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How to Shrink Clothes (Without Damaging Them)

Sam used to spend a lot of money having clothes altered and tailored to fit—not so much anymore! Here are the tricks to shrinking clothing.

How to make too-big clothes just a bit smaller.

How to make too-big clothes just a bit smaller.

Can You Make Clothes Smaller Without Sewing?

It's true: If you have a piece of clothing that's too big, you can take simple actions to make it a bit smaller without resorting to expensive alterations. It mostly depends on what fabric the clothing is made of.

  • Applying heat is the best way to shrink most kinds of fabric, such as cotton, wool, denim, and rayon. Applying heat to only the places where you want the shrinkage can help you control the process.
  • Heat combined with moisture is even more effective—it relaxes the tension in fabrics and causes threads to shorten—so consider adding steam for extra shrinking power.
  • Washing in very hot water and drying on high heat can also work, although this process doesn't give you a lot of control over exactly how the garment shrinks.

Warning: Whichever method you choose, you must watch the garment closely during the process in order to gauge shrinkage and prevent damage. Delicate fabrics may be harmed by heat, so I recommend starting with low heat and increasing the temperature as needed. Keep a close eye on your delicates!

3 Ways to Shrink Clothes

No matter what type of fabric you’re attempting to shrink, there are only three effective methods for shrinking:

  1. Washing and drying on medium to high heat (depending on fabric).
  2. Ironing the clothes while damp.
  3. Soaking clothes in warm to boiling water and drying with a blow dryer.
Yes, you can shrink denim jeans without using a needle and thread.

Yes, you can shrink denim jeans without using a needle and thread.

How to Shrink Cotton, Linen, and Denim:

  1. Wash the clothes on the longest cycle on the hottest heat setting.
  2. When finished, immediately transfer to the dryer and run on the hottest setting available. (Do not let the clothes cool after washing or the threads will loosen and you won’t be able to shrink it as effectively.)
  3. Stop the dryer periodically to check the shrinkage. When you are satisfied, remove the clothes and let them air dry on a rack. (Do not hang clothes on a line while they are wet or damp, as this will stretch them out again.)
Sweaters may be shrunk in the washer or dryer, depending on what they're made of.

Sweaters may be shrunk in the washer or dryer, depending on what they're made of.

How to Shrink Wool Clothing:

Wool is very sensitive to heat, so washing and drying on high heat may cause excessive shrinking.

  1. To shrink your wool sweater just a bit, spray it with warm water and place it in the dryer on medium heat. Check it periodically to make sure it doesn’t shrink too much.
  2. To shrink the sweater dramatically, wash and dry on medium heat.
  3. For more even results or to concentrate the shrinkage only in certain areas (for example, on too-long sleeves or a floppy turtleneck), dampen the too-large areas of the sweater with warm water and iron until dry.
Clothing made of rayon and silk might shrink, too.

Clothing made of rayon and silk might shrink, too.

How to Shrink Items Made of Rayon or Silk:

  1. Soak your clothes in warm water for several hours.
  2. Agitate the clothes with a wooden spoon to disturb the knitting and facilitate shrinkage.
  3. Dry on low heat in the dryer or lay on a rack in a warm room.
  4. You can also dry with a blowdryer or an iron.

How Hot Should the Water Be?

Temperature Degree of Shrinkage

High heat ( 130°F or 54.4 °C)

Dramatic

Medium Heat (110°F to 90°F or 43.3°C to 32.2°C)

Moderate

Low heat (80°F to 60°F or around 30°C)

Minor

how-to-effectively-shrink-clothes

Which Fabrics Shrink the Most?

Heat is effective on these fabrics, and they are listed in order of greatest to least shrinkable.

  • Rayon
  • Wool
  • Linen
  • Cotton
  • Denim
  • Silk
  • Viscose
  • Polyester
  • Nylon
  • Acrylic

How to Shrink Clothes Without a Washer and Dryer

  1. Soak the item in hot to boiling hot water in a tub or a sink for at least 3 hours. The longer your clothes soak, the more the threads will shorten.
  2. Place the item of clothing between two towels and press to remove excess water.
  3. Lie it out flat (not stretched) on a drying rack and blast it with a hair dryer on the highest heat setting. Make sure to apply heat evenly.
  4. You can also wait for the item to dry naturally until it is just barely damp and then iron it out.
Heat (via water or air) is what makes certain fabric fibers shrink.

Heat (via water or air) is what makes certain fabric fibers shrink.

Tips to Shrink Clothes Without Damage

  • Always turn your clothing inside out before washing, ironing, or drying.
  • The more times you apply heat, the faster your clothes will fade or deteriorate.
  • Do not place clothing in direct sunlight (this causes fading).
  • Adjust the temperature of the heat depending on how much you want to shrink your clothes.

How Do You Keep Clothes From Fading?

To keep clothes from fading, turn them inside out and add a cup of white vinegar. The acidity in vinegar helps retain color.

Comments

Sam Mendoran (author) from Morgan Hill, CA on October 15, 2019:

Thanks for the comment Sophie. I took out acetate.

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