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How to Shrink Your Clothes on Purpose

How to Shrink Your Clothes on Purpose

More often than not, clothes shrinking is seen as a negative and something that needs to be avoided at all costs – after all, nobody wants to try and put on their favorite sweater only to find out it won’t fit over their head anymore.

However, there are many valid reasons that may inspire the need for you to shrink your favorite clothing items, including weight loss, online ordering mishaps, and personal preference.

Shrinking your clothes is not necessarily difficult, though you do need to understand the basics of fiber types and which clothing items are most suited to at-home shrinking. Whatever your reasoning is for shrinking your clothes, you can be assured that there are a variety of methods you can try to help you obtain the perfect fit.

Why Shrink Your Clothes?

There are many different reasons behind why you may want to shrink down your clothes. Many people end up shrinking their clothing after they lose weight; it is an especially economical way to keep wearing your favorite outfits without having to spend money on alterations or needing to purchase new outfits outright.

Many other people may choose to buy clothes second-hand. Knowing how to shrink clothes can widen the variety of items to choose from and help anyone who chooses to purchase clothes from thrift stores give the items new life and a better fit.

Even more people may decide to shrink their clothes simply because they are looking for a better fit in the item. This usually happens when online ordering clothes or when your favorite clothing store is out of your exact size, so you purchase the next size up with the intent to shrink the item down.

What Causes Clothes to Shrink?

As items of clothing are manufactured, the fibers that make up each item is stretched out, adding tension. This is done in order to force the fibers into keeping their manufactured shape and ensuring that the fibers do not shrivel up, ruining the design of the clothing item.

When hot water and motion are introduced, like that in a washing machine, these fibers swell and expand. The fibers then contract as a result of this expansion, in an effort to force the water out. This results in shrinkage, as the fibers will reduce their size as much as possible.

After machine washing your clothing, you can lay it flat to dry, which will help reduce the amount of shrinkage that occurs. If you want to increase shrinkage, you can place the clothing into a hot dryer, as this will remove the water from the fibers in an extreme way, permanently drying the fabric in its shrunken state.

Which Fabric Types Are the Easiest to Shrink?

Fabrics that are created from natural fibers, such as cottons, wool, and silk are by far the easiest to shrink, with cotton being the most prone to deliberate or accidental shrinkage. The reason behind this is that natural fiber will expand and contract when met with water and heat, relieving the tension that they were put through during the manufacturing process.

If met with excessively hot water and heat when drying, these natural fabrics can be forced to relax, contracting and giving the clothing item an overall smaller size.

Are There Certain Fabrics That Can’t Be Shrunk?

When embarking on your journey to shrink clothes, it is important to check the fiber content of the clothes in question. There are certain fabrics that are harder to shrink or that may not be possible to shrink at all.

Dry Clean Only Fabrics

A rather vague and mystical label you may find on your clothing, items that are labeled “dry clean only” are ones that will typically become damaged in the washing machine or ones that are made out of a specialty fabric such as leather, canvas, or suede, that need a more chemically involved specialized cleaning process.

If you try to shrink items of clothing that are supposed to be dry cleaned, you may end up with damaged clothing that doesn’t hold its shape or falls apart completely, depending on the type of fabric. It is a better idea to donate these items or take them to a tailor if they are too big for you, as this will yield safer results than trying to shrink them at home.

Pre-Shrunk Fabrics

“Pre-shrunk fabrics” refers to the process that some manufacturers use to ensure that the item of clothing maintains its shape even after being washed the first time in your home. The process involves washing and drying the item before it leaves the factory, ensuring that the fabric is sturdy and maintains its integrity.

Pre-shrunk fabrics do not typically shrink further, no matter your best efforts at shrinking them. You may occasionally find a pre-shrunk fabric that downsizes a little bit, but these items are few and far between; you can try and shrink fabrics like these at home, but be prepared for your efforts to have little or no effect on the clothing.

Synthetic Fibers

Man-made, or synthetic, fibers include things like rayon, nylon, and polyesters. Fabrics comprised of these fibers are typically harder to shrink, and may even become damaged during any of the shrinkage methods.

This is due to their designed resistance to wrinkling and chemical damage; synthetic fibers are created to maintain their shape, making them difficult to shrink, because it is not in the nature of the fibers to relieve tension like a natural fiber (such as cotton) would.
woman ironing clothes

Your Guide to Shrinking Clothes

There are several different methods that you can use to shrink your clothes. Keep in mind that some types of fabric shrink better with certain methods, which we will make sure to note for you in each set of instructions. It is also important to note that you can use multiple methods on some fabrics in order to create maximum shrinkage of the clothing.

As you are shrinking your clothes, remember that less is more. It is a good idea to start small, checking on your clothing and trying it on along the way to ensure that you stop shrinking the item before it becomes too small.

You can repeat the shrinking process multiple times, but it is more difficult to try and stretch out an item that has been shrunk too far. Using caution like this can prevent the item from becoming unwearable and save you from potentially ruining your clothing.

Using the Washing Machine

Using your washing machine is one of the simplest ways to shrink your clothing at home. This method works on all fibers that are prone to shrinkage, and is especially helpful for fabrics that are made out of cotton.

  1. For this method to work, wash the clothing items you want to shrink on the hot water setting; heat is the key to shrinkage, so the hotter, the better.
  2. Once you remove the item from the machine, check to see how much it has shrunk; if you don’t wish for it to shrink any further, lay it flat to air dry, making sure it retains its shape as it dries and doesn’t become stretched out.
  3. If you want to shrink the item more, place it into your tumble dryer at the lowest setting. Once the drying cycle has finished, remove the clothing and try it on. If you like the fit, you are good to stop here. If you don’t, run it for another cycle in the dryer.

It may take two or three wash and dry cycles like this to shrink your item down to the exact size you want it. If the clothing still hasn’t shrunk enough after three washing and drying cycles, it may not be possible to shrink it any further, though you can still keep trying.

Using the Iron

Before placing clothing in the washing machine, you can use an iron to add some extra heat and steam, further shrinking your clothing. This method works well on most natural fibers, but should not be used on things such as silk or rayon, as the applied heat will damage these fabrics.

  1. When trying out this method, make sure your iron is set to the steam setting and full of water. You may want to perform a test spot first before placing the iron fully on your clothing, as some fabric do not react well with the heat from an iron.
  2. Once you are sure your fabric will tolerate the iron, start near the top of the clothing item and apply pressure, pushing down as you move the iron over the fabric. This will apply heat and steam directly into the fibers of the item.
  3. After you have ironed the clothing, you can place it in the tumble dryer on high heat, leave the item to air dry flat, or complete a washing and drying cycle, depending on how much further shrinkage you wish to achieve.

Shrink by Soaking

Soaking can be the key to shrinking particularly stubborn fabrics. It works well on most clothing items and can be tried out on synthetic or delicate fabrics as a way to force shrinkage into items that are generally resistant.

  1. For this method, you should soak the clothing you want to shrink in very hot water for several hours or overnight.
  2. Make sure to change the water when it gets cool to ensure that your clothing is always submerged in hot water; you can use boiling water, but you should do this cautiously to prevent injury. The longer you leave the clothing soaking, the more it will shrink.
  3. After you’ve soaked the item as long as you want, immediately place it into the washing machine and run it with hot water. Don’t try to remove any excess water before placing into the machine, as this could cause uneven stretching.
  4. Follow up with a tumble dry cycle on the highest heat after washing, and then try your new shrunk clothing on to assess the fit.

Shrinking Sweaters and Wool

Sweaters and items that are made out of wool are very prone to shrinking and should be treated with caution during any type of home shrinking process; it is easy to get carried away with these items and have them shrink impossibly small before you even notice it.

  1. Hand wash your sweaters and wool items in warm to hot water to encourage shrinking.
  2. Then air dry flat.
  3. If the sweater is still too big after this, hand wash it again and then add to the tumble dryer on the highest heat, continually checking the sweater or wool item while it dries to make sure it doesn’t shrink too much.

After your sweater or wool item has shrunk to the desired size, you can return to following the regular care instructions listed on the label.

Shrinking Denim and Jeans

Denim and jeans need to be treated with a little more consideration when it comes to shrinking. This is because jeans are often made out of a blend of ingredients, one that is typically mostly cotton.

If your jeans are 100 percent cotton, you can use any of the shrinking methods we have already discussed on them with fairly good results. If your jeans are a blend of synthetic materials, are denim, or have elastics in them, too much heat can make them wrinkly, so you should treat these with caution.

  1. For denim or mixed fabric jeans, you can turn them inside out and soak them in hot water for a couple of hours.
  2. You can then air dry the item flat, which is recommended for synthetic or elastic based jeans.
  3. If you want more shrinkage, dry the jeans in a hot tumble dryer, checking every 10 to 15 minutes to ensure the item is not becoming too wrinkly or too small.

Try Out Sewing

If you are especially crafty and love a DIY project, you can try sewing seams into your clothing in order to shrink them. Learning how to alter clothes that are too big can help you in a number of ways and serve as a great alternative if you don’t want to keep washing or soaking your clothes in order to shrink them.

It also works well for synthetic fabrics and clothing that is pre-shrunk or labeled dry clean only.
happy woman with folded clothes

Will New Clothes Shrink Easier?

When trying to shrink new clothing, you will likely have better results. This is due to the fact that the new fabric has experienced less in terms of wear and tear, and is more likely to respond to a shrinking method, rather than an old fabric that has been through the wash many times and may have lost its luster.

Regardless, you can still try and shrink older fabrics – just be aware that the results may not be as dynamic.

How to Stop Your Clothes From Shrinking?

Once you’ve reached the optimal intended size for the clothing you are trying to shrink, you may want to take precautions to ensure that it does not to continue shrinking. To do this, you should be using the exact opposite method of shrinking – cool water and cool air instead of heating.

Use cold or cool water during wash cycles whenever possible. You should not be soaking the clothing in any way, and should also try to avoid heated tumble drying whenever possible. If you must use the dryer, use a cooler air setting. The best way to prevent further shrinking is to air dry your clothing, laying it completely flat so it doesn’t stretch out.

Keep in mind that even if you use these shrink prevention tactics, your clothing may still shrink a little bit, especially within the first 2 or 3 washes.

Can You Unshrink Clothes?

If you’ve accidentally shrunk your clothes too much or shrunk the wrong items by mistake, you may still be able to save your clothing. There are ways to stretch out clothing so that the previous shrinkage doesn’t take too much effect.

  1. For this method to work, you should completely submerge the item of clothing in warm or cool water.
  2. Make sure it is fully saturated before removing it, and then roll the clothing in a couple of towels in order to remove excess water. You want your clothing to be damp at this point, not soaking.
  3. Stretch out the damp clothing on a flat area, leaving it to air dry. Take care that you stretch it out evenly so as to maintain the shape of the fabric. If needed, you can use heavy objects placed on the corners of the fabric to hold it in this stretched out position while it dries.

Once the item dries completely, it is good to go! Keep in mind that you may find the item shrinks again once washed (avoid washing it in hot water!), so you may need to repeat this process several times before the item continues to hold the stretched-out shape, even after washing.

Finding the Perfect Fit

No matter the reason you want to shrink your clothes, it may not be as impossible of a task as it seems to be. Many natural fabrics can be shrunk, and though it may take some trial and error, as long as you remember to use caution when shrinking and try out a variety of methods, eventually, you will be able to find the perfect fit for your clothes.