How to Shrink Clothes in the Wash

woman taking clothes out of dryer
Depending on the fabric, you can shrink your clothes two to even three sizes. Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

Most of the time, we try our best to avoid shrinking our clothes, but every once in a while, a little downsizing is a good thing. Perhaps your kids played tug-of-war with your favorite cashmere sweater, or you finally lost those extra pounds, but don't want to spring for an entirely new wardrobe. Or, maybe you found the perfect new top, but it's just a smidge too big. It's easy enough to intentionally shrink those garments down to a perfect fit, provided you know how to follow a few easy steps.

Most garments are made with a little bit of shrinkage in mind, so manufacturers factor this into the pattern from the beginning. Woven fabrics like taffeta, flannel and chiffon shrink roughly 2-3 percent, which is almost always unnoticeable. Some knits, however, can shrink between 1 and 8 percent, usually during the very first time they're washed and dried [source: Textile School]. This sounds great, but what if you need to shrink your clothes even more than that?


The best way to do it is to use heat, typically from your both your washer and your dryer. The hotter the settings, the more shrinkage results you'll get because the fibers will contract from the added heat [source: Morello]. But keep in mind that some fabrics shrink more than others under these conditions. You can expect successful shrinkage with cotton (provided it wasn't pre-shrunk) and wool, for example, but synthetics such as nylon and polyester may not shrink as easily, and pre-washed and older clothes could be resistant as well [source: Stebbins].

As for silk, dry cleaning or hand washing is usually recommended, as heat from a dryer can dull the fabric's finish. In fact, when it comes to silk, you may want to consider a tailor instead of DIY shrinking, otherwise you're gambling with an expensive garment [source: Texere Silk]. And don't try these shrinking methods with leather or fur because the moisture and heat will destroy them!

Next, we look at how to shrink clothes just the right amount.