How to Reduce Clothes Size While Washing

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Home Improvement

Depending on the type of fabric, clothes can be reduced in size by two to three sizes. Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

Usually, we aim to avoid shrinking our clothes, but sometimes a little downsizing is necessary. Maybe your kids played too rough with your favorite cashmere sweater, or you lost weight but don’t want to buy a new wardrobe. Or perhaps you found the perfect top, but it’s just slightly too big. It’s easy to intentionally shrink clothes to the perfect size, as long as you follow a few simple steps.

Most clothes are designed to shrink slightly, so manufacturers consider this when creating the pattern. Woven fabrics such as taffeta, flannel, and chiffon shrink about 2-3%, which is barely noticeable. Some knits can shrink between 1% and 8% during the first wash and dry cycle [source: Textile School]. But what if you need to shrink your clothes more than that?

The best method is to use heat from both the washer and dryer. The hotter the setting, the greater the shrinkage because the fibers will contract with the extra heat [source: Morello]. However, some fabrics shrink more than others under these conditions. Cotton (if it wasn’t pre-shrunk) and wool will shrink successfully, while synthetics like polyester and nylon may not shrink easily. Pre-washed and older clothes may also resist shrinking [source: Stebbins].

Silk should be dry cleaned or hand washed, as the heat from the dryer can dull the fabric’s finish. Consider a tailor instead of DIY shrinking for expensive silk garments [source: Texere Silk]. Do not attempt to shrink leather or fur because the moisture and heat can damage them!

Next, we will discuss how to shrink clothes to the desired size.


1. Can you shrink any type of fabric in the wash?

Most fabrics can be shrunk in the wash, but some are more resistant to shrinking than others. Natural fibers like cotton, wool, and linen are more likely to shrink than synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon. However, even synthetic fabrics can shrink if they are exposed to high heat in the wash or dryer.

2. What temperature should I use to shrink clothes in the wash?

The hotter the water, the more likely clothes are to shrink. If you want to intentionally shrink clothes in the wash, use the hottest water setting your machine has. However, be aware that high temperatures can also damage some fabrics. Always check the care label on the garment before washing.

3. Can I still use fabric softener when trying to shrink clothes?

No, it’s best to avoid using fabric softener when trying to shrink clothes. Fabric softener can actually coat the fibers of the fabric and make it more difficult for them to shrink. Instead, use a small amount of mild detergent to wash the clothes.

4. Should I dry clothes on high heat to shrink them?

Yes, drying clothes on high heat is one way to intentionally shrink them. However, be careful not to over-dry the clothes or they may become damaged. It’s best to check the clothes every 10-15 minutes to see if they have reached the desired level of shrinkage.

5. Can I shrink clothes without using the dryer?

Yes, you can also shrink clothes by washing them in hot water and then air-drying them. This method may take longer than using a dryer, but it can be gentler on delicate fabrics.

6. How much will my clothes shrink in the wash?

The amount of shrinkage will depend on the fabric, the temperature of the water, and the amount of time the clothes are exposed to heat. In general, clothes can shrink anywhere from 1-5% in the wash.

7. Can I unshrink clothes that have accidentally shrunk in the wash?

It’s difficult to unshrink clothes once they have shrunk in the wash. However, there are a few methods you can try, such as soaking the clothes in a mixture of warm water and hair conditioner or stretching the fabric while it is damp. Keep in mind that these methods may not work for all fabrics and may only provide minimal results.

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