How to Shrink Clothes For a Better Fit

Right-size your wardrobe or repair stretched fibers with these tips and tricks for shrinking the size of your clothing.

Shrinking clothing is a convenient way to "make it work." Whether you bought a garment in the wrong size or are looking for a way to extend its life by repairing unwanted stretching, these tips on how to shrink clothes can help.

With a little know-how and consideration for different fibers, you can easily alter the fit of many different garments. Here's how to shrink clothes made of cotton, denim, wool, silk and polyester, or synthetic material.

Smiling woman choosing a dress to wear while standing by a closet in her bedroom at home

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Learn how to repair stretched fibers around the neck and the sleeves of your favorite garments.

Photo by: Getty Images/Goodboy Picture Company

Getty Images/Goodboy Picture Company

Learn how to repair stretched fibers around the neck and the sleeves of your favorite garments.

NOTE: If you have any doubt about your ability, take it slow. Don’t leap straight into a hot water washing machine treatment. Instead, you might consider hand-washing solutions to test the waters (pun intended).

Keep these tips in mind as you plan to alter the sizing and fit of your clothing:

  • If your cotton garment already says that it’s pre-shrunk, don’t waste your time. Putting it through the dryer may help restore stretched fibers but you will not be able to take it down a full size.

  • Consider if the entire garment needs to be shrunk or if you only want to target a specific area, like a stretched-out collar or sleeve.

  • Garment bags are useful for items with buttons or delicate details that were never intended to be laundered. Protect those details when you attempt to shrink a garment.

  • Polyester can only be reduced in size a little bit and fibers can be damaged easily by a hot iron.

How to Shrink Cotton Clothes

  1. Launder your garment. Use hot water in the washing machine.

  2. Place the garment in the dryer. Set the timer on the machine for 60-minutes. (You won’t want the appliance to use its moisture sensors to reduce the dry time.)

  3. Check on the garment every five minutes. This makes it easier to monitor how quickly it shrinks.

  4. Remove the garment when you believe it has shrunk to the desired size, even if it is still a little damp.

  5. Allow the garment to air dry.

  6. Try it on for size.

  7. If necessary, wash and repeat again to achieve a slightly smaller size.

  8. Once you have shrunken the cotton garment to your liking, use only low heat with everyday laundering so that it does not shrink further.

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Use a dryer to shrink cotton fibers.

Photo by: Getty Images/Marcia Fernandes / 500px

Getty Images/Marcia Fernandes / 500px

Use a dryer to shrink cotton fibers.

How to Shrink Wool

  1. Wash the garment. Use a warm water short cycle with a small amount of laundry detergent to agitate the fibers. Placing the item in a bag for delicates or in a pillow case is recommended. It can help protect details (like buttons) and reduce accidental stretching during the cycle. Avoid using hot water when washing wool. It can damage the fibers and cause them to felt.

  2. Dry the garment. At the end of the wash cycle, remove the garment from the bag and place it in the dryer. A low-heat dryer setting will slowly shrink the garment with less risk of damage than high heat. Aggressively agitating wet wool on high heat can also lead to felting. Set the machine to a 30-minute timer. Check the garment every five minutes to monitor how much it shrinks.

  3. Remove the garment once it has shrunk to its desired size

If you’re targeting a certain spot on your wool garment, hand-shrinking options are best.

  1. Dampen the garment. Wet the targeted area of the garment using hot water.

  2. Remove excess moisture. Lay the wet garment flat and compress the wet area between two dry towels to remove excess water.

  3. Bunch the fibers. Bunching, or gently bundling the fabric, can help stretched fibers retract.

  4. Dry the garment. Air dry or use a hair dryer on low heat until the garment is fully dry.

If you over-shrank your wool garment, you may be able to reverse it by washing the garment in cold water with a gentle wool cleaner and allowing it to line dry flat on a towel. Depending on the extent of the reversal, line drying can help undo unwanted shrinkage.

Woman Holding Stack Of Warm Sweaters

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Shrink your wool or polyester sweaters for a better fit or to reduce stretching in the sleeves.

Photo by: Getty Images/Isabel Pavia

Getty Images/Isabel Pavia

Shrink your wool or polyester sweaters for a better fit or to reduce stretching in the sleeves.

How to Shrink Polyester

  1. Wash the garment on high heat. High heat is required to shrink synthetic fibers but high heat can also damage the colors on polyester. Turn your garment inside out before washing.

  2. Dry it on high heat, too. Put the garment on high heat in the dryer. Synthetic materials can dry quickly so set the timer to a 30-minute cycle and check the progress every five minutes to monitor the garment.

  3. Rewash or iron if necessary. If additional shrinking is needed, you may find success re-washing the garment in hot water and then ironing it dry on low to medium heat.

How to Shrink Denim

  1. Boil water. Bring a large vat of plain water to a boil.

  2. Submerge the denim. Prod the denim with a long wooden spoon to release any air bubbles.

  3. Let it simmer. Allow the water and denim to simmer for 30-minutes.

  4. Remove the denim. Keep the hot garment in a colander for a few minutes until it cools. Compress it gently once it has cooled to eliminate some of the water before putting it in the dryer.

  5. Dry the garment. Place the garment in the dryer on high heat until it is dry.
Four pairs of denim jeans in a folded stack.

How to Shrink Denim

Submerge denim in hot water to rapidly shrink fibers.

Photo by: Emily Fazio

Emily Fazio

Submerge denim in hot water to rapidly shrink fibers.

If you’re only looking to shrink a specific spot on your garment, such as the waistband or stretched-out knees on your jeans, the process is more energy-efficient.

  1. Dampen the garment. Dampen the areas of your garment that you want to shrink using a spray bottle filled with water.

  2. Lay the garment flat on an ironing table.

  3. Dry the dampened area with the heat of the hot iron.

How to Shrink Silk

  1. Soak the fabric. Soak silk in warm water for five minutes.

  2. Remove excess moisture. Roll the wet garment in a dry towel to pull out some of the moisture.

  3. Allow it to air dry. Never wring water out of a silk item.

  4. Repeat as necessary. If more shrinking is required, soak the garment again and then run it through the dryer on high heat.

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