If you have ever received one of those generic one-size-fits-all t-shirts at a company event, you know how annoying it is to wear a shirt that doesn’t quite fit you properly! In this case, you may want to try shrinking the shirt down to your size. You can learn how to shrink a shirt using nothing but the basic equipment you already have at home!
The easiest way to shrink most shirts is to wash them in hot water and place them in your dryer. The hot air and friction will cause many types of fabric to shrink. Cotton shirts shrink very easily when exposed to heat, while synthetic materials like polyester may require boiling water to shrink significantly.
In this article, you will learn five simple methods for shrinking shirts. You will find out how to shrink shirts as precisely as possible to fit your body. Finally, you will get tips on how to shrink a shirt without damaging its printed design.
- How Do You Shrink Clothes That Are Too Big?
- Does Hot Water Shrink Clothes?
- How to Shrink a Shirt: 5 Easy Methods
- How to Shrink a Shirt One Size
- How to Make a Shirt Shrink Fast
- How to Shrink a Shirt With Print or Graphics
- How to Shrink 100% Cotton Shirt
- Do Different Fabrics Shrink in Different Ways?
- How to Shrink a Dri Fit Shirt
- How to Shrink Shirt Sleeves
- Best Way to Shrink a Shirt
How Do You Shrink Clothes That Are Too Big?
You can usually shrink clothes that are too big by washing them in very hot water or placing them in the dryer. In some cases, you may need more targeted heat from an iron or a handheld steamer to apply just the right temperature. In general, heat, moisture, and friction can all make clothing shrink.
That said, you will find that not every piece of clothing will contract in the same way. This happens primarily because different types of fabric react differently to heat. The two biggest distinctions you will find in clothing today are the difference between synthetic and all-natural materials.
Many popular clothing, including t-shirts and some button-downs, contain 100% cotton. This all-natural fabric contains plant fibers that react easily to environmental changes such as temperature, moisture, and friction. This means that all-natural fibers can contract or expand quite easily, in general.
Synthetic fabric like polyester was created in a lab and is made in giant factories. These fibers essentially contain nothing but plastic, and the plastic fibers do not react easily to environmental changes. This has many positives, such as the fact that polyester does not rip or stain easily.
Unfortunately for anyone who wants to shrink a polyester shirt, it also means that polyester garments will not reduce in size nearly as easily as cotton. Nearly all synthetic fabrics will not change shape as easily as an all-natural material.
So the first step in shrinking your shirt is checking the manufacturer’s label inside the garment to find out what kind of fabric the garment contains!
Next, you will want to determine if your shirt has had any special treatments that may impact its ability to shrink. Many brands that sell cotton clothing have begun using a treatment called preshrinking in recent years. Also, some polyester garments have chemical coatings layered on them to help prevent staining and shrinking.
In either of these cases, the pre-treatments will make it quite difficult for you to make the shirt smaller. This is because most consumers want their clothing to stay the same size after buying it. Manufacturers have responded to this need by creating clothes that don’t shrink easily!
Finally, you should also set realistic expectations before diving into this project. You can typically shrink a garment by about one size quite easily. In many cases, especially with cotton, you may find that you can reduce a garment by up to three sizes.
Anything beyond that, like shrinking an XL tee down to a small size, gets pretty difficult, if not impossible. In a situation like that, you will want to use scissors and sewing methods to reshape the garment more easily.
Does Hot Water Shrink Clothes?
The heat and moisture combined in hot water will shrink many kinds of clothing, including most cotton and wool garments. Shrinking synthetic fabric such as polyester usually requires really hot or even boiling water.
Ready for a quick science lesson? It turns out that every kind of fabric shrinks for different reasons.
Cotton shrinks in hot water because the method used to spin cotton fibers into threads stretches out the individual cotton fibers. Cotton fibers contain molecules held together by hydrogen. Spinning the fibers into one long thread strains all those bits of hydrogen, causing them to elongate beyond their natural shape.
When the cotton fabric encounters heat and moisture in your washing machine, the hydrogen relaxes into its pre-strained shape, making it look like the cotton has shrunk! In actual fact, the hydrogen holding all the molecules together has just relaxed into its normal size.
Any protein-based fabric such as wool has tiny scales on its fibers. Actually, your hair does as well! When exposed to heat, moisture, and friction, these scales can lock together.
The locked scales can cause some wool garments to become felted or contract massively, which is why lots of wool clothing requires dry cleaning!
And then we come to synthetic fabric. This man-made material is quite tough and is scientifically designed to not shrink in the washing machine. Plus, the plastic fibers inside a fabric such as polyester do not easily absorb water, which helps them avoid changing shape in hot water.
Can you shrink polyester? Yes, but you have to work at it. The easiest way to shrink polyester clothing is to submerge it in boiling water. This causes the fibers to become brittle and start to change shape slightly.
You have to physically damage the polyester at a molecular level to cause it to shrink. That said, if you get it right, you will not notice this damage without a microscope and can successfully make your polyester clothing smaller!
How to Shrink a Shirt: 5 Easy Methods
You can shrink a shirt that is too big in several easy ways, including using your washing machine or dryer, using an iron or steamer, and using a large pot of boiling water.
As you now know, you should find out what kind of cloth your shirt contains before trying any of these methods. You may also need to try more than one method before finding the right technique that will successfully shrink your shirt.
1. Washing Machine
If you have access to a washing machine, the easiest way to shrink most clothes by a small amount is to wash them in a long, hot cycle.
- Find the settings on your machine. Set the water temperature to hot.
- If you have the option, change the wash cycle to the longest possible setting, as well. On many machines, you will want to select a “heavy” or extended wash cycle. If you want to make your shirt as small as possible, you may even want to include a hot water soak before the wash cycle.
- You can use your normal detergent, but leave out fabric softeners or any other laundry products during this process.
- To avoid over-shrinking your clothes, you may want to pause the cycle a couple of times and check on the condition of the shirt. However, every time you open your machine, you will release some of that essential heat, which will slow down the shrinkage somewhat.
- To complete the washing machine process, you should place your shirt in the dryer. Air drying may cause the garment to stretch back out as the fibers in the fabric experience the shock of cold air.
2. Without Washing/Ironing
If you don’t have a washing machine or want a faster method, you may try the ironing method. You can also use the ironing method immediately after the washing machine method to see even bigger results.
- Start with the washing machine method or thoroughly dampen your shirt using warm water in a spray bottle.
- Next, spread a pressing cloth over your shirt. (Some fabrics, such as 100% cotton, may not require a pressing cloth. That said, the cloth will protect your garments and you need it for anything containing polyester!).
- Turn the heat setting on your iron to match the fabric in your shirt. For example, most irons have a “cotton” setting as well as a “silk” or “synthetic” setting.
- Run the iron smoothly and carefully over every part of the garment. Keep ironing until the fabric feels dry to the touch. This may take a while!
- Make sure you do not allow the iron to rest too long on any one spot on the shirt, as this could cause uneven shrinking or even burn marks.
You can use the ironing method in place of the dryer method. You can also use the ironing technique if you only want to reduce a certain area on the shirt, like the sleeves. In this case, simply iron just the sleeves, and do not dampen or iron the rest of the garment!
3. In the Dryer
The hot air and friction in the dryer offer one of the most effective ways to shrink clothing. Do you know how your jeans always feel tighter around the waist after you wash them? This is because denim naturally shrinks in the dryer, just a bit!
Most fabric will shrink at least a little in the dryer. Check out these tips for how to use the dryer method on different kinds of shirts:
- For 100% cotton, do not wash or dampen the fabric. Put the shirt in the dryer on regular heat and run it all the way through. The heat and friction caused by a normal tumble dry should make the pure cotton smaller all on its own.
- For cotton blends such as polycotton, use a hot wash cycle before placing the shirt in the dryer. Then use a high heat dryer setting and let it run all the way through, finishing up with a cool-down cycle to let the fibers gradually cool down.
- Shrinking wool is a risky business, but if you want to shrink a wool shirt, dampen it just a little using a spray bottle. Place the wool in the dryer on a short, gentle cycle. Do not use high heat!
- For polyester, use the longest and hottest cycle on your washing machine. Then quickly transfer the polyester shirt to the dryer, so you do not lose the heat from the hot water. Use the most extreme settings on your dryer to make sure the polyester gets all the heat you can deliver!
4. Without Dryer/Sunlight
If you want a more gentle, less extreme option for shrinking your shirt, you can try using sunlight. This method usually does not cause clothing to reduce by even a full size, but if you find that your shirt is just a hair too large, you may want to try this technique first!
- To begin the sunlight method, you can either wash your shirt in your washing machine using hot water or simply dampen the garment using warm water in a spray bottle. The spray bottle will not cause as much shrinkage as hot water in your washing machine.
- Make sure you turn your shirt inside out to not fade.
- Next, set up a drying rack somewhere that will get lots of sunlight for several hours.
- Smooth out your garment so that it rests flat on the drying rack. You do not want to hang up the shirt, as this could cause it to stretch out!
- Leave the shirt to dry in the sunlight until it no longer feels damp.
5. Boiling Water
Boiling water offers the most extreme temperature change you can use to shrink your shirt in the most dramatic way possible. This method will even make polyester garments at least a little smaller and may reduce cotton garments by as much as three sizes.
That said, there is no good way to anticipate how much a garment will shrink when you place it in boiling water. You will often see the shirt reduce in size by one to three sizes, but some fabric may respond extremely.
For that reason, you probably want to reserve this technique for preshrunk cotton that will not shrink at all in the dryer, for polyester, or for a shirt that you plan to throw out if you can’t make it smaller anyway.
- You will need several containers that can easily fit your shirt and a lot of water for this method. Boil a couple of gallons of water in a large pot on your stove. You will also want to set aside a large bowl or plug up your kitchen sink.
- Pour the boiling water into your sink or the large bowl. Immediately submerge the shirt into the boiling water using a long spoon so you do not burn your hands.
- Leave the shirt until the water feels colds. This may take an hour or even two hours.
- When you remove the shirt from the water, carefully press out some moisture but try not to wring or stretch the garment.
- Depending on how much you want to reduce the size, you can proceed to the washing machine method at this point. Alternatively, you can go straight to the dryer method or even use the ironing method to get dramatic resizing.
How to Shrink a Shirt One Size
You can shrink a shirt by one size in several different ways, but the key to successfully shrinking a garment with precision is to use measuring and an incremental process.
Honestly, shrinking a shirt is a risky business that does not allow for a lot of precision. If you dunk fabric into boiling water, you could end up with a shirt that could fit a toddler!
With a little more work, though, you can usually pin down a slightly more precise process.
- Measure your shirt carefully before you begin. Note down the width at the chest, the length of the sleeves, and the length of the shirt from the back of the neck to the hem. This way, you can then measure the shirt at various points during the process to see how much shrinking has occurred.
- Set a timer to remind you to check on the shirt at several points during the process. For instance, if you put your shirt in the dryer, pause the dryer cycle every ten minutes to measure the shirt and see how much it has shrunk.
- If possible, use gentle shrinking methods. Try letting your shirt dry in the sunlight or using the washing machine. More extreme methods like ironing or using boiling water tend to reduce garments by more than one size.
How to Make a Shirt Shrink Fast
The best way to make your shirt shrink fast is to use either the ironing or boiling water methods. These techniques offer the most extreme temperature change that will most dramatically reshape your shirt.
Of course, these methods also present the greatest danger. You can easily over shrink your shirt when submerging it in boiling water! You could also pretty easily or over shrink by ironing or accidentally shrink one side of the shirt more than the other.
But if you really want your shirt smaller in a hurry, these methods will do the trick!
How to Shrink a Shirt With Print or Graphics
The best way to shrink a shirt with print or graphics on it is to use the dryer method with a few variations. That said, trying to shrink a t-shirt with a large printed graphic on it can result in scrunching or shriveling in the print if you don’t take a few precautions!
- For any printed shirt, make sure you turn the garment inside out before you start. This will help prevent fading or rubbing on the design.
- For cotton shirts, you can wash the shirt in cold water and then use the dryer method. This should shrink the cotton without damaging the design.
- For polyester clothes, you have to use an extreme temperature such as the boiling water method. Unfortunately, this could damage or skew the printed design. Turning the shirt inside out may protect the design, but there is no way to guarantee that.
How to Shrink 100% Cotton Shirt
You can easily shrink 100% cotton shirts using your washing machine, dryer, iron, or even direct sunlight! Cotton shrinks more easily than almost any other fabric due to its ability to absorb moisture and its unique molecular structure.
The only exception to this rule is prewashed or preshrunk cotton clothing. In this case, the manufacturer has already forced the cotton back to its pre-spun molecular state. The hydrogen bonds inside the cotton fibers will not relax when you try to shrink the clothing in this case.
Can you shrink preshrunk cotton? You may succeed in causing these garments to get just a tad smaller if you use the ironing or boiling water methods. Putting this kind of cotton in your washing machine or dryer will not work, though.
Do Different Fabrics Shrink in Different Ways?
Every kind of fabric shrinks differently because every kind of fabric contains unique fibers with their own molecular and chemical structures. For this reason, cotton fibers will shrink or expand differently from wool fibers or polyester fibers.
Linen fabric will shrink pretty easily because of its loose, natural fibers. You can shrink linen or silk by submerging your garment in warm water for several hours and then drying it on low heat. You do not want to use extreme heat on these delicate kinds of fabric.
The linen will probably crumple up quite badly during this method, though. You will not want to steam it to unwrinkle it as this could cause it to stretch back out. Instead, try ironing on a very low setting after the linen has had a chance to cool down from the dryer.
The trouble with wool is that it can shrink way more than you want very easily. The laundry horror stories you hear about clothing coming out of the dryer in Barbie size usually happen to wool garments! To prevent this, use an incremental process with your wool clothing.
No matter what method you use, set a timer to periodically remind you to check on the wool garment. You will probably want to use lower heat settings on your dryer or iron as well.
You can shrink polyester by exposing it to high heat in most cases. The problem with this is that while it will cause your garment to get smaller, it may also damage the polyester. Heat can melt, scorch, or skew the plastic fibers inside polyester.
This leaves you with a bit of a Catch-22 situation: you need heat to shrink polyester, but heat can also ruin this synthetic fabric! That said, if your polyester shirt is unwearable unless you can make it smaller, you’re no worse off if your shrinking process does ruin it.
Alternatively, you can also try using the washing machine and dryer methods repeatedly instead of using an intense method like the boiling water technique. Repeatedly washing and drying your polyester clothing may incrementally cause it to get a little smaller.
Like polyester, nylon is a synthetic fabric that does not shrink easily, if at all. Check the label inside your nylon garment to find out if it contains any other fibers in it, such as a percentage of cotton fibers. In this case, you can probably put the garment in your dryer to make it slightly smaller.
If you have a 100% nylon garment, though, you should look into tailoring options instead of trying to shrink it.
How to Shrink a Dri Fit Shirt
You can shrink a Dri Fit shirt using any method that would work on polyester, such as the boiling water method. Dri Fit is Nike’s brand name for a type of fabric made out of polyester and cotton. It has great moisture-wicking abilities, making it a good choice for athletic wear.
That said, while you can shrink Dri Fit, you might also easily damage it. Most experts recommend that you buy a Dri Fit garment in your desired size rather than trying to shrink it down to size.
How to Shrink Shirt Sleeves
To shrink just the sleeves of a shirt, you will need to apply targeted heat using an iron or hairdryer. Have you ever bought a long-sleeved t-shirt that fit your torso just right but had sleeves that hung down over your hands? In this case, try this method:
- Wash the shirt in hot water in your washing machine. When the cycle ends, take it out and spread the shirt flat on a clean bath towel or your ironing board. If your shirt contains fabric that should not go in hot water, like silk, wool, or polyester, you can also just use a warm water spray bottle to dampen the sleeves.
- Next, set up your iron to match the kind of fabric in your shirt. For a cotton shirt, use the cotton setting. For polyester, use the synthetic or delicate setting. Alternatively, you can use a hairdryer!
- Smooth your iron back and forth over the sleeves slowly but steadily. If using a hairdryer, make sure you sweep the hot air back and forth steadily without letting it linger in one spot for too long.
- Continue applying heat to the sleeves until they feel all the way dry.
Best Way to Shrink a Shirt
The best way to shrink a shirt is to place it in your dryer on a hot water setting and then run it through a full cycle in your dryer to finalize the heat-based shrinking. This technique will not damage most clothing and will cause many shirts to reduce by about one full size because of the heat, moisture, and friction in the normal laundering process. Some types of fabric require specialized treatment, though. Polyester does not shrink easily during regular laundering.
You will need to expose polyester to high heat by using boiling water or ironing methods. On the other end of the spectrum, delicate materials like wool, silk, or linen should not get exposed to high heat. You will successfully shrink these fabrics by applying warm water and more gentle heat for the drying process.