How to Shrink Clothes

By: Alia Hoyt  | 
A man wearing a shrunken yellow and red shirt.
Different materials shrink in different ways so be sure to read the label before you wash anything. Darren Robb/Getty Images

Ever bought a wool sweater that was too large? Or an oversized cotton T-shirt? Don't worry: There are ways to fix that and we're going to explain how to shrink clothes. But not all methods work with all fabrics.

Different materials require different methods of shrinking, so it's important to determine what the garment is made of before you try shrinking it. For example, cotton shrinks the best, polyester shrinks less, while leather and fur will get ruined rather than shrink.


While most people are trying to avoid shrinking, we're going to take a look at some ways to shrink clothing. Note: For cotton, wool and polyester, if the process doesn't shrink the garment enough, follow the directions for pre-shrunk and older clothes later in this article.

How to Shrink Cotton

Cotton is borderline notorious for its shrink potential. Many a person has been annoyed when a fitted T shrunk to teeny-tiny proportions, or those undies shrunk to the point of being unwearable. This is great news for people who actually want to shrink a garment, however. The even better news is that it's easy to do! Here's how [source: Reader's Digest]:

  1. Wash the cotton garment in hot water in a hot wash cycle. Cold water won't do a thing for the shrinking process.
  2. Put it in the dryer. Turn the dryer on high heat. A hot dryer is key.
  3. Check the garment's size at various points during the drying cycle. This is especially important if this is the first time you're washing the garment, and it's not a pre-shrunk garment. Did the clothes shrink enough? If so, set the dryer to low heat or air dry and let it run until the garment is dry.
  4. Do not put clothes in direct sunlight, as this causes fading.

The natural fibers in cotton shrink more easily than other materials because it's made of plant fibers, which are not particularly elastic. When washed, the threads swell up with water, and as a result they get thicker, causing the fabric to shrink. Most manufacturers these days are wise to this risk, and often make garments with preshrunk cotton (as in, they shrink it themselves before making the clothes). However, even that variety is known to get smaller, albeit to a lesser extent [source: Britannica].


How to Shrink Wool

Wool is almost frighteningly easy to shrink, so it's important not to go completely wild with this one. Instead, take a slow and steady approach to shrink that wool sweater to the right size. In particular, steamy heat is the key to success in this venture.

  1. First, wash the wool garment in hot water.
  2. Then, put the garment in the dryer. Run the dryer on medium heat until the garment's dry. Check it periodically to ensure that it's not shrinking too much for your needs.
  3. If you don't have a dryer, you could lay the garment flat after washing and use a hair dryer set at high heat to dry it.

Interestingly, the reason that wool pieces shrink so much is that these animal hair fibers get all matted when they get wet. Add in some washing machine agitation and they rub together to form a much more condensed chunk of material than they started out [source: Herdy]. This is also true of cashmere, which is why such pieces come with very strict washing instructions.


If you overshoot the margin and shrink your wool sweater too much, it is possible to unshrink it a bit. One easy method is to use hair conditioner, which (as it does with human hair) helps wool fibers to relax away from each other. To do this:

  1. Fill a bucket or sink with clean water, then add about one-third of a cup of whatever hair conditioner you have lying around. Stir it well.
  2. Then, soak the affected wool piece for about 10 minutes.
  3. Drain the water, then press the garment to remove excess water. Do not wring it out.
  4. Get a clean, dry towel, and roll the wool piece up inside of it. This will dry it mostly out.
  5. Lastly, lay the garment flat to dry on another clean towel. Stretch it out carefully as needed [source: Silver Bobbin].


How to Shrink Polyester

Moving right along to a popular synthetic fabric, polyester is actually the most used fiber in the world. In fact, it makes up about half of all fibers used, and a whopping 80 percent of synthetic fibers! The material is actually a type of plastic, typically made from petroleum [source: CFDA].

Because of its makeup, polyester is more resistant to shrinking than many other fabric types. However, it can still be shrunk, whether accidentally, or on purpose. Here's how to do it:


  1. Wash the polyester garment in hot water.
  2. Put the garment in the dryer. Run the dryer on high heat until the garment's dry.
  3. To shrink it even more, iron the garment on a hot setting.

Anytime excessive heat is used on a garment, however, there is risk of burning the fabric, so iron at your own risk [source: Aanya Linen].


How to Shrink Pre-Shrunk and Older Garments

Just because a garment is made from pre-shrunk cotton or has already been washed a million times doesn't mean that all hope is lost. It's still possible to shrink it down to the desired size, but it requires slightly more extreme methodology [source: A Cleaner World].

  1. Bring a pot of water to boil on the stove.
  2. Turn off the heat. Add the garment to the boiling water.
  3. Soak the garment in the hot water for five to 20 minutes. Be sure the water covers the entire garment.
  4. Safely remove the garment from the water (it will still be hot). Tongs or a spoon are a good way to do this. Allow it to cool.
  5. Either air-dry or machine dry the garment on high heat.
  6. Once dry, check the size of the garment. If it's still too large, repeat steps 1-5 until the garment shrinks enough.

There's always some risk involved in shrinking clothes on purpose, whether it's shrinking too much or otherwise damaging the fabric. Take your time, follow the steps and don't attempt the process on anything too valuable because dealing with textiles is always a little bit risky.


How to Shrink a Shirt FAQ

Does 100 percent polyester shrink?
Polyester does not shrink under regular circumstances because its synthetic fibers resist shrinkage.
What shrinks more – cotton or polyester?
Cotton is prone to shrinking and wrinkling. On the other hand, polyester is cheaper, durable and resists shrinkage at all costs.
How do you shrink a shirt with a design?
Turning the shirt inside out before washing it with cold water can protect the design on the shirt. Put it in a dryer at high speed after it is thoroughly washed to shrink it and protect the design.
Can you shrink a shirt without washing it?
To shrink a shirt, you need to wash it with hot or cold water, depending on the fabric. Without this step, the process cannot be completed.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Aanya Linen. "Does 100% Polyester Shrink?" Jan. 5, 2020 (Oct. 3, 2022)
  • A Cleaner World. "Shrinking Cottons."
  • Britannica. "Understand why cotton fabric shrinks." Transcript. 2022 (Oct. 3, 2022)
  • Council of Fashion Designers of America. "Polyester." 2022 (Oct. 3, 2022)
  • Groth, Leah. "How to Shrink Clothes the Right Way." Reader's Digest. October 20, 2021.
  • Herdy. "What is Felting & How Does it Work?" Nov. 6, 2019 (Oct. 3, 2022)
  • MasterClass. "How to Shrink a Shirt: 3 Methods for Different Fabrics." Nov. 5, 2021 (Oct. 3, 2022)
  • Silver Bobbin. "How to unshrink wool." 2022 (Oct. 3, 2022),can%20also%20unshrink%20wool%20garments.
  • Whirlpool. "How to shrink your clothes -- on purpose." 2022 (Oct. 3, 2022)