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4 Methods to Shrink Clothes; Cotton, Jeans, Polyester

4 Methods to Shrink Clothes; Cotton, Jeans, Polyester

A fresh pair of jeans that fits just right, a cotton top the perfect size, or a polyester dress that isn’t too big or too small – it sounds like a dream come true. But let’s face it; it’s not every day that you can find clothes that fit like a glove.

So what should you do? Throw them away? Get expensive alterations done? Do a DIY fitting? Nope, none of that!

There’s actually a much simpler way – you can shrink your clothes, at least to a degree, to get that perfect fit. And we’re here to tell you how. In this blog post, we’ll explore 3 methods for shrinking different types of clothes in just a few simple steps.

What Type of Clothes Shrink Best & What Type Don’t?

Before we jump into the methods, let’s get one thing straight – not all clothes shrink the same way; some may not shrink at all. So do not expect a miracle to happen when you try these methods. Let’s break it down by the material.

Generally, natural fibers like cotton, linen, and wool shrink the best. The fibers in these materials have a natural elasticity, allowing them to easily contort when exposed to heat and water.

This is not essentially a positive property when it comes to standard laundering, so manufacturers often pre-treat these fabrics with a special coating to prevent them from shrinking. If the clothes you want to shrink are pre-treated, you may not get the desired results.

On the other hand, synthetic fabrics like polyester, acrylic, rayon, microfibre, or nylon are much more durable and come out of the laundry without so much as a wrinkle. In fact, they can sometimes end up stretched out. So it’s highly unlikely that these fabrics will shrink.

Finally, some semi-shrinking fabrics like denim, spandex, poly cot, and terry wool also exist. These blended fabrics contain both natural and synthetic fibers, so they can shrink to some extent but not as much as pure cotton or wool.

Denim is a cotton-polyester blend, so it can be shrunk – to a certain extent – depending on the percentage of cotton. Spandex is a polyester-lycra blend; it’s a very durable material and will rarely budge. Polycot and terry wool are cotton-polyester blends, so they can also be shrunk to an extent.

Some other materials like silk, viscose, and cashmere may also shrink if given the proper amount of heat or water. But they’re also very delicate fabrics and can easily be ruined if not handled with proper care. So it’s best to avoid these fabrics for the most part.

In any case, it’s always best to check the care label on the garment and proceed accordingly. Because if the fabric is pre-shrunk or treated with any special coatings, you may not get the desired results.

Now that you know what type of clothes shrink best, let’s move on to the methods.

Shrinking Cotton Clothes

Cotton clothes are the most rewarding when it comes to shrinking. Especially 100% cotton pieces like your breezy summer dresses, tees, and tanks. The key is to produce relaxation shrinkage in the fabric by exposing it to high heat.

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This is done by either boiling the clothes in a pot of water or running them through a hot wash cycle a few times, followed by a hot dryer cycle.

The high heat first relaxes the fibers, then as the cloth cools down, it re-shrinks to a smaller size. It can be rather tricky since you need to hit the sweet spot between too small and too big.

Shrinking Cotton Clothes

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A washing machine with the high heat setting
  • A dryer
  • Water


  1. Read the care instructions on the clothing label. This will tell you if the item is pre-shrunk or treated, can be machine washed or hand washed, and how much temperature it can withstand.
  2. Turn the garment inside out to protect any decorative embellishments, buttons, or zippers.
  3. Put the garment in a washing machine with cold water and set it to a short cycle, around 5 minutes. This is done to gradually build up the temperatures and avoid any sudden shocks to the fabric.
  4. After the first cycle, set the washing machine to a hot setting and run a long cycle for over 20 minutes.
  5. Naturally dyed cotton clothes may bleed color under high heat. If you’re unsure, add 1/2 cup of table salt to the water. It will help maintain the color of the fabric and prevent fading.
  6. Once the cycle is complete, remove the garment and dry it on high heat. Run the dryer for at least 20 minutes, but if you think it’ll cause too much shrinkage, take it out every few minutes to check on it. You can also dry the fabric in the sun, but it’s less effective since the heat isn’t as intense.
  7. And you’re done. Now you have perfectly shrunken cotton clothes.

If any parts of the garment become overly stretched out while being dried – simply stretch those sections by hand back into place as needed before allowing them to air dry completely (this works exceptionally well on collars). Doing this will give you a much more evenly shrunken garment.

Shrinking Denim or Jeans

Jeans or denim is a blended fabric containing cotton and polyester, so it doesn’t shrink as much as pure cotton. But what works in our favor is that it’s a thick-knit material, which means a little shrinkage in each fiber can create a noticeable difference.

Shrinking Denim or Jeans

But you’ll need to put some extra effort into shrinking it; a hot machine cycle may not be enough. So here’s what you have to do:

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Boiling Pot
  • A washing machine with a hot water setting
  • A dryer
  • Water


  1. Carefully read the label and check if it’s a shrinkable denim fabric or not. Shrinkable fabrics are deliberately not treated or pre-shrunk to let the piece shrink and adapt to the body shape. This type of fabric can over-shrink under too much heat, so you have to be careful.
  2. Fill a large pot with enough water to submerge the jeans and bring them to a boil. Make sure the pot is big enough that the jeans can move around freely.
  3. Turn the jeans inside out to protect any decorative details and put them into the boiling water. No salt or other additives are needed, as denim holds its color pretty well.
  4. Keep an eye on the jeans and stir them around with a wooden spoon or something similar to distribute the heat evenly.
  5. Let them boil for about 30 minutes. Then take them off the heat and let them cool in the water for about 10 minutes.
  6. Remove the jeans carefully once cooled and put them through a hot dryer cycle for about 10 minutes to allow the fabric to dry completely and shrink.
  7. If needed, repeat the process until you get your desired fit.
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For denim, the key is to be patient and gentle. It takes time for the fabric to shrink, and you don’t want to damage the fibers by over-exposing them to heat. So closely watch the progress and adjust accordingly.

Shrinking Polyester Items

Polyester is a synthetic fabric; actually, a kind of plastic derived from petroleum. It’s one of the most resilient fabrics, which means it doesn’t shrink or stretch easily.

And even if you do manage to shrink it, the fabric tends to bounce back almost immediately. It’s best to avoid shrinking this type of fabric altogether and opt for other methods, such as tailoring or tucking, to get the desired fit.

Shrinking Polyester Items

However, if you still want to shrink polyester clothing,

Here’s what you need:

  • A washing machine with a hot water setting
  • A dryer


  1. Before you start, check the label on the item to ensure it’s 100% polyester fabric. (In blended fabrics, the blended parts like cotton may shrink, but the polyester part will not, and you can end up with a distorted garment.)
  2. Put the item in your washing machine in the hottest water setting and wash it on a long cycle, at least 20 minutes or more.
  3. Once the cycle is complete, put the item in your dryer on high heat for 15 minutes.
  4. Then shock the item to set the shrunken size by running it in the dryer on cold for an additional 5 minutes. And you’ll know if your polyester item has shrunk or not.

Remember, polyester clothing does not shrink in the same way as cotton or denim. It’s more like a plastic that warms and then returns to its original shape, so be careful and don’t repeat the process as it may damage the fabric.

Shrinking Wool or Cashmere Items

Animal-derived fabrics like wool and cashmere are tricky fibers, not because they do not shrink but because they can shrink too much. Some untreated wools can lose up to 15% of their size in an instant.

These fabrics can also ‘felt’ (become fuzzy and matted) if exposed to too much heat, completely ruining the item. So, you have to be extra careful with exposure to heat.

Shrinking Wool or Cashmere Items

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A large pot
  • A dryer
  • Hot water


  1. Read the label on the item to understand what type of wool you are dealing with. Blended wool and cashmere can shrink but will not feel as easily. 100% wool may feel if exposed to too much heat. Synthetic wools such as acrylic may not shrink at all.
  2. It’s best to avoid the machine as agitation can make felting easier. Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil.
  3. Turn off the heat and submerge the item in the pot for 2-5 minutes.
  4. Take out the item and check for shrinkage. If you need more, put it back for an additional few minutes but don’t go over 15 minutes, or you can lose the item completely.
  5. Once you get the desired fit, take it out of the pot and gently squeeze out the water.
  6. Put it into the dryer on moderate heat for 10 minutes to remove the remaining moisture.
  7. Then let the item air dry until completely dry before wearing.
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Original silk also reacts like wool and can drastically lose size if exposed to too much heat. You can apply the same gentle method to shrink silk, but again, be careful with the heat and watch the progress closely.

Mistakes to Avoid During Shrinking Clothes

Not Understanding the fabric: There are thousands of combinations of fabrics, threads, and weaves, and there is no one right way to shrink all items. So it’s important to understand the fabric and customize your technique accordingly.

Not monitoring the progress closely: If you think you’ll just put the item in and come back to a perfectly shrunken item, you are wrong. It’s important to monitor the progress closely and stop at the appropriate times.

Using too much heat: High heat can cause irreversible damage to the fabric, so be mindful of the temperature settings and how long you expose the garment to heat.

Repeating the process too often: There is a limit to how much fabric can shrink. Even highly shrinkable fabrics like 100% wool have a limit to how much they can shrink. Repeating the process will only cause irreversible damage to the shape and style of your garment and not shrink it any further.


Certain fabrics, like cotton, have flexible fibers that can shrink easily, but others, like polyester and wool, require more care to prevent damage and get desirable results. Some fabrics, like denim, can withstand a lot of heat and many shrink cycles, but others, like silk, require a more gentle hand to keep their shape.

Knowing how to shrink clothes properly can help you extend the life of your favorite garments; just remember to understand the fabric before attempting any shrinking techniques.

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