Have you ever had a favorite t-shirt that you love wearing, only to have it stretch out and become too big over time? What about getting a shirt as a gift that turns out to be a size too large? Don’t worry – with some simple tricks, you can easily shrink a cotton shirt to get it to fit just right again.
In this article, we’ll explore 6 easy methods for shrinking shirts made from 100% cotton. Whether machine washing, drying, or hand washing, these techniques will help you resize t-shirts, button-downs, tanks, and other cotton tops that have become too big, stretched out, or ill-fitting. With a little time and elbow grease, you’ll be able to revive your favorite tee in no time!
Why Do Shirts Stretch Out and Become Too Big?
Before we get into how to shrink shirts, let’s quickly go over why cotton shirts become misshapen and oversized in the first place.
There are a few common culprits when it comes to stretched out shirts:
- Repeated machine washing/drying – The heat and agitation from the washer and dryer can cause shirts to slowly expand over time.
- Hanging to dry – Letting shirts air dry while hung often leads to the fabric weighing down and becoming misshapen.
- Weight changes – Gaining or losing a significant amount of weight can cause shirts to no longer fit.
- Poor quality fabric – Cheaper cotton blends are more prone to stretching out than high quality 100% cotton.
Luckily, there are many ways to combat stretched out shirts and make them look and feel like new again. Now let’s get into how to shrink a shirt the right way!
How to Shrink a Shirt: 6 Methods
1. Wash Shirt in Hot Water Then Dry on High Heat
The classic way to shrink a cotton shirt is by washing it in hot water followed by drying on high heat. Here are the steps:
- Wash shirt in the hottest water setting possible – use your machine’s hot/sanitary cycle.
- Avoid overloading the washing machine – only wash 1 or 2 shirts at a time.
- Use a hot water detergent compatible with cotton.
- Skip the rinse cycle – the detergent will help shirts shrink.
- Machine dry on the highest heat setting immediately after washing.
- Remove from dryer immediately – don’t let shirts over-dry.
This intense wash and dry combo uses heat and agitation to tighten shirt fibers. It works best for significantly shrinking a shirt by a full size or more.
Use caution – shirts may shrink unevenly or too small if overheated.
2. Boil Wash the Shirt
For an extreme shrink, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Then:
- Add the shirt and boil for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Remove pot from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
- Take out shirt and squeeze out excess water.
- Lay flat or hang to air dry the rest of the way.
- Once fully dry, check for size – repeat boiling if needed.
Boil washing uses hot water and agitation to shrink cotton fabric as much as possible. It’s ideal for making a shirt 1-2 sizes smaller.
3. Wash Shirt in Hot Water and Hang Dry
You can shrink a shirt without using the dryer by washing it with hot water then hanging it to dry.
- Wash shirt alone on hottest setting.
- Hang shirt to fully air dry, keeping it taut on the hanger.
- Weigh shirt down with clothespins around bottom to prevent stretching as it dries.
Letting a hot washed shirt hang dry allows it to slowly tighten up as the fabric contracts. Doing this 2-3 times can shrink a shirt up by one size.
4. Iron Shirt While Still Damp
Ironing a slightly damp shirt will make it shrink up due to the direct, concentrated heat.
- Hand wash shirt in very hot water and wring out.
- While still damp, lay shirt flat and iron on high heat over entire surface – inside and out.
- Work in sections, keeping shirt taught as you iron.
- Let cool fully before wearing or washing again.
This ironing technique uses heat to compact shirt fibers. It works well for targeted shrinking of certain overstretched areas.
5. Use a Hot Dryer Without Washing
You can also skip the wash cycle altogether and throw a cotton shirt into the dryer by itself to make it shrink.
- Dampen the shirt either by spraying with water or running under the faucet briefly.
- Wring out any excess dripping water.
- Toss shirt into the dryer and turn on highest heat setting for 40-50 minutes.
- Check shirt and repeat drying in 10 minute intervals if needed.
The hot, tumbling air will tighten up the cotton fibers without the need for detergent or agitation. This is effective for shrinking shirts up to a half size smaller.
6. Add Tennis Balls to Dryer
Adding a few tennis balls to the dryer along with the shirt will increase shrinkage. As they bounce around, the balls create additional agitation to get the fibers shrinking faster and more evenly.
- Wash shirt in hot water and spin dry.
- Throw in 2-3 tennis balls with shirt into the dryer.
- Set dryer to high heat and check frequently so shirt doesn’t over shrink.
The tennis balls help to really make the shirt compress in all directions for a tighter fit. Use this method in combination with any others for enhanced shrinking power.
Tips for Shrinking Shirts Properly
Now that you know the best techniques for shrinking cotton shirts, here are some top tips to ensure proper results:
- Always check shirt labels – only 100% cotton can be shrunk. Cotton blends may not shrink evenly.
- Wash shirt inside-out to prevent faded designs/prints. Turn right side out before drying.
- Shrink shirts in stages – better to undershrink than overshrink. You can always repeat.
- When in doubt, go a size down – it’s easier to shrink more than resize a shirt that’s too small.
- Expect some uneven shrinking – shirt seams and stitching often stay the same size.
- Wash shirt again after shrinking to reinforce sizing and soften fabric.
- Use fabric softener and dryer balls to help shirts maintain shrinkage after drying.
- Be extra careful with delicate shirts, lace, or loose knits which can easily be damaged.
With some trial and error, you’ll get the hang of how to shrink any oversized cotton shirt for a comfortable, personalized fit. Now put those favorite old tees to use again!
FAQ About Shrinking Shirts
Still have some questions about properly shrinking shirts? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:
How much will a cotton shirt shrink?
- On average, expect shirts to shrink up to one full size, depending on technique. For example, shrinking a men’s large to a men’s medium.
Can you shrink 100% cotton shirts?
- Yes, 100% cotton is ideal and required for proper shrinking. Cotton blends may not shrink as effectively.
Do shirts shrink more width or length?
- Shirts often shrink more in length than width. However, adding tennis balls to the dryer can help shrink them evenly overall.
Can you shrink shirts without washing them?
- Yes, simply throwing a damp shirt into the dryer on high heat will cause it to shrink without detergent or agitation.
How much do shirts shrink when hung to dry?
- Air drying alone will only shrink shirts a little bit – about half a size smaller. For more drastic shrinking, drying with heat is needed.
How long does it take to shrink a shirt?
- It depends on the method, but shrinking can take 10 minutes up to 1 hour in most cases. Give shirts multiple treatments if needed.
Can you shrink rayon, polyester, spandex, or nylon shirts?
- Unfortunately, you cannot shrink fabrics like rayon, polyester, spandex, and nylon effectively. Only 100% cotton will shrink well.
With the simple tricks in this article, you can renew stretched out, oversized t-shirts and bring them back to life. Just remember to wash cotton-only fabrics on hot and throw them in the dryer on high heat for the best shrinkage. With some trial and error, you’ll be able to customize the fit of any loose shirt.