How to Shrink Clothes Safely and Effectively

Clothes hanging on a rack

Written by Sonia Su

Have you ever purchased a wool sweater that seemed to fit comfortably in the store but ended up looking too baggy? Or perhaps you stumbled upon a vintage cotton t-shirt that's just one size too big for you? The solution might be simpler than you think—shrinking clothes!

Whether you're dealing with a beloved pair of jeans, a cozy sweater, or a cotton dress shirt, knowing how to shrink clothes can save you from the hassle of returning or discarding ill-fitting garments.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll walk you through various methods to safely and effectively shrink different fabric types. But before we dive into the techniques, it's important to understand a few key points about fabric behavior and proper shrinking practices.

 Cotton fabric

Understanding Fabric Behavior

Fabric is composed of fibers that can expand and contract based on factors like heat, moisture, and agitation. Most natural fibers, such as cotton and wool, are prone to shrinking, while synthetic fibers like polyester and nylon tend to resist changes in size. Recognizing your garment's fabric composition is essential to choosing the right shrinking method.


Proper Shrinking Practices

Before attempting to shrink a clothing item, it's crucial to read and follow any care instructions provided on the label. Some fabrics are pre-shrunk during manufacturing, and attempting to shrink them further could damage the garment. Additionally, certain fabrics may require gentler shrinking techniques to avoid compromising their integrity.

While shrinking clothes can be a useful skill, it's important to prioritize safety. Always perform a patch test on a small, inconspicuous area of the garment before subjecting the entire piece to the shrinking process. This test will help you gauge how the different materials react to the chosen method and prevent any irreversible damage.


How to Shrink Clothes in the Wash

The wash can be your secret weapon as a simple and effective method to shrink clothes, ensuring that you get the fit you desire without compromising the quality of your garments.

Step 1: Select the Right Fabric

Before you begin, it's important to identify the type of fabric your garment is made of. Natural fibers like cotton, linen, and wool tend to shrink more easily, while synthetic fibers like polyester and nylon are more resistant. Make sure you're working with a fabric that is prone to shrinking for the best results.

Black t-shirt

Step 2: Read Care Labels

Check the care label on your clothing to ensure you're following the manufacturer's recommendations. Some clothes are pre-shrunk during production, and attempting to shrink them further might damage the fabric.

If the care label indicates that the garment can be washed in hot water, it's likely a good candidate for shrinking in the wash.

Step 3: Prepare the Wash

Set your machine to the hottest water temperature recommended for the fabric type. Hot water helps relax the fibers and encourages the garment to shrink. If the care label suggests a specific temperature, follow it closely. Additionally, use a regular cycle with a full spin to ensure thorough agitation.

Step 4: Wash the Garment

Place the garment in the machine and let it go through the wash cycle. Avoid overcrowding the machine to allow for proper agitation, as this is key to achieving even shrinking. You can add a small amount of laundry detergent as usual.

Step 5: Transfer to the Dryer

Once the wash cycle is complete, transfer the garment to the dryer immediately. If possible, set the dryer to the highest heat setting. This combination will work together to encourage the fabric to shrink.


Step 6: Monitor and Check

Keep a close eye on the garment as it dries. Depending on the fabric and the extent of shrinking desired, you might need to run the dryer for several cycles. Periodically check the fit of the garment to avoid over-shrinking. Remember that some fabrics might not shrink as much as others, so patience is key.

Step 7: Final Fit Check

Once you're satisfied with the amount of shrinkage, remove the garment from the dryer and let it cool down. Try it on to assess the fit. If it's still not as snug as you'd like, you can repeat the shrinking process. If you've achieved the desired fit, you're all set!


How to Shrink Clothes in the Dryer

Using the dryer to shrink clothes can be an effective way to achieve a snugger fit, but it's important to proceed with caution to avoid damaging your garments.

Start by sorting the clothes you want to shrink, ensuring they are made of natural fibers like cotton or wool, as these tend to shrink more effectively. Run a gentle cycle in your washing machine using hot water to prepare the fibers for shrinkage.

Once the washing is complete, transfer the damp clothes to the dryer. Set the dryer to the high heat setting and allow the garments to tumble dry. Keep a close eye on them, checking every 5-10 minutes to avoid excessive shrinkage or damage. Be aware that some fabrics might not respond well to this method and could end up misshapen or ruined.

When the desired level of shrinkage is reached, promptly remove the clothes from the dryer and allow them to cool down or air dry the rest of the way. Keep in mind that this method is not foolproof, and results can vary based on fabric type, original size, and other factors. Always follow how-to-wash care labels and consider testing the process on a small, inconspicuous area before attempting to shrink an entire garment.

Nimble Made t-shirts are one of the best slim fit t-shirts made of 100% cotton that don't need further shrinking.


Methods to Shrink Clothes

  • Hot Water and High Heat Machine Dry: One of the simplest methods involves washing the garment in hot water and then drying it on a high heat drying cycle, as outlined previously. The combination of heat and moisture can cause the fibers to contract, reducing the size of the garment.
    Washing machine
  • Boiling Water Method for Cotton and Linen: To shrink cotton and linen, you can use the boiling water method. Immerse the clothing in boiling water for a few minutes, then rinse with cold water to set the shrinkage.
  • Steam Shrinking with a Steam Iron: Using a steam iron can help target specific areas for shrinking. Hold the steam iron a few inches away from the fabric and apply steam while gently tugging on the garment to encourage shrinking. Check out our article on best clothes steamers for more information.
  • Using a Hot Washing Machine Cycle: Running your clothes through a hot washing machine cycle followed by a high heat dryer cycle can effectively shrink them. Keep a close eye on the garments to avoid excessive shrinking.
  • Employing a Dryer for Controlled Shrinking: If you're dealing with a garment that's slightly too big, use your dryer to shrink it. Place the garment in the dryer on high heat and check it at regular intervals until you achieve the desired fit.
  • Shrinking Wool Safely: Wool requires gentle care to avoid damaging its fibers. To shrink wool, use lukewarm water and a bit of agitation to encourage shrinking. Avoid using hot water or high heat, as they can lead to irreversible felting.
  • Reshaping While Damp: While the clothes are still damp, you have the opportunity to reshape them. Stretch and manipulate the fabric to ensure it retains the desired size and shape as it dries.
    Clothing line
  • Combining Techniques for Better Results: Feel free to combine different shrinking techniques for more effective results. For instance, use steam shrinking after running the garment through a hot washing machine cycle.

It's crucial not to over-shrink your clothes, as they might become unwearable. Always shrink in small increments and test the fit frequently to avoid irreversible changes. Once your clothes are successfully shrunk, handle them with care. Wash them in cold water and avoid high heat to prevent further shrinkage.


When Not to Attempt Shrinking

Some fabrics, like synthetics or delicate materials, are not suitable for shrinking methods. If the care label advises against it, it's best to avoid attempting to shrink these garments.

If you're not comfortable with DIY shrinking methods, consider taking your clothes to a professional tailor. They can provide precise alterations to achieve the desired fit. Here's how a dress shirt should fit and whether you should tailor a suit.

Professional tailor 

How to Avoid Buying the Wrong Size in the First Place

Traditional measurements are misleading, and having to worry about how to shrink clothing is frustrating. When it comes to men's dress shirts, for example, the size of your neck and arm length shouldn't determine the rest of your body shape. Nimble Made sizes use height and weight for a better slim fit.

Check out our suit size calculator, shirt size calculator, and dress shirt calculator, which recommends sizes based off of data from slim customers before you.

nimble made fit guide on slim fit sizes


Our line of shirts—including this bestselling blue dress shirt that has sold out over 8 times—is designed with the trimmer man in mind. They feature trimmed shoulders and back measurements, fitted sleeves, and the proper sleeve lengths. You may also consider our bestselling white dress shirt.

You no longer have to worry about dress shirts that feel like a tent or ones so stiff you end up leaving them hanging in the closet. You will love the breathable and comfortable fabric of our dress shirts that move with you instead of fight against you.


Bottom Line

With the methods outlined in this article, you can bring new life to your loose-fitting clothes. Experiment with these techniques while being mindful of the fabric type and garment care instructions. Remember, a little shrinkage can go a long way in reviving your wardrobe and helping you feel confident in your clothes once again.


Frequently Asked Questions about How to Make Clothes Shrink

What is the fastest way to shrink clothes that don't fit you?

The fastest way to shrink clothes is to wash them in hot water and then tumble dry them on high heat, but caution is advised to prevent over-shrinking or damaging the fabric.

Can you shrink clothes a whole size?

To shrink your clothes a whole size is possible by using the techniques outlined above, but the extent of shrinkage can vary depending on the fabric type and initial size of the garment.

Can you shrink clothes with just the dryer?

Yes, you can shrink clothes using just the dryer, but it's important to monitor the process carefully to prevent damage and avoid over-shrinking.

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