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How to Shrink Clothes : 6 best methods for fabric shrinkage

Updated on by Sarina

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.

Check out the post on wool clothing care . All fabrics need special care to ensure that the regular wear and tear from use and cleaning do not damage or shrink them. Check out related posts for tips – Linen wash and care; Silk wash and care; Acetate wash and care

Related post : 6 ways to make a dress smaller


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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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?

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