We’ve all been there – you buy a great pair of pants but they are just a little too big in the waist or length. While some minor sizing issues can be remedied with a belt or cuffing the hem, significant gaps and bagginess can make the pants unwearable. But before you donate them or let them waste away in your closet, try shrinking them first! With the right techniques, you can easily shrink pants and get them to fit just right.
Here are 10 easy ways to shrink pants at home.
Table of Contents
Test For Pre-Shrinking
Before attempting to shrink pants, first check if they have been pre-shrunk. Manufacturers often pre-shrink fabrics to prevent significant shrinkage when washing.
Here’s how to test for pre-shrinking:
- Look at the care label – It may indicate that the pants are preshrunk or give a maximum shrinkage percentage.
- Wash in hot water – Wash pants in the hottest water recommended on the care tag. If no significant shrinking occurs, they are likely preshrunk.
- Measure before and after washing – Mark the inseam length and waist measurement with tailor’s chalk before washing. Compare measurements after washing. Less than 2% shrinkage means the pants are probably pre-shrunk.
If the pants are pre-shrunk, your shrinking efforts will be limited. But some shrinking is still possible in most cases.
Heat Shrinking Methods
Applying heat is the quickest way to shrink fabric. Here are some heat methods:
1. Wash With Hot Water
- Set washing machine to the hottest water setting safe for the fabric type. For cotton, use hot. For polyester blends, use warm.
- Wash pants in hot water cycle. Avoid adding other items, which could cushion the impact.
- Hot water causes fiber threads to tighten up and shrink.
2. Tumble Dry On High Heat
- After washing pants in hot water, tumble dry on the highest heat setting recommended for the fabric.
- The intense heat of the dryer will further shrink the fibers.
- Check pants every 10 minutes to avoid over-shrinking.
3. Iron While Damp
- Hand wash pants in hot water and skip the spin cycle, leaving them damp.
- Lay flat and iron while still very damp, moving slowly to heat fabric.
- The steam and heat will shrink fibers.
- Be careful not to scorch delicate fabrics like silks or synthetics.
Agitation Shrinking Techniques
Rigorous agitation while washing can encourage shrinkage. Try these agitation methods:
4. Wash Without Detergent
- Washing pants in hot water without detergent allows fibers to rub together and shrinks them up.
- Detergent acts as a lubricant – skipping it leads to more fiber friction.
5. Extra Spin Cycles
- Set washer to run an extra spin for the pants after washing.
- The high-speed spinning motion increases fiber contact, causing shrinkage.
- Do 2-3 extra spin cycles for maximum effect.
6. Shake Vigorously
- After washing pants in hot water, shake them vigorously for 2-3 minutes.
- The intense motion and whipping action encourages shrinkage.
- Works best with natural fabrics like cotton and linen.
How you dry the pants after hot washing plays a key role in shrinking.
7. Air Dry
- Line dry pants or lay flat instead of machine drying.
- Letting pants air dry allows fibers to tighten and shrinks them up.
- Works well for minimizing shrinkage of delicate fabrics too.
8. High Heat Drying
- Tumble dry pants on the highest heat setting right after washing in hot water.
- The one-two punch of hot wash and high heat drying causes maximum shrinkage.
- Check frequently to avoid over-drying.
9. Dry With Tennis Balls
- Add 2-3 tennis balls to the dryer with pants.
- The bouncing motion increases fiber friction, enhancing shrinkage.
- Works great if pants are almost the right size and need just a bit of shrinking.
- Check often to avoid over-shrinking.
Some laundry aids can support shrinking efforts:
10. Use Salt
- Add 1/2 to 1 cup of table salt to the wash cycle.
- Salt helps tighten fibers and draw out moisture to shrink fabric.
- Best for cotton and linen pants – avoid on silk or wool.
11. Try Vinegar
- Add 1/2 to 1 cup white vinegar to the wash cycle.
- Acidity helps increase fiber friction and shrinkage.
- White vinegar is safe for all washable fabric types.
12. Use Fabric Softener
- Skip the fabric softener when washing pants to shrink them.
- Softener coats fibers and prevents full shrinkage.
- Save softener for after pants have shrunk to size for softness.
Guide for Shrinking Specific Fabrics
Use these fabric-specific guides for best results:
|Best Shrinking Method
|Hot wash + high heat drying
|Hot wash + air dry
|Hand wash in hot water + air dry
|Hot wash + high heat drying
|Hand wash in warm water + air dry
|Hot wash + high heat drying
- Pre-wash cotton, linen, and denim pants to prime fibers for maximum shrinkage.
- Go easy on more delicate fabrics like silks and wools – skip the dryer and air dry.
- Synthetics like polyester don’t shrink as much – air drying prevents over-shrinking.
- Stretchy fabrics with spandex will shrink less – limit heat time.
When To Stop Shrinking
It’s easy to over-shrink pants, so ensure you stop at the right size:
- Try pants on as you go to check sizing after hot washing and drying.
- Stop shrinking once pants fit comfortably in the waist and length without being too tight.
- Mark the ideal fit with tailor’s chalk so you know when to stop.
- Over-shrinking can lead to pants becoming too short, tight and misshapen.
- Stretchy pants may snap back slightly after initial shrinking.
With some patience and fabric know-how, you can easily shrink and customize the fit of pants right at home. Follow these tips to salvage and revive loose fitting pants.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can you put pants in the dryer to shrink them?
Yes, using a hot dryer is one of the easiest and most effective ways to shrink pants. To maximize shrinkage, first wash pants in hot water, then immediately tumble dry on the highest heat setting safe for the fabric. Check pants frequently and remove when the desired amount of shrinkage is achieved.
2. How much do cotton pants shrink?
On average, untreated cotton pants can shrink up to 5% of their original size. Washing in hot water and drying on high heat allows the maximum amount of shrinkage. Pre-shrunk cotton will shrink less, around 3% or less. Stretch cotton blends will also shrink less due to the added spandex.
3. Do jeans shrink when washed?
Yes, jeans made from 100% cotton denim will shrink when washed in hot water and dried in a hot dryer. Typically, raw denim jeans shrink the most, around 3-5% on the first hot wash. Pre-shrunk jeans will only shrink about 1-3%. The more they are washed, the less they will continue to shrink.
4. How do you shrink rayon pants?
Rayon can be shrunk by washing in warm or hot water and drying on a medium heat setting. Excessive heat can damage rayon fibers, so air drying is safest. Add vinegar or salt to the wash cycle to help tighten fibers. Rayon may shrink up to 4% when cared for properly.
5. What happens if you shrink clothes too much?
If you over-shrink clothing, the items may become too tight, short, and misshapen. In some cases, the clothing can be stretched back to shape by gently pulling and tugging on the fabric. Synthetic fabrics that over-shrunk can be re-shaped with an iron on low heat. Badly shrunk cotton and wool, however, cannot be reversed. To avoid over-shrinking, check garments frequently during shrinking.