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How to Shrink Jeans Permanently

When you buy off-the-rack jeans, you do your best to find the perfect size, but no ready-wear clothing will ever fit your specific body perfectly. Fortunately, you can use tricks like altering or shrinking your clothes to mold them to your shape. You can easily learn how to shrink jeans permanently to get the perfect fit!

Popular ways to shrink jeans permanently include washing and drying the jeans at a high temperature. A hot soak or a boiling water bath can also rapidly shrink denim. One of the best ways to mold denim to a specific shape is to wear the jeans in a hot bath and then dry them.

In this article, you will find out what makes jeans fabric shrink. You will discover nine methods for shrinking your jeans permanently. Finally, you will get tips on how to shrink your jeans fast.

How to Shrink Jeans Permanently

Can You Shrink Jeans Forever?

You can shrink jeans quite easily because of the way cotton fibers inside denim react to heat and moisture, but the shrinking only remains permanent if you apply special follow-up care. In most cases, the denim will eventually relax and stretch back out under normal wear and tear.

So why go to the trouble of shrinking your jeans? Well, even if you search for jeans in your size that more or less fit you, it is sad that ready-wear clothes never quite fit each wearer’s individual body type.

Clothing designers try their best to create garment shapes that fit the average body type, but you will always find some element that doesn’t quite suit your personal shape, such as a waistband that bulges at the center of the back or knees that sags a bit more than you like. You can shrink the denim to make the fit more personal and specific to your body.

If you truly need to resize your jeans, you may consider altering them using a sewing technique like hemming the legs to make them shorter. You could also take your jeans to a professional tailor for alterations. This will permanently make them smaller.

On the other hand, using techniques such as a boiling water bath can dramatically shrink your jeans and make them smaller all over. Plus, you can try this method at home with no special skills or training!

What makes jeans shrink so easily? Denim usually contains 100% pure cotton threads, sometimes with a small percentage of elastic woven in. The cotton yarns contain smoothed, stretched-out fibers twisted into tiny threads.

When those taunt fibers hit hot water or any type of moisture, they relax and begin to contract down into the natural shape of a cotton fiber. Cotton fibers naturally have a sort of corkscrew shape, which takes up much less length!

Of course, one fiber at a time, you would never notice the minuscule difference. But when all the cotton fibers in a garment relax back into a smaller, tighter corkscrew shape, it causes the entire garment to shrink to a smaller size.

How to Shrink Jeans Permanently: 9 Methods

The best way to shrink jeans permanently is to apply heat and moisture to cause the cotton fibers inside the denim to relax into a shorter shape. Popular methods for shrinking jeans include using the washer and dryer, dipping them into a boiling water bath, and shrinking them while wearing them.

1. Dryer

How to shrink jeans waist

The easiest way to shrink your jeans permanently is to use your washer and dryer. This method does not require special equipment and takes very little time, just as long as a regular wash and dry cycle!

Does putting jeans in the dryer shrink them permanently? Putting denim in the dryer after washing it on high heat will shrink the fabric as thoroughly as possible. The effect will remain permanent if you continue to wash your jeans in this manner every few months.

The downside is that the denim may fade and wear out more quickly because of the rough treatment and high heat regularly.

  1. Start by washing your jeans with no other clothes in your washing machine (otherwise, blue dye from the denim could damage the other garments). Use the hot water setting and add regular detergent, but not fabric softener or other additives.
  2. Keep an eye on the washer timer, and as soon as the final spin ends, take the damp, hot garment from the washer basin and toss them into the dryer.
  3. Set your dryer to a normal high-heat cycle for its full,r regular time span.
  4. Once it ends, let the jeans cool down slowly inside the dryer drum.
  5. After half an hour or so, check the jeans to see if they feel cool to the touch. You can then try them on to see if they shrunk enough to fit you well.

2. Boiling

The quickest way to shrink jeans is to use a boiling water bath. This method also provides one of the best permanent ways to keep the denim shrunk for a long time. This is because the extreme shock of hitting boiling water will cause the cotton fibers inside the denim to curl up tightly into their natural corkscrew shapes and shrink the denim as much as it possibly can.

If you do not continue to wash your jeans in regular hot water at intervals, they may eventually stretch back out just because of how you move while wearing the pants, which causes strain on the fabric. But boiled denim will remain shrunk for a long time, even without follow-up treatments!

This method does not work on stretch denim, though. Check the label inside the waistband to find out the fabric content of your jeans. If it lists even 1% of an elastic fiber such as elastane or spandex, you should not try the boiling technique. It will essentially kill the elasticity of those fibers and ruin the comfy pants.

  1. Find a giant pot that can fit your jeans plus a lot of water but still fit on top of your stove.
  2. Fill the pot with two-thirds full of water and heat it to a boil. Wait until you see frothy bubbles on top of the water, indicating a full boil.
  3. Use long-handled spoons or tongs to gently lower your jeans into the boiling water. With the spoons or tongs, make sure the pants completely submerge in the water.
  4. Turn the heat down to a simmer so that you only see small bubbles in the water around the pants.
  5. Let the bath simmer for twenty to thirty minutes. You can’t guarantee a shrink rate based on the timing, but half an hour should effectively shrink all of the denim.
  6. Carefully remove the jeans from the water bath using tongs or long utensils.
  7. Transfer the hot jeans to the dryer for a high-heat drying cycle.

3. Hot Soak

Hot water soak

If you want to shrink your jeans just a little to tighten their overall shape, you may want to try a hot water soak.

How much will jeans shrink in hot water? This depends on many factors, such as whether or not they contain pre-shrunk denim. But sometimes, jeans exposed to hot water for a long time can shrink up to 4% of their overall size. This can cause the waistband to shrink by a full size and the length to shorten by as much as an inch!

  1. Find a large container or washbasin that can comfortably hold the jeans. Fill it most of the way full with hot tap water–let the water run as hot as it can.
  2. Turn the jeans inside out. This helps protect the color and finish of the denim.
  3. Squish the jeans down into the water so all the denim gets wet. Make sure the pockets don’t puff up like little floaties and hold the waistband out of the water!
  4. Let the hot water soak rest for an hour.
  5. Take the jeans out carefully, pressing the legs between your hands to remove some of the water. Do not wring or twist the denim, as this could stretch it back out.
  6. Put the jeans in the hot dryer to set the shrunken shape.

4. Iron

Iron jeans

If you want to shrink a specific portion of your jeans, you should try using the ironing method. Heat and steam will cause the part of the denim you iron to shrink slightly, though you will find it tricky to guarantee a specific amount of shrinking. This is the best method to use if you only want to shrink the knees, for instance, without shortening the legs.

  1. Arrange the jeans on an ironing board to easily target the section you want to shrink.
  2. Use a damp sponge or a spray bottle to dampen the specific section with hot water.
  3. Set the iron to high heat or the cotton setting.
  4. Slowly run the iron back and forth over the targeted area until the denim feels hot and dry.
  5. Let the fabric cool and then try on the jeans to see if you like the fit.

5. Buttons

12 Sets Button Pins for Loose Jeans, No Sew and No Tools Instant Replacement Snap Tack Pant Button, Ceryvop Reusable and Adjustable Metal Pants Button TightenerThe best way to permanently shrink the waist of your jeans is to put in a replacement button. This lets you tailor the shape of the waist to fit your body much more precisely, and it remains permanently smaller as well!
  1. Find a replacement button.
  2. You can leave the old button in place if you don’t mind the slight puffiness of the waistband stretching over it, or you can take it out for a nicer finish. To do this, you will need large pliers to grip the shaft of the outside portion of the button and separate it from the interior half of the button.
  3. To put in the new button, try on the jeans and tug the button side of the waistband a little farther over, tightening the waist. Mark with chalk where you want the new button to go.
  4. Take off the jeans and use an awl (or power drill) to make a small hole at this point.
  5. Next, push the rivet or tack section of the button (the inside half) up through the hole.
  6. Place the outside, rounded button on top of the sharp tack.
  7. Use a hammer to settle the two halves of the button firmly together.

6. Shrink While Wearing

If you want your jeans to mold to your body perfectly, the best method is to shrink the denim while wearing the jeans. This technique takes more time and patience than most others, but it works well, especially if you often find that jeans never fit your hips, knees, or waist just right.

  1. Fill up your bathtub with the hottest water the tap offers.
  2. Put on your jeans and set up a podcast or entertaining on your phone nearby.
  3. Get into the tub while wearing the jeans.
  4. Soak for about an hour.
  5. When you get out, use a bath towel to pat out as much water as possible so you don’t drip all over your home.
  6. Finally, find a place outside in direct sunlight to stretch out and let the jeans dry on you if possible.
  7. You can also take off the jeans and put them in the dryer at this point, but you will lose some of your molded shapes if you do this.

7. Without Dryer/Wear In

The slowest but most gentle way to shrink your jeans is to just wear them with no washing. This is not as effective as you can imagine, but it is the best way to mold raw denim to fit your shape. As you probably know, if you like breaking in raw denim, you cannot wash the jeans, as this will ruin all your work.

Over time the heat of your body will soften and mold the denim to fit you much better than you might think. This process does not work well on stretch denim, though.

8. Hem

Hem jeans

If the upper portion of the jeans fits you, but the legs hang down too long, you can easily hem the jeans to shrink the length of the legs. The only tricky thing about hemming the legs is that you need a strong sewing machine to punch through the layers of denim.

  1. First, try on the jeans and decide where you want the hem to hit your leg, ankle, or foot. Mark this point.
  2. Take off the jeans and mark a point one inch below that, giving you extra fabric to turn under for a hem.
  3. Cut off any excess length below that line.
  4. Turn your jeans inside out and fold a half-inch fold all around the raw edge.
  5. Now use an iron to help you fold over that fold, making another half-inch fold.
  6. Use your sewing machine to stitch the double-fold hem in place.

If using a sewing machine seems too complicated, you can take the jeans to a tailor to get them hemmed professionally.

9. Tailoring

Tailoring jeans

If you love your jeans but need the wristband a size smaller or the legs two inches shorter, you may want to consider making them permanently smaller by going to a tailor for alterations.

While not exactly “shrinking” the jeans, this final method does give you 100% permanently smaller pants and guaranteed results.

On average, it will cost between $10 and $50 to have your jeans professionally tailored. Most tailors, seamstresses, and even some drycleaners will often put in a new hem for you for just $10. But more complicated projects like making the waistband smaller will cost a bit more.

How Can I Shrink My Jeans Fast?

The fastest way to shrink your jeans is to use a boiling water bath or the washer and dryer method. Both of these techniques expose denim to a lot of heat. This will cause all the cotton fibers to relax into spiraling corkscrew shapes that take up less length than the drawn-out, taunt shape of the treated cotton inside the jean.

Both of these methods can cause denim to shrink dramatically, though. If you’re in a hurry to wear jeans that fit you for an event or special occasion, you may not want to try such a drastic measure right before you need to wear them.

How to Shrink Jeans That Have Already Been Washed

The best way to shrink jeans that have already been washed is to use a boiling water soak or to try a fabric softener treatment.

When you wash your jeans, they will always shrink just a little because of the moisture and friction in the basin, which causes the cotton fibers to relax. But if you washed the jeans, they shrunk a little, and they still don’t fit you, you will need to take additional steps.

  1. Measure ¼ cup of fabric softener and ¾ cup of really hot water into a spray bottle and shake it well to mix the solution.
  2. Spray this all over your jeans till they feel damp (and, as a bonus, smell nice too!)
  3. Finally, run the pants through a full cycle in the dryer on high heat.
  4. Let the denim cool in the dryer before you open the door.

How Not to Shrink Jeans

The best way to not shrink your jeans is to avoid washing them in hot water or drying them in hot air.

  • Some jeans aficionados recommend only washing anything made of denim every few months. This prolongs the life of the denim and avoids any unnecessary exposure to heat and moisture.
  • If you do need to wash your jeans, try handwashing them in the sink for the least possible friction.
  • If you don’t have time for that, make sure you wash the jeans in a cold-water cycle in the washing machine.
  • If possible, hang the jeans up to air dry. But if you dislike feeling stiff air-dried denim, use an air-dry or fluff cycle in the dryer instead of the regular heated drying cycle.

How Many Sizes Down Can You Shrink Jeans?

You can shrink jeans by one to two sizes at most. Even extreme shrinking methods such as a boiling water bath will not usually shrink denim any more than that.

Regular washing and drying using a heated dry will often cause jeans to shrink by about 3% of their original size. This can mean losing as much as an inch in length. Intentional shrinking may cause jeans to shrink by around 4% of their original size or between one and two clothing sizes down from the original size.

If you need to shrink any garment by more than one size, you should consider just replacing it with a garment in a smaller size.

Do Jeans Shrink Even in Cold Water?

Some jeans will shrink a fraction even when washed in cold water, but this depends on the manufacturing process used to make the garment. These days, a lot of companies use pre-shrunk denim in their jeans. The cotton in this kind of denim will not shrink dramatically and you may not notice much difference after washing them in cold water.

Other kinds of denim, like raw denim, will shrink noticeably even if you do take care to only wash it in cold water.

The best way to find out how to care for your jeans without causing them to shrink is to read the care label stitched inside the waistband. This will tell you if you can wash them and what water temperature to use.

Best Way to Shrink Jeans Permanently

The best way to shrink jeans permanently is to boil them, though you can also get great results using less dramatic measures like washing and drying on high heat. Other methods like ironing, replacing the waistband button, or hemming the legs work well to targe-shrink a portion of the jeans. If you want a perfect fit instead of just generically smaller jeans, you may also want to try wearing them while shrinking them to produce denim that molds to the shape of your form.

The key thing to remember with any shrinking method that depends on heat is that you will need to continue to apply the heat to maintain the shape you created. For example, if you use the boiling water method, the jeans will dramatically shrink and stay smaller for quite a while. But over time, they will stretch back out because the way you move inside your clothes puts a constant strain on the fabric. To avoid this, periodically iron your jeans or run them through a hot water and hot air wash and dry session.

You can easily shrink most jeans by one full size using any of the methods in this article. If you purchased pre-shrunk jeans, you may need to try using the fabric softener extra step to shrink the denim even further.