How to Shrink Clothes on Purpose

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If you want to shrink clothes, make sure you use the right method. Here’s how to shrink clothes effectively.

Woman in sports bra holding the waistband of her jeans. It is several inches too big.

Sometimes, clothes don’t fit the way we want. Some fabrics stretch over time. Sometimes, it’s the style that changes, and shorter hemlines are in fashion. And sometimes, your body may have shrunk so now your clothes need to as well. Whatever the reason, it’s good to know how to shrink clothes on purpose without ruining them.

The Best Methods to Shrink Clothing

To shrink your clothes on purpose, you need to select the proper technique based on the fabric involved. Some fabrics need a combination washing followed by heat drying and air drying, so leave yourself time for all three. Once you’ve shrunk clothing to the desired size, you also need time to let it cool completely before wearing so the fibers hold their new shape. If the problem is unintentional shrinkage, check out my tips to unshrink clothing.

Regular Cotton or Denim Clothing

Cotton is a natural fiber, including the kind used to make denim. Clothes made of natural fibers are easier to shrink than synthetics. That’s because natural fibers absorb moisture and then contract or shrink when exposed to heat.

To Shrink Cotton and Denim

  1. Wash in hot water with your regular detergent.
  2. Dry in a high-temp dryer.
  3. Every 5 minutes, stop the dryer and check the clothing’s fit.
  4. When it’s shrunk to the desired size, lay it flat on a towel to finish air-drying. Do not remove it from the towel or wear it until the item is completely dry and cool to touch.

Cotton Clothing with Decals

It’s important to protect the decal when shrinking concert t-shirts and sports team hoodies. To shrink these:

  1. Turn the item inside out. Wash or wet it thoroughly using cold water.
  2. Leave it inside out and tumble dry it alone using high heat.
  3. Every 5 minutes, stop the dryer and check the clothing’s fit.
  4. When it’s shrunk to the desired size, remove it from the dryer and turn it right-side-out. Lay it flat on a towel with the decal facing up to finish air-drying. Take care that you don’t stretch the decal while doing this.

Wool and Cashmere

Both wool and cashmere shrink easily in response to heat. The trick when shrinking wool is avoiding damage that changes how the garment feels.

When shrinking wool or cashmere on purpose, you need to be very gentle with it. Agitation or squeezing will make wool fibers flare and then mat — an irreversible process known as felting. Felted sweaters are heavy and stiff.

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To Shrink Wool or Cashmere

  1. Lay the item flat on a towel.
  2. Mist it evenly all over with cold water. Turn it over and repeat. Or, wash it by itself using the delicate wash cycle and cold water only.
  3. Slide your hands under the item to provide support as you transfer it to the dryer. Take care not to stretch or squeeze it.
  4. Place the item by itself in the dryer. Tumble dry it on high heat for 5 minutes. Stop the dryer, carefully remove the item and check the fit by holding it up against you for size. Do not let it stretch. Return to the dryer if needed and check again every 3-4 minutes.
  5. Once it’s shrunk to the desired size, remove the item from the dryer while supporting it with both hands. Lay it flat on a towel to finish air drying. Do not move it until the garment has completely dried and is cool to touch.

Polyester Clothing

Polyester is a permanent press fabric made of synthetic fibers. Synthetic fabrics are hydrophobic, so they don’t absorb moisture. This makes them more difficult to shrink. For 100% polyester clothing, you need water that’s at least 140°F. Polyester blends will shrink at lower temperatures.

To Shrink 100% Polyester Clothing

  1. Place the item in an empty sink. Engage the drain stopper. Pour boiling water over the item and let it soak. Or, if the item is small, boil water in a large pot then turn off the heat then add the item to the pot.
  2. After 10 minutes, put on heat-insulated oven mitts and use tongs to transfer the item to a high-temp dryer. Every 5 minutes, stop the dryer and check the clothing’s fit.
  3. When it’s shrunk to the desired size, lay it flat on a towel to finish air-drying. Do not remove it from the towel or wear it until the item is completely dry and cool to touch.

To Shrink Polyester-Blend Clothing

  1. Turn it inside-out and wash it by itself in hot water using your washing machine’s longest cycle.
  2. Dry it in a high-temp dryer.
  3. Every 5 minutes, stop the dryer and check the clothing’s fit.
  4. When it’s shrunk to the desired size, lay it flat on a towel to finish air-drying. Do not remove it from the towel or wear it until the item is completely dry and cool to touch.

Rayon Clothing

Although rayon is made from plant cellulose, it’s still considered a synthetic fabric. Unlike polyester, it is fairly easy to shrink rayon clothes.

To Shrink Rayon Clothing:

  1. Wash it in warm water.
  2. Dry in a high-temp dryer.
  3. Every 5 minutes, stop the dryer and check the clothing’s fit.
  4. When it’s shrunk to the desired size, lay it flat on a towel to finish air-drying.

Tips to Remember About Shrinking Clothes

• Not all clothing will shrink, even if it’s made from cotton or denim. If the manufacturer’s care label says the item is pre-shrunk, it is unlikely to shrink further

• Some items won’t shrink uniformly. Pants, for instance, may shrink in length but not width. The legs will get shorter if you shrink them but they won’t get narrow. The waistband will shrink but will stretch out slightly when you wear them. This is because the fabric’s vertical fibers shrink less than the horizontal ones. (The exception is Levi’s 501, a pair of jeans designed to shrink all over in the washing machine before first wear.)

• You cannot shrink leather, nylon, or fur at home. Take these to a tailor for alteration.

Caring for Clothes After Shrinking

Most of the time when you shrink clothing on purpose it will stay that way unless you expose it to high heat again. But you may notice some relaxing in the waistband or seat of cotton or denim items you’ve shrunk on purpose. This is due to tension and they’ll likely resume their shrunken size next time you wash them.

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