How to Shrink Clothes (Without Damaging Them)

Updated on November 5, 2018
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Sam's clothes use to be too big a lot - not so much anymore! Here is Sam's guide on how to shrink clothes.

Applying heat is the best way to shrink most kinds of fabric, such as cotton, wool, denim, and rayon. Heat combined with moisture is even more effective—it relaxes the tension in fabrics and causes threads to shorten. Wash and dry clothes on high heat and check the garment during the process to ensure it has shrunken to your desired size. Delicate fabrics may be damaged, so I recommend starting with low heat and increasing the temperature as needed. Keep a close eye on your delicates!

For Cotton and Denim:

  1. Wash the clothes on the longest cycle on the hottest heat setting.

  2. When finished washing, 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 effectively.)

  3. Stop the dryer periodically to check the size. 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. This will stretch them out.)

For Wool:

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 little, spray it down 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 on medium heat and dry on medium heat.

  3. For more even results, dampen the sweater with warm water and iron it until dry.

For Rayon, Linen, and 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 blow dryer or an iron.

Temperature and Corresponding Results

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

Which Fabrics Shrink the Most?

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

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

Tip for Shrinking Synthetic Fabrics

Synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, acrylic, spandex, and acetate are very tough and almost impossible to shrink. In order to shrink them just a little, they require repeated high-heat exposure over a long duration of time, which can cause major fading and wear and tear.

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.

How to Shrink Clothes Without a Washer and Dryer

  1. Soak clothes in hot to boiling hot water in a tub or a sink for at least 3 hours. The longer your clothes soak, the easier it is for threads to shorten.

  2. Place your clothes between two towels and press to remove excess water.

  3. Lie your clothes out flat 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 clothes to dry naturally until it is just barely damp and iron the clothes out.

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.

Tips to Shrink Clothes Without Damage

  • Turn your clothes inside out.

  • Only attempt to do it once. 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.

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