How to shrink clothes

Not all shrunken clothes are caused by washing mishaps. Get the perfect fit by learning how to shrink clothes made of cotton, linen, and wool.

Updated 6 September 2019

how to shrink clothes

Key steps to shrinking clothes 

  1. Wash and dry cotton or linen on high heat to shrink the fabric.
  2. Take a gentler approach with wool: hand wash and dry on a medium heat or try hand washing with careful agitation in the machine.
  3. Try applying heat to learn how to shrink polyester and other synthetic fibres or consider tailoring instead.

You’ve found the perfect top at last. Only one problem: it fits like a tent. If you wish some of your clothes could be a little smaller, here’s some guidance on how to shrink clothes at home.

The advice below focuses mainly on how to shrink cotton, linen, and wool with a note on synthetic fabrics. If you’re looking to shrink denim, our guide to shrinking jeans is what you need and, as shrinking always carries a risk, we have a guide to stop cotton from shrinking too.

 Heat and agitation are the keys to how to shrink clothes. If you want a more controlled shrink, go gentler on the temperature or the spin cycle.

How to shrink cotton or linen

Want to know how to shrink a cotton shirt? What about how to shrink trousers made of linen? Try this method:

  1. Brand new clothes made of pure cotton or linen tend to shrink a bit on the first wash so pop them in the machine if you haven't done so already.
  2. Don’t actively try to shrink cotton or linen clothes until you’ve washed them regularly and seen how they turn out.
  3. When you ready to shrink them, put them in a hot wash.
  4. If you want to enhance the effect, dry them in the tumble dryer on high heat afterwards. 
  5. Do this as many times as required to get the result you need (you don’t have to do it all in one session). Be aware that hot washes can cause dyes to fade or run.

Line i’s a little more prone to shrinking than cotton so you may want to check in on it occasionally while it’s in the tumble dryer.

How to shrink clothes made of wool: in the machine

Wool is delicate and shrinks very quickly, so you want to be careful here. It’s best not to try to shrink a dearly beloved woollen jumper - opt for tailoring or embrace a baggy look by pairing it with tight jeans and wearing a a plain tee underneath.

  1. To start shrinking your wool jumper, dampen it evenly (you can use a spray bottle for this)
  2. Put it in the tumble dryer on medium heat. 
  3. Check it every five minutes and rescue it if it seems to be shrinking too enthusiastically.

How to shrink clothes made of wool: by hand

As wool is such a delicate material, you may prefer to try and shrink it by hand.

  1. Mix some warm water and a little detergent, such as Persil, in a tub. 
  2. Put your woollen item in there and swirl it around – gently – every couple of minutes. The combination of heat and agitation causes wool to shrink, which is why washing it on a regular cycle is such a risky business.
  3. Check on the item after each swirl; again, wool can shrink surprisingly fast so it’s best to stop slightly before it reaches your perfect size. 
  4. When you're done, remove the item and blot it with a towel.
  5. Lay it flat to air-dry - try to retain the natural shape of the clothing while doing so.

How to shrink polyester, nylon, acrylic: can it be done?

Natural fabrics, such as linen, cotton, and wool, are much easier to shrink than synthetic ones like nylon, acrylic, and polyester. While you can try the "hot wash and tumble dry" methods that work for natural fibres when trying to shrink leggings made of polyester or other garments, you could end up doing more damage than good. Instead, the simplest option might be to invest in professional tailoring or donate old synthetic clothes to a charity shop rather than trying to shrink them to fit - read our article on upcycling clothes and donating clothes for more guidance.

Originally published 6 September 2019