How to Shrink Clothes : 6 best methods for fabric shrinkage

Some of the best ways of shrinking clothes - jeans, tshirts etc may have to be shrunk due to many reasons

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

Which clothes 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.

Fabrics that shrink and those that don’t.

Some fabrics are more prone to shrinking than some. Say you have this wool jacket – it will definitely shrink after a wash. 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, Cashmere, Mohair, boucle, organza, georgette, dupioni silk, thai silk.Most of my dresses from the stores are made of rayon, knit- they also shrink, mostly.

Synthetic fabrics, like polyester, nylon do not shrink – so you may only end up frustrating yourself trying. Do not try to shrink clothes labelled “Dry clean Only”, leather, fur, suede, beaded fabric, canvas, upholsetery fabric, PVC, Ripstock nylon. Check out this related detailed post – Does Polyester shrink?

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 someone else.

A list of fabrics showing their susceptibility to shrinkage.

levels of shrinkage of fabrics

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. Cotton, denim, linen, hemp, Jersey material ( t-shirt knits), microfiber are fabrics that shrink this way. Use warm water if the fabric allows it and a mild detergent. 

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. Do not 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. You need a steam iron with good supply tank and give good pressure of steam.

If you have woolen clothes this is the best way of shrinking. Silk fibers in dupioni and thai silk can also shrink this way, so does loose woven fabrics and organza, Cashmere, Tweed, boucle, camel, mohair. Velvet and velveteen fabrics shrink this way with the wrong side up. Do not try this on silk, if you have a faulty steam. It will develop water spots.

Just fill the steam iron with water and set it to high temperature. Do not overfill. 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

How to steam and shrink clothes

Hover the iron half an inch or so above the fabric and slowly move over the entire length. After steaming do not hang to dry – just lay it flat somewhere.

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 do not 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.

Related post : 6 ways to make a dress smaller

All fabrics need special care to ensure that the regular wear and tear from use and cleaning do not damage or shrink them. 

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

31 thoughts on “How to Shrink Clothes : 6 best methods for fabric shrinkage”

  1. Hi I bought a half zip Jersey in medium but should of. got a small can’t send it back because he initials are on it a 100%polyester was wondering if it would shirk in normal wash and hot dryer

  2. Hello there!

    I have a catwoman suit made out of 90% Polyester (its a costume) its still a tad too big, Could I shrink this by sticking it the dryer for a bit? Or do I wash it? Im a bit more scared to wash it then I am of drying it, since I don’t wanna do any damaging to it.

    Thank you!

  3. hi

    i just bought a hoodie thats 80% cotton 20% polyester, if i just put it in the washing machine and then the dryer would it shrink at all? because i cant send it back and i got it a size too big.

    • Hi Cameron
      It is 100% cotton fabrics which will shrink this way. When synthetic fibers are blended it is for their non-shrinkage capacity. I think you will need to alter the hoodie, after trying to wash and shrink, if it is not returnable.

    • Hi Tina
      As far as I have seen, Rayon(viscose) shrinks when heat is applied, ie the first time. Have you tried a moderately hot water (warm) wash?

    • Hi Debra,
      I do not think acrylic and spandex will shrink- they are manmade fibers which resist normal shrinkage. Some suggest high dryer heat to shrink but I think high heat might damage the fibers.

  4. Hey I bought this lovely white linen short. They didnt’ have it in my size so I got it two sizes too large. Now I have no intention of wearing it in any other way than Tucker into my pants with the sleves roller up so that’s mostly fine, but I would like for it to not puff out with so much around the waist. So either i have to shrink it or taylor it. Now it’s no big deal for me if the entire shirt shrinks as it is a couple sizes too big, but I would like to not damage the fiber too much either. What’s the best solution here?

  5. Hi Sarina,

    I came across your article trying to find out how to shrink a hoodie that I bought for my boyfriend. I’m trying to get it by L to M. It is Heather Gray with red sleeves, 55% Cotton, 45% Polyester with a logo on the chest. The instructions say: Machine wash cold with like colors, tumble dry low, do not iron on decoration and do not bleach.

    After reading this article I realize that my only solution would be to wash it cold for the first time and hope for the best 🙂 in order to keep the colors alive and not mess the logo.
    Do you have any other suggestion?

    Thank you in advance!

  6. I bought a satin dress from fashion nova (temporary love in wine colour) and it’s too big in the waist and top. I’d like to shrink it, especially because the fabric is really stretchy. Reading your article gave me some ideas. What would you recommend ? I’m worried about it shrinking too much or losing its colour/shine

  7. I have a dress made of 100% viscose. It fits comfortably but it’s very long that it needs be cut about 6 inches at the hem to shorten.
    Do you think i can wash in hot water to shrink it, lengthwise? or it might shrink widthwise, too?
    It can be washed in 30 degrees C and no dryer cycle, per manufacturing instructions.
    Thank you

    • Hi Jane
      Usually Cotton do shrink a lot in the wash, especially in hot water and if it is dried in high heat you don’t say! – unless it is pre-shrunk by the manufacturer. I have cotton pants that shrank a lot both lengthwise and width wise. Hemp clothing is usually a blend of cotton and hemp so chances of shrinkage the same as cotton is there.

  8. Hi I bought some shorts that are 55% linen and 45% rayon and they’re a little too baggy. Is it possible to shrink them? If it is which method should I use?
    Thanks in advance

  9. Hi
    I have a dress that is 95% acetate and 5% lycon. It used to fit but then i wore it one time in the water at the beach, and now its to big. Should it be possible to shrink? If yes, which method?

  10. Hi, I’m usually a size extra small- small but I’m hoping to buy some white 100% linen pants (culottes) that are a size medium, because they are out of stock in smaller sizes. Would I be able to shrink these pants down to a size small or extra small? And if so what would be the best method of doing so?
    Thank you!!

    • Hi Hannah
      Linen fibers are supposed to shrink some 5% with washing and even 10% if you used a hot dryer after the wash.
      But medium size to extra small – I don’t think so. You may have to alter it .
      And if the linen pants is made of preshrunk fabric it would not shrink at all : (

  11. Hi, I bought a dress online and It’s a bit big. I got it on ebay and the material says ‘textured knit.’ I’m not sure what that means because I don’t know jack about this kind of thing lol. Do you know how I can shrink that?


    • Hi Emily
      Depends on what fibers make your particular knit – if it is any of nylon polyester or acrylic no luck in shrinking. These synthetic fibers wouldnot shrink. If your knit has cotton fibers or wool fibers you can try the methods described in the post

  12. Hi Crystal!
    I have a top that is made of 87% cotton and 13% linen.
    I got a size 18UK and I want to shrink it into a size 16UK.
    How do you think I should do this?
    Your reply will do me a solid! Thanks!

  13. What method would best be used to shrink a 75% Rayon, 25% nylon blend white cardigan that is currently a large and needs to be ideally a small, but could get away with a medium?

    • Hi Charlene
      I think Nylon is added to the Rayon clothing you have so that it would not shrink. Rayon alone usually shrinks a lot just by washing and drying in heat. I think you may have to alter it to make it smaller if it doesn’t shrink with the techniques described in the post. : (

  14. 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.

    • 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

    • 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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