how to shrink a shirt

How to Shrink a Shirt in Three Ways

Someone bought you a great Pendleton wool shirt or a decent cotton shirt with nice print as a birthday gift. The shirt arrived, and it sure looks awesome — the perfect shirt. Sadly, you can’t wear the shirt to impress your friends and secret admirers because it’s a size or two bigger.

You’re now wondering if there’s anything you can do to shrink the shirt down a size or two so you can start wearing it. In how to shrink a shirt, I describe various methods that work to a limited extent as well as others that work to an appreciable degree.  

You may repeat the processes described below several times to increase the odds of getting the desired results.

Without any further ado, here are…

Three Ways to Shrink a Shirt

There are three known ways of making a loved shirt that’s too large smaller. You can:

  • Put the shirt into boiling hot water and leave it there until the water cools off and then tumble-dry it.
  • Wash the oversize shirt in the washing machine on the hottest setting.
  • Toss the shirt in a tumble dryer on the hottest setting (if it’s new).

That’s the short answer — below is the long one. Don’t want to read the entire post? No worries. Here’s a short video that quickly shows you how to shrink a shirt FAST.

Method #1: Boil the Oversize Shirt

I’ll be honest with you: boiling a shirt isn’t always a guaranteed way of shrinking it down to a wearable fit. That said, boiling works for many fabric types.

Below is how to boil a shirt that came in too big to make it smaller so you can wear it:

Step 1: Boil clean water on a stove or whichever way you want to do it.

Step 2: Turn off the heat.

Step 3: Dip the oversize shirt into the water. As you execute this step, take care. It’s hot water, the kind of water that likes scalding soft skin! Consider using a stick or something like that to push the entire shirt or T-shirt down into the water so that it’s fully submerged.

Step 4: Let the shirt stay in the hot water for some time. How long should you keep the shirt in the hot water? You can leave the item submerged for 5 minutes before taking it out. But if you want even better results, let the shirt stay there for as long as it takes for the water to cool off completely. If it’s 30 minutes, that’s OK.

Approach 1:

  • Leave the shirt in the hot water for 5 minutes.
  • Use a pair of tongs or something else to get the boiled shirt out of the still-hot water.
  • Place the item somewhere until it cools off.
  • Wring the excess water out of the shirt and tumble-dry it.

Approach 2:

  • Put your shirt into the hot water and allow it enough time to cool off. Generally, the longer the shirt stays in the water, the better the results.
  • Once the water starts getting cold, remove the shirt and toss it in the dryer and set it to the hottest setting.

This method is somewhat safer than the one above because you don’t touch the item until the water is cool enough.

Repeat the processes above until the shirt shrinks down to a smaller size or a better fit.

Method 2: Wash Your Extra-blousy Shirt on the Hottest Setting

This method isn’t much different than the one I described above. The main difference between the two strategies is that you’re using a machine in the latter approach to heat up the shirt.

  • Here, all you need to do is walk over to the laundry room, toss the shirt in, and fire up the washing machine. Set the water temperature to the hottest washing cycle the machine allows.
  • Remove the shirt and dry it off in a tumble dryer for even better results.

If you’re not happy with how much shrinkage’s happened the first time around, consider redoing it a couple of times.

Method #3: Put the Oversize Shirt in the Dryer and Select the Hottest Setting

If the shirt is brand-spanking new, you can put it directly into the dryer without washing and rinsing it. But it’s best to boil the garment or machine-wash it before sticking it in the dryer.

Be careful with this method especially if the shirt you’re treating contains majorly synthetic fibers such as nylon or polyester. Because you might end up melting the shirt! The same goes for delicates such as wool and silk. You want to keep a vigilant eye on the dryer or you’ll destroy the clothes.

How does a dryer shrink clothes by the way? A dryer shrinks clothes in two main ways — through heat and the rotational motions of the machine. When fibers are washed and then tossed in a dryer, the heat evaporates the water, causing the fibers to shrink back to their normal size. And as the drying process proceeds and the fibers dry up even more, they begin to curl up, getting even smaller.

Does the Fabric Matter When Shrinking a Shirt?

a shirt

Yes, it does. Not all fabrics behave the same when you subject them to high temperatures. Generally, natural fibers such as silk, cotton, linen, hemp, and wool shrink more compared to synthetic fibers such as nylon and polyester.

If the shirt is made from 100 percent cotton, you can expect it to shrink about 20 percent. Wool, silk, linen, and hemp also shrink, but not as much as cotton. As for nylon and polyester, these shrink very little, but no fabric retains the original dimensions forever.

How Do You Shrink a Cotton Shirt with Graphics or Print?

If you want to shrink a cotton shirt with graphics down to your size, soak it in boiling water for 5 minutes and longer (20 minutes or longer) if you want even more shrinkage. Next, put the shirt in a pillow case, zip it up, and toss it in the dryer. Repeat the process until you feel no more size reduction can be achieved.

Before tossing the shirt in the hot water or dryer, make sure to turn it inside out. You don’t want the graphic or print to come into direct contact with the hot moving parts of the dryer. If this happens, you’ll end up with a nice cotton shirt with a cute, cracked graphic.

How Do You Shrink a Wool Shirt?

I’ll be honest with you here: if it’s a nice Pendleton wool shirt that you have some serious attachment to, I suggest that you give it to someone it’d fit. Alternatively, wear the slightly big wool shirt over a base layer and a mid-layer.

But if you still want to try shrinking your wool shirt and don’t mind if it comes out with a poor fit, well, go ahead.

Here’s what to do to shrink a wool shirt: If the shirt is brand-new, simply put it inside the washer on high heat. A short cycle is ideal. Next, remove the garment, put into the dryer, and select the low-heat setting.

What if you’ve worn the shirt once or twice and would like to shrink certain areas such as cuffs? In this case, the best approach is to boil clean water and use it to make the cuffs damp. Then, manipulate the fabric, reshaping it however you want. 

Finally, use a hair dryer to blast excess moisture out of the damp area. You want the hair dryer to be on the hottest temperature setting. Repeat the above steps until you’re satisfied with the results.

The Problem With Shrinking Wool Shirts, T-Shirts, and Other Items

You can shrink your wool shirts all you want, but there’s one thing you MUST know. When it comes to shrinking wool clothes, there’s no way to predict what the results will be like. There’s no reliable way to make the garment lose its extra looseness a certain way. The same goes for cotton, linen, and other natural fibers.

It’s highly possible to wind up with a nice shirt that’s too short for your body while being too wide for you. This isn’t a desirable situation for anyone, which is why doing this isn’t something I recommend for any item that has sentimental value to you.

Wool is one of the most delicate fabrics around. For this reason, it’s critical to handle it with utmost care. You want to check the dryer every 2-3 minutes. But it’s not like being extra-vigilant in any way prevents the shirt from shrinking haphazardly.  

How Do You Shrink a Silk Shirt?        

As it is with every other fabric, the best way to shrink a silk shirt or other silk clothes is to wash and dry them wrong. Silk is pretty delicate, even more delicate than wool. And it’s quite easy to ruin silk clothing.

We all know silk is expensive. Unless you’re ready to damage your silk through excessive shrinking in the dryer or washer, it’s unwise to attempt this process.

What if the silk shirt is a thrift store find that didn’t cost you an arm and a leg, something you don’t care that much about? In this case, you can experiment a bit to see if subjecting the article to high tumble drying temperatures might work.

Here’s how to shrink silk clothes:

  • Put the silky shirt in boiling water and turn off the heat. Can you machine-wash silk clothes? Yes, you can. Most silk clothes come with a care label that says “Dry Clean” or “Don’t Machine Wash” or “Dry Clean Only.”

If the instructions label says “Dry Clean” or “Don’t Machine Wash”, this typically means it’s a delicate piece of clothing, and that you can run it through a washer on the delicates cycle. The correct way to wash wool and silk fabrics is to hand-wash them using cool water. So, when you wash or soak silks or wools in hot water, the protein fibers in these fabrics contract and shrink.

  • After you soak in water or machine-wash the silk shirt or other clothes, put the item in a pillow case and then place it in the dryer.
  • Select the highest setting, but be very careful when tumble drying silks or you’ll damage them. If wool requires much care, silks needs even more. 2-3 minutes in the tumble dryer should shrink the silk shirt to the desired fit.

Once done, hang the silk shirt out to dry, but not in direct sunlight.                  

How to Shrink Linen Clothes   

The best way to shrink down linen clothes to a smaller size is to boil them or put them in the washer and run the hottest setting. If boiling the item, 5 minutes should be enough time if you don’t want too much shrinking.

Let the linen article sit for 20 minutes or until the water cools off completely if you want greater shrinkage. Next, take the blousy linen shirt and tumble dry it on the highest setting.

One problem you might face is uneven shrinkage, an effect often observed when shrinking all kinds of fabrics.

For the most part, attempting to shrink cotton, linen, and wool clothes makes them shorter rather than smaller all the way around. In other words, exposure to heat isn’t always the smartest way to solve sizing issues.

Shrinking Clothes: FAQs

Can You Shrink Clothes Down a Size?

Yes, you can shrink clothes down a size or even two IF the fabric they’re sewn from wasn’t subjected to any anti-shrink treatment (pre-shrinking).

Can You Shrink Polyester Clothes?

Yes, some shrink to a reasonable extent, but many don’t.

Can You Shrink Wool and Silk Clothes?

 Yes, you can shrink wool and silk clothes. These fabrics contain protein fibers, and when these fibers are exposed to heat from boiling water, in the washer, or in the dryer, they shorten in length and get smaller in size.

Can You Shrink Clothes Without a Dryer?

Yes, you can shrink clothes without a dryer. You can boil them or hot-wash them in a washing machine and dry them out normally. However, you won’t achieve as much shrinkage as would be the case with passing the load on to the dryer. For the best results, wash or soak the clothes in hot water and then tumble dry them.

How Do You Shrink Clothes That Are Too Big?

If the clothes are made from a fabric that isn’t pre-shrunk, boiling them or machine washing them in hot water and finally tossing them in the dryer does the trick. With fabrics that shrink the most such as natural fibers, it’s possible to shrink XXL clothes down to XL or even size L. But if the clothes are extremely blousy and the fabric they’re made from came already pre-shrunk, don’t expect much size reduction. In such a situation, it’s best to have a seamstress cut the clothing item down to size. Or give it away to someone big enough to wear it.

What Temperature Shrinks Clothes?                                                                       

At 130F, most clothes will start shrinking, especially clothes made from natural fibers such as cotton and linen. As the temperature increases to boiling point (of water), greater shrinkage happens. So, shrinkage happens between 130F and 212F or 60˚C and 100˚C. The higher the temperature and the longer the clothing item is exposed to heat, the more the shrinkage.

How Do You Shrink a Shirt Without a Washer and Dryer?

Boil clean water in a pot; put the water into a sink, small bowl, or other container. Then, dip the shirt or T-shirt into the water. After 5-20 minutes (depending on how much shrinkage you want), roll the clothing in two clean towels to absorb excess moisture. Next, lay the item flat on a drying rack until it dries off. If it’s a silk garment, avoid exposing it to direct sunlight. Once dry, use a steam iron to get even more shrinkage. Don’t expect exceptionally good results with this approach though.

How Do You Shrink Clothes Before Stitching?

If a fabric isn’t pre-shrunk, you can and indeed should pre-shrink it before starting your stitching project. To shrink a fabric or piece of cloth before feeding it to the sewing machine, soak it in boiling water for 5 minutes or 20 minutes if you desire even greater shrinkage. After this, remove the fabric with a pair of tongs if it’s still hot and tumble dry it on the highest setting. Repeat these processes until you’re satisfied that the shrinkage has completed.

Wrapping Up

Many clothes made from preshrunk fabrics shrink when boiled and then tumble dried. But such clothes won’t shrink to an appreciable degree in most cases. And if they’re made from synthetic fibers, little to no shrinking happens. As for clothes made using a fabric that’s not pre-shrunk, it may be possible to shrink them down a size or even two.

Take care when handling delicate clothes such as wool and silk as it’s pretty easy to damage them. Also, understand that shrinking isn’t a process you can fully control — you can’t predict the results. For this reason, it’s best to ONLY attempt to shrink clothes you don’t care much about.

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