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How to shrink jeans at home and get the perfect fit

Favourite pair of jeans lost their shape? Don’t despair, bring them back to life with these easy DIY fixes.

Updated

A pair of jeans and a belt on a bed

Denim tends to naturally stretch with wear, which means your oh-so-perfect jeans can start slipping, gathering or loosening the longer you have them. 

Figuring out how to shrink jeans will not only save your fave pair from going into the second hand pile, but these at-home hacks will also work on brand new jeans, which comes in handy if you’re not able to to try before you buy or you nabbed a pair in an online sale and they’re not quite right.

Our foolproof guide to shrinking your jeans properly will have them hugging your hips perfectly in no time.

5 easy ways to shrink your jeans

There are a few different methods for shrinking jeans, depending on what tools and how much time you have. Take your pick from the below. 

If your jeans have any non-denim elements (like embroidery, studs or beading), check in advance whether they’re likely to be damaged by your chosen method. It also won't hurt to brush up on learning about how to wash jeans properly before you start.

1. Shrink your jeans using your washing machine and tumble dryer

A pair of jeans on top of a laundry basket in front of a washing machine

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Learning to shrink jeans in the wash means you'll know the quickest, least messy way to shrink your denim. 

Chances are you may have already done it by mistake to other pieces of clothing a few times (if that’s the case, you’ll want to check out our guide on how to unshrink clothes). 

The process is simple: use the highest heat setting on both your washing machine and your dryer to shrink your jeans. You can even repeat it a couple of times until you get the fit you want. 

You may have to shimmy and squeeze your way back into them, but your jeans will mould back to your shape as you wear them. 

Word of warning – all this washer and dryer action can cause your jeans to fade. You can help prevent this a bit by turning them inside out before popping them in the washing machine.

2. Line dry them

A pair of jeans hanging to dry on a washing line

Need to know how to shrink jeans without a dryer? For that classic, rigid denim feel, pop your jeans into a hot wash and then simply dry them on the line on a sunny day. 

This method is particularly good at shrinking jeans that are too long or too loose at the waist.

3. Boil your jeans

A pair of jeans in a pan of water

If you want to save water and energy (or the washer and dryer method didn't shrink them enough) turn things up a notch and boil your jeans. 

Bring a large pan of water to a rolling boil then carefully place your jeans inside, making sure they are fully submerged. 

Boil for 20-30 minutes, then drain them as much as you can before tumble drying them on high heat.

This method is good for jeans that are particularly baggy as it tends to shrink them the most, which means avoiding it if you only want to shrink your jeans a little bit . 

If you have indigo or very dark jeans, be prepared to lose a little bit of the colour (though again, turning them inside out can help).

4. Wear them in the bath

A pair of jeans in a pan of water

This approach sounds kooky, but it’s got history on its side. Jeans were originally made of raw, unwashed denim that came straight from the loom. 

Wearers would buy a pair of “shrink to fit” jeans and use the bath method below to achieve a totally custom fit – believe it or not, this approach was hugely popular up until the 1960s.

It works like this: Fill your bath with just enough hot water to cover your legs – as hot as you can tolerate but don’t boil yourself. Sit in the bath with your jeans on for 10 minutes or until the water has cooled. 

Keep your jeans on until they have dried completely. They should now fit as if they were made for you. 

The method is particularly good for vintage or 100 percent cotton jeans.

5. Shrink a specific area

Spraying the waistband of a pair of jeans

Wondering how shrinking jeans at the waist or legs works? This targeted solution can help.

Mix one part fabric softener with three parts hot water in a spray bottle and spray the area you want to shrink thoroughly. 

Follow by drying the jeans on the highest heat setting in your tumble dryer.

How to shrink jeans permanently: take them to a tailor

If none of the above methods work for you, or you find yourself having to shrink your jeans over and over (not the most eco-friendly of endeavours) fix them once and for all by taking them to a tailor. 

A good tailor will be able to alter the legs and length of your jeans so they fit perfectly, creating a new seam to make them tighter or hemming them so they cut off exactly where you want them. 

And, though it's trickier, they may even be able to make alterations to the waist or hips. 

Answers to your top denim shrinking questions

How much can you shrink jeans?

Most jeans these days are made out of sanforized denim fabric, which has been pre-shrunk and is designed to shrink usually no more than five percent after washing, or around half to a full inch.

However, cheaper jeans that contain synthetic fibres might be more susceptible to shrinking. 

If your jeans are vintage or made from raw, unsanforized denim, they can shrink up to 20 per cent of their original size.

Can you shrink jeans permanently?

The nature of denim means it will always loosen with wear. And, though the above DIY methods can help bring back their shape, the only surefire way to get them to stay the size you want them is to take them to a tailor.

How do I stop denim shrinking?

The easiest way to stop your jeans shrinking is to buy a true-to-size pair that fits you well at the waist and in length and wash it as little as possible. 

Instead of machine washing your jeans, spot clean any spills or stains and hang them outside on a sunny day to air them and keep them fresh. 

How do I fix ripped jeans?

A bit of wear and (literal) tear is no reason to chuck your fave jeans out. Almost all mishaps can be repaired with the right tools – our guide to how to fix ripped jeans will soon sort you out.

Originally published