Doesn’t Fit? Learn How To Shrink Clothes Without Damages

Laundry isn’t such an easy task as someone might think. One of the worst nightmares while doing your laundry is to shrink your garments. It may happen to anyone. However, at some point, you might find yourself wearing a sweater with pulled sleeves. The first thought might be that it’s time to throw it away and get a new one. Or… you can shrink it. Yeap! That’s right! A way to downsize a garment that doesn’t fit you is by tailoring. However, there’s a cheaper and easier way to do so, and without any risks of damaging them. Just wash them the right way.

A young blond woman wearing a large white hoodie

You need to know some tricks and tips to do it the right way. Imagine not knowing how to bleach your white clothes, how to keep your clothes from turning yellow, or how to strip wash the right way. It won’t work! So, when you decide to shrink a T-shirt or a sweater for the first time, you need to determine its material. Fabrics require different shrinking methods depending on the material they consist of. For example, cotton shrinks easier due to natural fibres, whilst nylon is a very hard material to shrink.  Keep reading and learn how to shrink clothes without damages.

What causes clothes to shrink?

Knowing why fabrics shrink will come in handy to prevent shrinkage or achieve it depending on the desired size. One of the main reasons clothes might shrink is heat. Washing them in water (hot) and then drying them in the dryer at a high temperature can shrink them and even damage them if you don’t know how to do it.

Most fibres are stretched when manufactured. When these stretched fibres come into contact with cold or hot water and the fast movement (agitation) in the washing machine, they return to their original size when they dry. This is the reason why a T-shirt might look perfect on you at the store, and after the first wash, it may be smaller and not fit you.

Fabrics that shrink and fabrics that don’t

When it comes to shrinking, not all fabrics react the same way. Generally, cotton fabrics and fabrics of natural fibres shrink very easy. However, there are other types as well and here they are:

  • Wool
  • Cotton
  • Linen
  • Silk
  • Cashmere
  • Mohair
  • Boucle
  • Organza
  • Georgette
  • Rayon
  • Knit

A man with his girlfriend stretching a shrunk T-shirt in a laundromat

There are some fabrics, like those of synthetic fibres, that don’t shrink. Here’s a list of all the fabrics that you better never try to shrink:

  • Nylon
  • Spandex
  • Leather
  • Fur
  • Suede
  • Beaded fabric
  • Canvas
  • Upholstery fabric
  • PVC
  • Rip stock nylon

However, there are times that you won’t be able to shrink even the ones that you think that you could. That’s because some clothes are preshrunk, or natural fabrics are subject to anti-shrinkage treatment. Hence, if you want to shrink a certain piece of clothing, check the care label first. If you see “Anti-Shrinkage treated” or “Sanforised” (another treatment to avoid shrinking) labelled, then don’t start the shrinking process. It’s useless. What’s more, don’t try to shrink clothes labelled “Dry clean only”.  It will be a waste of time.

How to shrink cotton, denim, linen or polyester

Cotton, linen, denim, and polyester articles of clothing are machine-washable and can be shrunk easily in the washing machine. But you can simply fill a large bucket or the washing basin with boiling water. Let your garments soak in hot water, pop them into the dryer, and allow them to dry in high heat. Check them often to be sure that you get the desired size. If they’re the right size before the dryer cycle ends, take them out and hang them to air dry.

Putting a pair of jeans in the washing machine

How to shrink wool

Wool is a delicate fabric and the easiest one to shrink. As it is made of animal hair, it consists of tiny scales. When you expose a wool sweater to heat, moisture and agitation, its scales interlock, leading to shrinking, a process known as felting. Thus, how can you shrink wool?

It’s very simple. Throw your wool item of clothing into the washer and set the short cycle and hot water. Once it’s been washed, dry it in the tumble dryer. Choose the low setting and high heat. Check your cloth often to prevent over shrinking and that it shrinks the same on all sides. If you get the right size, hang it and let it air dry.

If an accident happens and you get your piece of clothing smaller than you want, soak it right away in cold water and left it there for about 30 minutes. Afterwards, wrap it in a towel and let it dry. Find more on our guide on how to shrink a jumper.

How to shrink silk or rayon

These fabrics need warm water to shrink. So you have two options, either shrink them by soaking in water (warm) or washing them in the machine. Let’s see both of them.

Shrinking with the washing machine

They are delicate fabrics. In case they’re machine washable, you need to ensure they won’t be damaged in the machine. Thus, before popping them into the washing appliance, especially if you own a top-loading one, put them in a mesh bag.  That’s because top-loaders have an agitator into the basket to spin the clothes. This agitator can damage them. That’s the reason why you need to protect your delicate fabrics with a mesh bag.

Once you throw your garments into the washer, choose a delicate short cycle with a low temperature. Low heat pulls the cloth’s threads closer, leading to shrinking. When the wash cycle ends, take your garments out of the washer and wrap them in a towel for a while. The towel will remove the excess moisture. However, don’t wring the garment. You won’t get rid of excess water. The only thing you’ll achieve is to get a ruined garment.

A dark-haired woman wearing silk pants and a jacket

Shrinking with warm water

If your fabric isn’t machine washable, you can still shrink it. Just soak it in somewhat high-temperature water for a few hours.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Soak your garments in a large basin filled with water (lukewarm). Then, add a mild detergent and let them soak for several hours.
  2. Next, grab your wooden spoon and tickle them a bit. Then, stir the clothes with the spoon to “bother” the knitting.
  3. Then, wrap them again in a towel and let them dry.

Extra tip: You can also dry your clothes in the tumble dryer. You just have to check them regularly to prevent over shrinking. 

Tips to avoid damaging your clothes

  1. No matter the fabric, always turn your garment inside out before soaking/washing, ironing and drying.
  2. If you don’t get the desired size on the first attempt, repeat the shrinking process one more time. Depending on the fabric, you may need to repeat the wash cycles. Just don’t overdo it cause heat will fade and damage the clothing.
  3. Avoid drying your clothes in direct sunlight as it causes colour fading.
  4. To be sure that you won’t over shrink your garments, check them often during the drying cycle.
  5. You can shrink cotton fabrics by using your iron between the washing and drying cycle. Ironing on a warm-steam setting will help you get the shrunk T-shirt you wanted.
  6. In case you want to shrink a pair of jeans, don’t think about having a shower wearing them. Instead, wash it in the machine on a high heat setting and choose a hot dryer.
  7. If your jeans have any leather patches, don’t dry them in 100 degrees dryer cycle because you won’t just shrink them but also damage them completely.
  8. When it comes to drying silk fabrics, avoid a wood drying rack as silk might leave stains on the wood. What’s more, don’t let them dry in direct sunlight as the colour might fade.

A young woman looking disappointed and looking the wrong size piece of cloth

Now you know how to shrink your favourite clothes that have gone too big.  Whatever method you choose to shrink your clothes, always check first the care label to ensure your garment doesn’t require “Dry Clean Only” or isn’t Anti-shrinkage treated. In both cases, you won’t be able to shrink your clothes. Follow our steps and you’ll make it easily!

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