How to Shrink Clothes in the Wash

By: Alia Hoyt & Denise Harrison

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?

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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.

Tips for Shrinking Your Clothes the Right Amount

girl in oversized red sweater
Sweaters and other clothes made out of wool are fairly easy to shrink in the dryer. mapodile/Getty Images

So, you want to shrink your turtleneck, but not so much it becomes a wardrobe addition for your miniature Schnauzer. First step: Consider the fabric.

You can even shrink an article of clothing down a few sizes in just one wash-dry cycle, depending on the material. If you want to shrink items just a small amount, check their size at various points during the wash and dry cycles. Also, consider starting the dry cycle on medium rather than high heat to mitigate over-shrinkage. When the clothing is just right, remove it. If the newly-shrunken item is still wet, then continue to dry it with the air-dry setting on the dryer [source: Khalid].

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For best results, follow these recommendations for various fabrics:

Cotton: Wash on the highest heat available, then transfer immediately to the dryer. Dry on any heat, because the tumble of the dryer will cause the piece to lose moisture, thus the garment fibers will contract [source: Cavanaugh].

Wool or wool blends: Wash on high heat, ideally on a short cycle. Then, put in the dryer on low heat. Repeat as needed to achieve the desired size [source: The Idle Man]. You can also spot-shrink sweater cuffs that have stretched out of shape. Simply boil water, dampen the cuffs with the hot water, re-shape them as desired, and then blow dry with a hair dryer on a high setting [source: Real Simple].

Polyester: Some garments will shrink, some won't. It's a synthetic fabric that holds up well against the elements, which is why it's a desired material. For those that are shrinkable, it may take a few laundry cycles for the drama to really unfold. Polyester holds up to heat well, so feel free to go for the hottest settings on your washer and dryer. Wash and dry the polyester items over and over until you've achieved the perfect size. If it's still too big try applying an iron set to low to medium temperature to the garment when it's damp. Be careful not to stretch the fabric, just heat it with the iron. Continue ironing until it is no longer damp, then check for size again [source: HomeQuicks].

Depending on the fabric, you can take your clothes down a size, or two, or even three!

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Cavanaugh, Birdie. "How to Shrink Cotton." Our Everyday Life. Sept. 28, 2018 (Aug. 6, 2018) https://oureverydaylife.com/how-to-shrink-cotton-12325659.html
  • Homequicks. "How to Shrink Your Most Cherished Polyester Without Damaging It." 2018 (Aug. 6, 2018) https://homequicks.com/how-to-shrink-polyester
  • Khalid, Alya. "How to Shrink Clothing." Made Man. Oct. 9, 2010 (Aug. 6, 2018) http://www.mademan.com/mm/how-shrink-clothing.html
  • Morello, Robert. "How to Control Clothing Shrinkage." Chron. 2018 (Aug. 6, 2018) https://smallbusiness.chron.com/control-clothing-shrinkage-69671.html
  • Real Simple. "How To: Fix Stretched Sweater Cuffs." 2018 (Aug. 6, 2018) http://www.realsimple.com/beauty-fashion/clothing-care/fix-stretched-sweater-cuffs-00000000002250/index.html
  • Stebbins, Sarah. "Fabric Care 101." Real Simple. 2018 (Aug. 6, 2018) https://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/cleaning/laundry/fabric-care-101
  • Texere Silk. "Cleaning & Washing Silk." 2018 (Aug. 6, 2018) https://texeresilk.com/main/cms/silk_care_cleaning_washing
  • Textile School. "Pattern Grading in Garment Manufacturing." March 18, 2018 (Aug. 6, 2018) https://www.textileschool.com/344/pattern-grading-in-garment-manufacturing/
  • The Idle Man. "How to Shrink a Wool Sweater." 2018 (Aug. 6, 2018) https://theidleman.com/manual/advice/shrink-a-jumper/

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