink clothes.

Why do clothes shrink?

Clothes can shrink for a variety of reasons, the most common of which is the nature of the fabric and how it reacts with water, heat, and agitation. High heat, especially when mixed with moisture, is the most common cause of shrinking clothes.

Fibers in fabric get activated when they are exposed to heat sources, such as hot water during washing or high temperatures in the dryer. The fibers tighten and compress as a result of this activation, shrinking the garment.

a woolen sweater being hand washed

Moisture is also a factor in the shrinking process. The fibers of clothing swell as they absorb water. Though the fibers return to their former condition when the clothing dries, they may shrink slightly during this process.

Agitation, which happens during washing and drying, can also lead to shrinkage. A machine’s mechanical movements, as well as physical stretching and pulling, can cause fibers to rub against one another, creating friction and heat. This can cause the fibers to constrict and the garments to shrink.

Easiest Fabrics to Shrink

It is important to note that different materials have different shrinking potentials. Natural fibers such as cotton fabric, linen, and wool shrink more than synthetic fabrics such as polyester or nylon. Natural fibers have a more porous structure and may absorb water more quickly than synthetic fibers.

How to Shrink Cotton Fabric

Cotton is the simplest fabric to shrink. It normally shrinks simply by washing it with hot water and then drying it on high heat. But keep in mind that cotton can bleed in hot water, so wash colored cotton fabrics separately from white and light-colored ones.

To shrink a cotton garment, set your washing machine's water temperature to high heat and wash. After the cycle is over, instantly place the freshly washed garments in the dryer on high. Letting the cotton items cool for too long in the washer can affect the shrinking process.

If the fabric is not pre-shrunk, you must periodically check the item to make sure it doesn’t shrink too much.

Once the cotton item is the desired size, allow it to air dry on a rack. Avoid line drying since it will cause the fibers to expand back to their original size.

How to Shrink Denim

denim clothing being put into the washing machine

The method for shrinking denim fabrics is quite similar to that of cotton. However, denim may not be able to shrink as much as you would like since some items are designed to prevent shrinkage.

To shrink denim, select a hot water cycle on your washing machine. And to avoid fading, use a color-safe detergent on colored garments.

After washing, put the denim garment in the dryer and tumble dry the item on the highest heat setting until it is totally dry. The heat will cause the clothing to shrink even more. Check its size every few minutes and remove it from the dryer when it has shrunk to the appropriate degree.

How to Shrink Wool Fabric

Because wool is a more delicate fabric, its shrinking process differs from cotton or denim.

To shrink wool, begin by placing the item in a mesh laundry bag or pillowcase. This can protect details like buttons and zippers while minimizing unintentional stretching throughout the cycle. Place the item in the washing machine, and wash using a warm water short cycle and a small amount of detergent. When washing wool, avoid using hot water which can harm the fibers and cause felt.

After the cycle is complete, remove the clothes from the bag and place them in the dryer. A low-heat dryer setting will gradually shrink wool clothing while causing less harm than high heat. Aggressive agitation of wet wool over high heat can also result in felting. Set the timer for 30 minutes on the machine. Every five minutes, check the garment to see how much it has shrunk.

Once the clothing has shrunk to the desired size, allow it to air dry or dry with a hair dryer on low heat.

If you over-shrink your wool garment, you may be able to reverse it by washing it in cold water with a moderate wool cleanser and drying it on a line or flat on a towel. Line drying can help correct undesired shrinking.

adding clothing in a protective mesh bag to the washing machine

How to Shrink Polyester

Polyester is a synthetic fiber-based permanent press fabric. Because synthetic textiles are hydrophobic, they do not absorb moisture. This makes shrinking them more challenging, requiring water to be at least 140°F for 100% polyester clothes.

Shrinkage of synthetic fibers requires high heat, but excessive heat can also harm the colors of polyester clothes. So before washing, turn your clothing inside out and then wash on a hot water cycle.

After washing, place the clothing in the dryer on high heat. Because synthetic fabrics dry fast, set the timer for 30 minutes and check the progress every five minutes. If you need to shrink the clothing more, try re-washing it in hot water and then ironing it dry on low to medium heat.

Polyester-Blend Clothing

Shrinking polyester-blend clothing requires less heat, so be careful not to over-shrink a polyblend item as polyester clothing is tough to unshrink.

Turn the clothing item inside out and wash it in hot water on the longest washing machine cycle. Dry it in the dryer on high heat, but stop it every five minutes to check the item.

How to Shrink Silk

Silk is a delicate fabric that might be difficult to shrink. But the best way to shrink silk is to soak it for five minutes in warm water.

Then roll the silk clothing in a dry towel to remove excess water. Allow it to dry naturally; never wring out water from a silk garment.

If further shrinking is necessary, soak the garment again and then dry it on high heat.

a close up of a woman standing in a lake wearing a silk dress

3 Methods to Shrink Your Clothes

1. Shrink Clothing in Boiling Water

One common way to shrink clothes is to soak them in boiling water. Simply boil water in a large pan and drop the item into the water.

How long you should leave the clothing in boiling water depends on its fabric. Polyester can be left for up to 30 minutes, cotton for up to 10, and silk should only be dipped and immediately removed.

Remove the clothing from the water with tongs and allow it to cool for a few minutes. Once you are able to handle the garment, lay it on a rack to air dry.

2. Shrink Clothing in the Washing Machine

This is one of the simplest and most used methods for shrinking garments. First, check the item’s manufacturer’s label to see if it can be laundered in a washing machine.

Then follow the directions above based on the item’s fabric to shrink the garment.

The heat, moisture, and agitation that occur in the washing machine and tumble dryer cause the textiles to shrink from their original size. This method is commonly used to shrink cotton, linen, denim, and microfiber materials.

3. Shrink Clothing with a Steam Iron

Another method for shrinking clothing is by ironing if your steam iron has a good supply tank and creates enough steam pressure.

To begin, fill the iron’s tank with distilled water, set the temperature to high, and allow the iron to heat. Meanwhile, use a spray bottle to dampen the garment you would like to shrink. When the iron is hot, iron the garment until it is dry. The clothing will shrink due to both the heat and steam of the iron.


Does hot water shrink clothes?

Hot water can cause clothing to shrink. When exposed to high temperatures, the fibers in clothing can contract, resulting in a smaller size. This is especially true for natural fabrics like cotton, wool, and linen, which shrink more than synthetic materials. Heat can cause the molecular structure of the fibers to be disrupted, causing them to tighten and grow denser.

Does cold water shrink clothes?

No, cold water generally does not shrink garments. Cold water, unlike hot water, does not cause the fibers in fabrics to contract or tighten. In fact, washing items that are prone to shrinking, such as delicate textiles, in cold water is typically recommended. Cold water is easier on these fabrics and helps to keep the items’ natural size and form.

Can you shrink a shirt without washing it?

a woman in her kitchen, ironing a shirt

Yes, you can shrink clothing without washing it. A common method is to apply direct heat to the garment, which can cause the fibers to constrict. To target certain sections of a garment, use a hairdryer or a hot iron. Keep in mind that this procedure might not produce consistent or predictable results, and that high heat may damage the fabric.

When you shrink a garment on purpose, it typically remains shrunken until you expose it to extreme heat again. However, you may notice some relaxation in certain areas like the waistband of cotton or denim clothes. This is due to tension, and they will most likely return to their original size the next time you wash them.

Whether your favorite garments fit you perfectly or need to be shrunken, we recommend storing them in high-quality storage bags when out of season or not in regular use. Hayden Hill clothes stogare bags are made of 100% organic, soft cotton that is environmentally friendly and allows your favorite pieces to breathe. We deliver sustainable and beautiful garment storage to preserve and protect the clothes you love most.

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