How to Shrink Clothes : 6 best methods for fabric shrinkage

The conundrum of shrinking clothes  – Now why would I shrink clothes? Why would you?

Well, for a lot of reasons.

Maybe you were gifted this beautiful sweatshirt, but it is just a little too big. Maybe you bought a beautiful hoodie yourself and though you thought it perfect at the showroom, now you feel it needs to be smaller, fitting you better

Or you stretched the clothing yourself – you carelessly wrung to remove water and line dried or worse machine dried.

Or on a happy note, you lost weight after you bought your pants. 

Or the scenario which happens to me (wish it was the earlier one) – ordering online. I always order bigger sizes because I hate returning things and all the formalities which go with it just because it is smaller – the feeling sucks. So other than swallow the bitter pill of donating the clothing I don’t see another way – other than trying to shrink it to fit me – which is easier than altering it.

best way to shrink clothes

Why do I think clothes can shrink?

As a sewist (seamstress, tailor, sewer, whatever) I am familiar with shrinking fabric – a lot!. After I buy fabric, they almost always are preshrunk, before they reach the cutting table.

It is because most of the fabric fibers are stretched during the manufacturing process ( something to do with the economics. Read more about it here in the post on How to Not Shrink Clothes) when these fibers come into contact with the water and then undergoes the  agitation of the wash, they spring back to their original size (smaller ) as soon as they are dry.

Fabric that is not preshrunk before cutting and sewing it, will shrink afterward when the final garment is washed.

So a shirt you bought which fit perfectly fine, hugging you at all the correct places may end up making you look horrible after the first wash – pinching you at all the wrong places.

Some fabrics are more prone to shrinking than some. Say you have this wool jacket – it will definitely shrink. Unless it is made of preshrunk woolen fiber. My favorite cotton flannel in plaid – I know it will shrink some.

Cotton shrinks, as do most natural fabrics like linen. Synthetic fabrics, like polyester, nylon do not shrink – so you may only end up frustrating yourself trying. Most of my dresses from the stores are made of rayon, knit- they also shrink, mostly.

Anti-shrinkage treatment is getting common for natural fabrics that are sure to shrink -so if your fabric care label says the fabric of the garment is Anti-shrinkage treated or Sanforised(another treatment for preventing shrinkage), leave it – gift the shirt to your younger sister. (provided she is one size smaller)

A table of fabrics showing their susceptibility to shrinkage.

FabricShrinkage with wet cleaning

Best ways to Shrink Clothes

The methods you can use to shrink clothes

1 Regular machine washing

If the clothing is machine washable try this first. The agitation in the machine and then the drying will make many clothes shrink.

2 Warm water soaking

This is the most commonly used method of shrinking clothes /fabric. This can ensure even shrinking.

Soak the clothing in warm water for some time before rinsing. You can keep for more than 6 hours ( even overnight). Now wash with detergent and rinse thoroughly. Dry thoroughly. Donot wring to remove water – just line dry after pressing against the basin walls to remove excess water. Depending on the fabric you may have to try this method more than once

This is the best way to shrink pants made of drill, khakhi, denim, corduroy etc. You can use this method with cotton and silk clothing

You cannot use this method on vividly colored clothes as the colours may fade – you may have to reduce the time of soaking. Satin and crepe should also not be soaked this way

3 Steam iron

This is the method of shrinking Using the steam function in your home steam iron.

If you have woolen clothes this is the best way of shrinking. Just fill the steam iron with water and set it to high temperature. Do not overfill. Do not try this on silk. It will develop water spots. Use the press function. The steam and the heat of the iron will create a condition conducive to shrinking. This can be used for clothing which may distort with washing.

Do not iron as this may distort the fabric 

Do not use this method on rayon or silk fabric. You may develop water spots which is even worse.

4  Wet sheet

This is the method of shrinking by pressing fabric/clothing with a dampened fabric piece kept on it. The dampened fabric piece is kept on top of the clothing and hot iron is used repeatedly, till the clothing shrinks. If you have a very heavy dry iron this works very well

With stiff tightly woven cotton fabric, which you donot want to wash, you can sponge with a dampened cloth and then press with hot iron

5 Tailors steam press

This is a variation of the above method of steam ironing – the equipment is a lot more professional.The professional tailoring shops have steam & vacuum tables with corresponding dry irons with built-in water & drainage as well as air compressor.

If you want to replicate this you will need a heavy duty steam iron that is a lot heavier and can go up in temperature a lot higher than the home use iron.

6  Fabric Manipulation

This method is used by professional dressmakers to shrink selective parts of clothing – this is usually used in bespoke tailoring. Like fitting a sleeve to fit the contours of the arms, or manipulating a dart. Hot dry iron is used to shrink parts of pattern pieces to behave the way the tailor/seamstress wants

Another manipulation is one you can do yourself, without any equipment. If your woolen sweater has stretched itself out of shape, you can try this – after it is wet, lay it down flat, rearrange it into the smaller size you want and let it dry there itself – the fibers may dry in the same position and your clothing would be shrunk.Check out the post on wool clothing care 



Comments 4

  1. Can I just wash a denim skirt in the hottest water my machine uses? This skirt is a slightly stretchy denim, but just a size too big. And what do I dry it on? Thank you for any tips you can give me.

    1. Post

      Hi Crystal
      I am afraid you will not shrink this – because stretch denim will have spandex fibers and this is shrink resistant as far as I know. If you know sewing why don’t you take in at the sides or make tucks at the waist
      Another problem is that Colour of the denim will fade in wash

      1. I checked to material off of me and it really seems to have no stretch so I’m going to try a spot shrinking method I read about for the waistband. I do sew though so if this doesn’t work I’ll trying taking in at the sides of waist. I just don’t want the skirt to look funny.

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