How to Shrink Clothes Without Damaging Them

Have you ever thrown your clothing into the wash only to find that the machine stretched your clothes? It's a huge bummer to realize one of your favorite t-shirts or pairs of underwear no longer fit properly. Buying new clothes to replace them could be expensive. Shrinking your clothes is an alternative option to help you restore your clothes to the way they fit before. 

What Are Some Reasons to Shrink Clothing? 

Sometimes, clothes stretch out after we wear them, and the fit might feel wrong. You might want to shrink a pair of jeans that fit when you bought them but are now a size too big. You might also have bedding or undergarments that have stretched with wear and tear. Whatever your reason for needing to shrink your clothing, there are ways you can do it safely to preserve your garments.

Steps to Shrink Your Apparel 

There's a wrong way to shrink your clothes. Before diving into this project, walk through these steps to learn the proper way to restore your clothes to their actual size. 

1. Determine the Fabric 

The first thing you'll want to do in your shrinking process is to learn the fabric of the clothing article that has stretched. Some fabrics respond differently to water, drying, and heat. Let's look at how easy or difficult it may be to shrink a few well-known fabrics.

Cotton, Rayon, and Linen: These fabrics are more susceptible to shrinking when washed. If these clothing articles are knit, they'll be even more likely to come out of the wash a bit smaller than you expect.

Wool: This fabric is especially likely to shrink. If you wash it like you wash your other clothing items, you might find it comes out of the wash several sizes smaller than when you put it in.

Silk, Nylon, Polyester, and Acetate: These fabrics are much less likely to get downsized in the wash. Silk, nylon, polyester, and acetate are fabrics that usually hold their shape and integrity. 

2. Choose a Shrinking Technique 

Your next step in trying to return clothing to its natural fit is to choose a shrinking technique. You have several options when trying to get your clothing to look how it's supposed to. Let's explore each technique to find the one that's most convenient for you.

Machine Washing 

This is the easiest option you can try out if your garment is machine washable. Your washing machine cleans clothing by agitating it with other clothing articles. This agitation, combined with warm water, gently stretches some garments. Fabrics that will respond well to this method are cotton, linen, denim, and any jersey material. 

Warm Water Soaking

When shrinking clothing in the washing machine, it might be challenging to ensure garments shrink evenly. One way to prevent uneven shrinkage is to use warm water soaking to restore your clothing. To try this method, soak your articles of clothing in warm water for several hours. After they've soaked, wash and rinse them by hand, then hang them to dry. 

This method works well for denim, but be careful using this method with any brightly-colored garments, as they may fade. 

Steam Iron 

Are you familiar with the steam button on your iron? Perhaps you've never had a reason to use it before, but this technique will help put it to good use. It will be most helpful in shrinking wool. Fill your steam iron to the appropriate line, then steam the fabric and hover the iron a half-inch over the surface. The dampened fabric will respond to the heat by shrinking. 

Wet Sheet 

You can use your iron to shrink your clothing with this method as well. Lay your fabric on the ironing board, then gently lay a damp cloth on top. Use your iron with low heat on top of the dampened fabric. This method will cause the clothing underneath the damp cloth to respond by shrinking. 

3. Heat Things Up 

Throughout each method listed above, you'll notice a common theme: heat. Heat causes fabric to shrink into a smaller size. If all else fails, run clothing through a hot wash and high-heat dryer cycle to cause the article to get smaller. Though this method is harder to control, it will be the quickest route to a smaller size. 

4. Take It Slow 

While trying any of these methods, things can quickly go the wrong way if you're not careful. Applying too much heat too quickly might distort your fabric even more. When shrinking your clothes with any of the techniques listed above, try to take things slowly. 

For example, instead of throwing a piece of clothing into a hot wash and dry cycle, try putting them through a warm wash and dry cycle twice. You'll be able to monitor the progress to get your clothing to your desired size. 

How to Unshrink Clothes 

We've all encountered this scenario at one time or another. Let's say you threw your child's well-loved sweater into the wash cycle the day before they were going to wear it for a family photo session. When you took the sweater out of the dryer, you realized the arms were too short, and its length was far below what it had previously been. You planned their entire outfit around this article of clothing, and you don't have time to find a new sweater. 

Thankfully, there is a way to try to unshrink specific clothing articles. After washing the sweater or tee shirt on a gentle wash cycle, lay it flat to dry. While it's laying out, gently stretch it into the desired shape, then let the garment air dry. With this stretching method, be sure to go slow so that you don't distort the garment's shape.

To prevent articles from shrinking in the future, wash on a gentle cycle and hang them to dry. Air-drying isn't always convenient, and there is a way to carefully machine dry your garments if necessary. Try setting your dryer to a moisture-sensing setting so that your clothes don't spend any more time in the heat than they need. 

5. Know When To Replace Certain Items 

Sometimes, garments are beyond repair. You might spend hours attempting to restore a tee shirt to a smaller size with no luck. You may need to invest in new pieces rather than saving the old ones. Here's how to know when to replace everyday household garments. 

Underwear: Your underwear can stretch easily over time and lose its elasticity. Several signs let you know it's time to replace your undies, but stretchiness is one of the biggest. Try high-quality briefs that retain their shape over time. 

Sheets: Your sheets might have stretched if you don't wash them often enough. If you find that you're not able to help them return to their original size through a hot wash-and-dry cycle, it may be time to invest in a Mallary by Matthew set.


While stretched-out clothing is undesirable, you can try shrinking your garments to preserve the pieces you adore. If you are unable to restore your garments to their original form, you have the option of investing in basics that will last through future wash cycles. Mallary by Matthew has the basics your family needs when it's time to invest in quality clothing basics and sheets. 



How To Shrink Clothes On Purpose | Whirlpool 

How to Shrink Clothes : 6 best methods for fabric shrinkage | Sew Guide 

How to shrink clothes: Shrink cotton, jeans, polyester and more | Today