Learn how to shrink clothes. There is nothing more frustrating than buying an item of clothing you love in the wrong size. Shrinking can fix this if the clothing is too big and save you having to return something you love. Before you jump up and down with glee you need to know that only certain types of fabric can be shrunk and that there is no guarantee that it will shrink enough.
How to Shrink Clothes on Purpose
Check the Fiber Content
Before you start, check the clothing label for the fiber content. If it says 100% cotton, start to get excited as that is the easiest fiber to shrink. Synthetic, man-made fibers do not shrink much and may even get ruined by the shrinking process. Jeans are a common clothing item that people try and shrink and since they are made from cotton, this normally works well. Do not try and shrink anything labeled “dry clean only” as it is likely to damage instead of shrink. Leather, vinyl, Lycra, sequins and beads are not going to shrink.
Not all fabrics will shrink the same amount but applying heat either through washing or drying will affect most fabrics.
WARNING – Under normal circumstances, you will read the fabric label and wash and dry your garment according to the instructions. In order to shrink, you need to throw caution to the wind and ignore all the manufacturer’s warnings. Not always a good idea, but if the item is too big anyway what have you got to lose? Just be conservative as you can always do the shrinking process numerous times if you are worried about suddenly making your item too small. Also keep in mind that after you have done your shrinking, you won’t be able to return a new garment back to the store for a refund.
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For clothing labels that specify pre-shrunk, there will not be much to gain by trying to shrink further. The manufacturer has already thought ahead and shrunk the item as much as possible. This is a common feature of jeans and denim. Many distressed denim styles are pre-shrunk in the process that gives the item its unique look.
New vs Old
Better results will always be obtained in new clothing rather than old clothing that has already been washed many times over. Old clothing may still benefit from applying heat to shrink them even further and if they are old it is certainly worth a try anyway.
Why Does Clothing Shrink?
When manufactured, the fabric is stretched out under tension. Upon shrinking we are letting the fabric relax and return to a more natural state.
Best Fabrics to Shrink
The best fabric to shrink is definitely cotton. Other fibers may give mixed results and man-made fibers may not shrink at all.
- COTTON – 100% cotton is a natural fiber and is the easiest to shrink in its first wash.
- LINEN – Linen has an open weave and is easy to shrink. It often shrinks more than cotton.
- WOOL – Wool is also a natural fiber that shrinks easily with heat. I’m sure we have all accidentally shrunk a lovely wool sweater at some point. When a wool fabric is shrunk, it can appear thicker and may pill.
- SILK – Silk will shrink with heat but it may have wrinkles or ripples appear. Being a delicate fabric, care should be taken when trying to shrink. If silk is combined with lace, you may find they shrink by different amounts.
How to Shrink Clothes in the Machine
Cotton often shrinks even with normal washing by 3-5% but we want to accelerate this as much as possible. Heat increases shrinkage.
- Machine wash the item with a warm or hot water setting. The hotter the water, the more shrinkage you will have. 104F/40C is considered warm water. If you are wanting the maximum results then you could use boiling water.
- If you don’t want to shrink the clothing any further you can hang it now on the clothesline or dry it flat.
- For further shrinking, use the tumble dry machine on the hottest setting.
- Once the item is dry, try it on. If you want further shrinkage, put it back in the dryer again and then try on again. This overheating process is what shrinks the clothing.
- If you are still not happy with the amount of shrinkage, you can repeat this process again. Some clothing takes a few washes before reaching the maximum shrinkage.
The trick in shrinking clothing is not to go too far. You are better to do this process twice rather than adding too much heat and having an item that is now too small. It can be hard to judge how much something will shrink by just looking at it so do this all at your own risk.
Keep in mind that using high heat settings may leave to some fading of darker colors.
How to Shrink Clothes by Soaking
Great shrinking results can be obtained by soaking clothing in warm or hot water. The longer you soak the clothing the more it will shrink. If soaking for several hours or overnight, change the water a few times so it stays hot. If you are using boiling or hot water, don’t forget to be careful and protect yourself using some rubber gloves.
After soaking, wash normally in detergent and rise then dry. Don’t wring the item to remove excess water as this may stretch it out again unevenly.
Using an Iron to Shrink Clothes
If you do not have a tumble dryer, an iron may be used instead to apply heat.
Fill your steam iron with water as the added steam will increase the heat. Always do a test in an inconspicuous spot first as some fabrics may be damaged by steam or result in water spots. Steam is not recommended for silk or rayon. A cotton cloth should be placed between the iron and delicate fabrics. Rather than gliding across the fabric, use an up and down pressing motion similar to that you would use when sewing.
How to Shrink Jeans
Most jeans are made from 100% cotton but before you start, check the label just in case. Cotton fabric will have the greatest shrinkage when heat is applied. Stretch jeans with elastane can go wrinkly when you put them in heat and I don’t recommend you try to shrink those kinds of jeans. Pre-shrunk jeans will not shrink as much as raw denim which is in its natural state. (Further reading: Types of Denim).
Wash the jeans inside out in the washing machine or soak for a few hours. As long as you use hot water, they will start shrinking. Further shrink them by placing them in the hot dryer. Leaving them to overdry by 10-15 minutes will shrink again.
How to Shrink Sweaters
Sweaters often shrink without us even wanting them to. Wools and wool blends shrink easily with hand washing in warm water. Shrink further by putting the sweater in the tumble dryer or simply leave it to air dry flat.
Shrinking can lead to the sweater feeling thicker so it is best to be conservative and do an air-dry first and then if it is still too big, rewash and add the dryer.
Once it is the correct size, use the correct wool detergent and instructions according to the care label.
How to Shrink Clothes with Sewing
If your clothes are too big and will not shrink with heat, you can make them smaller by sewing in seams or adding darts or tucks.
How to Stop Clothes Shrinking
If you don’t want your clothing to shrink then you will do the exact opposite of applying heat.
Wash in cold water and do not soak. Avoid the tumble dryer or any heat. Instead air dry flat so the items does not stretch out.
Despite your best efforts, some fabrics will still shrink and there is nothing you can do. This may happen on the first wash or gradually over a few washes.
How to Unshrink
If you have shrunk your clothing by mistake or applied too much heat while trying to deliberately shrink you may need to do some damage control.
In order to unshrink:
- Fully immerse the item in warm or cold water and remove it
- Roll the clothing in towels to remove some excess water.
- Carefully stretch out the clothing on a flat table and leave it to air dry. If it shrinks straight back in, dry it weighted down. Look for something in your garage like full detergent bottles or cans to hold it in place. This is particularly effective for items such as sweaters.
- Stretch it out evenly so the item doesn’t go out of shape.
- Be aware that the clothing may get smaller again with the next wash.
How to Shrink Clothing – In Conclusion
Now you know how to shrink clothing you can grab those favorite jeans or sweaters and make them fit better.