How To Shrink A Shirt (2021 Step-By-Step Guide)

The perfect shirt is not always the right size. Whether you have an oversized shirt you want to make smaller or a preshrunk top that’s still too big, shrinking your clothes can be a daunting task that requires patience and delicate handling. While you can shrink cotton by simply placing the garments in the washer and dryer, the trick is shrinking a shirt down a size or two without damaging the piece. Some methods are more effective for a shirt with a print or logo, while others will work on a sweatshirt or hoodie without causing any fading. To help you with the process, we’ve compiled this guide on how to shrink a shirt. From preshrunk shirts to large sweaters, explore the best ways to shrink a cotton t-shirt to make it fit you perfectly.

How To Shrink A Shirt

Check The Label For Fabric

Before shrinking your clothes, you’ll want to check the label for information on the fabric and material. Knowing what type of fabric your shirt is made of will prevent any unnecessary damage. Natural fabrics such as cotton, linen and satin are easy to shrink, and most cotton shirts can get up to 20% smaller in the washing machine and dryer. While 100% cotton clothing will shrink fast, items with lower percentages may not reduce in size as much.

Check The Label For Fabric

Nylon, polyester and spandex are more difficult to work with because they contain synthetic fibers that are tightly woven. Some designers also incorporate thermoplastic materials, which are plastic polymers that can be heated and cooled without any change in their chemical or mechanical structure. This results in clothing that is resistant to wrinkling and shrinking. Although some synthetic materials can be made smaller, you will need high temperatures and plenty of effort, often resulting in a damaged piece.

If you are dealing with delicate fabrics, make sure to wash these pieces inside out to minimize damage to prints, logos, designs, beadwork and embroidery.

Shrinking A Cotton Shirt

How To Shrink Cotton

Shrinking cotton is simple and fast compared to other fabrics. If you want to shrink your 100% cotton clothes, all you need to do is wash your garments in hot water and then put them in the dryer on high heat.

To shrink a cotton shirt:

  1. Wash your shirt or clothing in hot water.
  2. When complete, place the garment in the dryer on high heat.
  3. Since cotton shrinks quickly, check the garment regularly to avoid over-shrinking.
  4. Once your garment is the right size, switch the dryer setting to low heat or consider air drying your item to prevent further shrinkage.
  5. Avoid placing colored cotton in sunlight to dry. The sun can damage the fabric and cause colors to fade.

When working with cotton, remember that natural materials shrink easily and may bleed when washed. To avoid damage from running dyes, keep your clothes separate and shrink your items one at a time.

How To Shrink Cotton

Polyester and Synthetic Fabrics

Polyester and synthetic fabrics are made to hold their shape and size, and often require temperatures between 155 and 178 degrees to shrink. To maintain the color, durability and quality of your clothes, you’ll want to avoid shrinking these garments more than once. Due to the structure of polyester, shrinking it with boiling water can result in the garment becoming stiff and shapeless.

To prevent damage, don’t let the temperature of the water you use exceed 178°F. While most washing machines don’t run water this hot, you’ll need to be careful when shrinking your clothes on the stove with boiling water.

To shrink polyester and synthetic fabrics:

  1. Wash garments using cold water to prevent damage to the stitching.
  2. Place the garment into your dryer on the highest heat setting.
  3. Check the size of your piece at regular intervals until you’ve shrunk it to the perfect size.
  4. When your clothing reaches the right size, make sure to lower the heat setting and run the dryer as normal.

How To Shrink Polyester and Synthetic Fabrics

How To Shrink A Shirt

Shrink A Shirt in Boiling Water

A great way to make your clothing smaller is to put it in boiling hot water. You’ll need to boil a pot of hot water that is large enough to hold the garment comfortably. As soon as your water is boiling, turn off the heat immediately. After removing the heat, carefully drop your shirt into the water and fully immerse it. If you can’t get the shirt submerged, grab a non-plastic utensil to push the piece around.

Leave the shirt to sit for approximately 5 minutes. The longer you leave your shirt in the water, the more it will shrink. After 20 minutes or so, the shirt will have shrunk as much as it can. Once finished, remove your shirt from the hot water using a wooden spoon or barbecue tongs. Repeat this process until the shirt has shrunk to your desired size. Finally, you’ll want to wring and dry your shirt to see the results.

This method isn’t advised for synthetic fabrics since the high temperature may damage the structure of the fibers. Be careful not to boil too much water when using this method. Your shirt will partially displace the volume of water in the pot and any spillover may burn your skin.

Shrink A Shirt in Boiling Water

Shrink A Shirt in The Washing Machine

To shrink a shirt in the washing machine, wash it on the hottest setting your washer allows. Make sure to select the longest wash cycle to give your piece of clothing time to contract. This will expose your shirt to heat for as long as possible, allowing the fabric to shrink gradually without damage. Once the cycle has finished, place the shirt in a dryer on medium heat or let it air dry. Inspect the dry shirt once it’s cooled to room temperature for signs of shrinkage. If necessary, repeat the process and run the dryer on high heat.

Shrink A Shirt in The Washing Machine

Shrink A Shirt in The Dryer

After washing your shirt with hot water in the washer, place it in the dryer on the highest heat setting. The heat and water will permeate the fabric, allowing the material to contract with minimal damage. When washing and drying vintage tees or delicate clothing, use the gentle setting on your dryer. When drying your shirts, make sure to turn your print and graphic t-shirts inside out.

Shrink A Shirt in The Dryer

Shrink A Shirt with A Hair Dryer

If you don’t own a washer and dryer, then using a hairdryer to shrink your clothes is a great alternative. Simply throw the shirt you want to make smaller into the washing machine and run it with hot water. After you remove the piece from the washer, wring it out to remove any excess water. Lay it out on a flat surface, set your blow dryer to high-heat, and apply heat all over the top. When working with polyester and other synthetic fabrics, make sure to keep the machine approximately six inches away from your garment to prevent any static and fabric stiffness.

Shrink A Shirt with A Hair Dryer

Shrink A Shirt with A Wet Sheet

If you don’t have access to a dryer or just want to shrink a specific part of an item, then use a dampened sheet and an iron to tighten the area. To try this method of shrinking with a damp fabric piece, place a wet sheet on top of your shirt and hold a hot iron on each section until it shrinks. Using a moist fabric as a buffer can work well with delicate materials that aren’t suitable for tumble drying. Be careful not to leave the iron on one area for too long as it may burn the fabric and leave a mark.

Shrink A Shirt with A Wet Sheet

How To Shrink A Preshrunk Shirt

Since most cotton and cotton-blend shirts are sold pre-shrunk these days, the most you can shrink a preshrunk shirt is about 3 to 5 percent. The best way to shrink a cotton shirt to make it fit better is to wash and dry the clothing at your machine’s hottest settings. The heat will help the fibers contract so place the piece in the washer and dryer washer and let it run for a full cycle.

How To Shrink A Preshrunk Shirt

Shrinking Your Clothes

  • When purposely making your clothes smaller, 100% cotton is easy to shrink so always check the label first.
  • Start to shrink your clothes by washing them in hot water for maximum contraction.
  • To reduce the size further, place the garment in the dryer on high heat.
  • You can shrink all types of clothing, including shirts, graphic t-shirts, crop tops, pants, dresses, blouses, hoodies, sweaters, sweatshirts and jackets.
  • To avoid ruining a design or causing colors to fade, you may want to turn the shirt inside out, wash it in cold water, and then tumble dryer on hot.

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