Finding old pants that used to fit you and now hang loosely around your waist seems like a victory if you just successfully lost a lot of weight, but how do you make those too-big pants fit you again? One of the easiest ways to resize too-large pants is to shrink them. You can learn how to shrink pants in many easy ways, including simply placing them in your washer and dryer!
Most pants will shrink one to three sizes when treated in a hot dryer, boiling water, or ironing process to heat the fabric fibers and cause them to shrink. Other shrinking methods include using a wet sheet, underwater soaking process, or commercial products. Some types of fabric, such as wool and polyester, require careful handling when shrinking.
In this article, you will learn nine basic ways to shrink pants. You will find out what makes different kinds of fabric shrink. Finally, you will find tips on how to shrink special kinds of pants such as chinos and wool trousers.
How to Shrink Pants That Are Too Big
You can shrink pants that are too big by applying heat and/or moisture in a variety of different ways. Heat and moisture can cause the individual fibers in a garment to contract, which will make the fabric smaller overall.
That said, different types of cloth react in unique ways to heat or moisture. Cotton will shrink dramatically when exposed to heat like a session in the dryer. Wool can contract way too much when washed, though you can use the dryer to shrink it safely.
Because of this, you should find out what kind of fabric your trousers or jeans are made out of before trying a shrinking method. You can do this easily by reading the manufacturer’s tag stitched inside the garment, usually at the back of the waist. This will indicate whether your clothes contain 100% cotton, 100% polyester, or another type of fabric.
You will find out how to shrink pants made out of different kinds of cloth later on in this article!
But first, another thing you should consider is how much smaller you want your pants. Most methods do not allow precise control over the shrinking process. If you put your jeans in the dryer, they may reduce in size evenly all over, or one leg could shorten more than the other!
If you just want to shrink one portion of your trousers, such as the waistband, you will want to use a method that allows more precise shrinking, like the ironing method or the wet sheet method.
Finally, can you realistically shrink your pants enough to make them fit? Most methods can reduce a garment by about one size. For example, exposure to really high heat, such as a soak in boiling water, may cause some pants to reduce by up to three sizes, but you probably won’t get them much smaller than that!
If you need pants multiple sizes smaller, you will probably need to go to a tailor or just buy new trousers in a smaller size.
On the other hand, if you have just discovered that your favorite jeans feel just a smidge too big around the waist, you can quite easily shrink them down to a perfect fit!
How to Shrink Pants: 9 Methods
The nine methods described here give you many different ways to shrink your pants, depending on how much time you have and how much smaller you want your pants. Whether you own a washing machine or not, whether you have an iron on hand or not, you can find a simple method here that will work for you!
The easiest way to shrink your pants is to put them in your washer. Using the hottest possible settings for the water will cause many garments to contract in size just a fraction. You can shrink your jeans or trousers even more by using the dryer method as a follow-up to the washer method, though the high heat in the dryer may reduce your clothes more than you want!
Hot water in your washing machine will successfully shrink most types of cotton clothes. However, you probably should not risk using this method on wool clothing or on garments that contain a lot of elastic. It will not work as well on synthetic fabrics like polyester, either.
To shrink pants in your washing machine:
- Before you begin, measure your jeans or trousers at the waist and any other key areas such as the length of the legs. This way, you can easily find out if the shrinking process worked later on.
- Throw your pants and any laundry that can safely handle hot water into the machine. (Do not put in cotton sheets or other items that might shrink, though!) Measure in your usual amount of laundry detergent.
- Set the machine to the hottest possible temperature. If you need to reduce your pants by a full size or more, you can even add a pre-wash soak to the cycle to give your pants longer in hot water.
- Finally, run the washer through its full cycle.
- Remove the damp pants from the washing machine and re-measure to find out if the pants shrunk as much as you wanted. If they did, hang them up to air dry. Consider trying the dryer method next if the pants did not shrink as much as you wanted.
2. In the Dryer
Another super-easy way to shrink your pants is to put them in the dryer. The heat and friction in a tumble dry cycle can cause the fibers in cloth to constrict, making them microscopically smaller. Enough heat and motion can shrink clothing quite a bit.
To get the most extreme size reduction out of this method, try washing your pants in a hot water cycle in the washing machine first. Then place them in the dryer for at least thirty minutes on a high heat setting.
For less extreme resizing, you can put dry jeans or trousers in the dryer for thirty minutes, or wash your pants in cold water and then place them in the dryer.
The key thing to remember with the dryer method is that it can get out of hand quickly and shrink clothing more than you might want!
3. Without Washing/Wearing
If you don’t want to wash your pants and you don’t mind a little damp fabric on your skin, you can shrink them while wearing them! This process does take a few hours, so make sure you have a quiet evening at home to set aside before trying the shrink-while-wearing method.
This technique works especially well on denim jeans.
Honestly, this method is the most fun! You could even set yourself up to watch a TV show or have a glass of wine while shrinking your jeans.
- First, put on your too-big jeans. Take off any watches or jewelry that could get damaged by moisture, as you will get wet during this process!
- Fill up your bathtub with hot water. You will want the water as hot as you can comfortably touch.
- Next, sit down in the water while wearing your jeans. You will need to stay in the tub for a couple of hours, so you might want to bring a book or your phone to keep yourself entertained!
- If the water starts to cool down, drain away some of it and turn on more hot water to refill the tub with hotter water.
- After a couple of hours, drain the tub and stand up to let some of the water drip off your jeans. Then use a towel to gently press out most of the remaining moisture.
- Finally, wear the jeans until they dry. This bit starts to feel a little damp and clingy, but it is the most important step in the process, as the jeans will naturally dry to your shape, causing them to reduce in size!
4. Without Dryer/Iron
If you don’t want to risk placing your pants in the dryer, you can try to shrink select portions of them by using an iron on the steam setting. This method works best if you want to shrink just the waist or just the leg opening on your trousers, as it gives you more control over the process.
- Place the too-large part of your trousers or jeans on your ironing board. Fill your iron with water in preparation for steaming.
- Turn your iron to its hottest steam setting.
- Hold the iron just above the fabric and do not let it actually touch the cloth. Hover over each of your target areas for a moment, allowing the steam to dampen the fabric.
- Turn off the iron and let the jeans or trousers cool on the ironing board until dry.
5. Warm Water Soak
The warm water soak method takes more time than any of the others listed in this article, but it does a great job of gently shrinking the pants in an even manner. With this technique, you won’t have to worry about one pant leg turning out longer than the other!
- You will need a bathtub, a large sink with a drain plug, or a large bucket or bin for this method. Fill up your chosen container about two-thirds full with hot water. The water will cool quickly down to warm and then cold–don’t worry about that!
- Lower the pants into the warm water.
- Leave the pants to soak overnight. It does take a while!
- In the morning, carefully remove the pants from the tub of water. Let them drip into the tub for a few minutes instead of wringing them out, as that motion could stretch out the fibers you just shrunk.
- Lay the jeans on a large bath towel to dry for a while. Once the jeans feel damp instead of wet, you can hang them up to air dry.
Soaking pants in boiling water can cause them to shrink dramatically. You will want to use this method only if you want to reduce your pants by more than a full size!
The downside to this process is that you do need a really large pot and space to work on a stovetop. You will also want to work carefully to avoid splashing yourself with boiling water.
- Fill a large, clean pot about two-thirds full of water. You need to leave some room to fit the pants in as well later on!
- Put the pot on your stove and turn the heat up to high. Bring the water to a rolling boil. You will see bubbles frothing at the top of the water when it reaches this point.
- Turn off the heat and move the pot away from the hot burner on your stove.
- Carefully lower the pants into the hot water. Let them soak for anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes, depending on if you want to shrink them minimally or a whole lot.
- Carry the pot to your kitchen sink and slowly pour out some water.
- Use tongs to carefully lift the hot pants out of the pot. Empty the remaining water from the pot and put the pants back in the pot to transport easily.
- At this point, you can either hang up the pants to air dry or put them in the dryer to make them even smaller!
7. Hair Dryer
If you’re on the road and do not have access to a washer, dryer, or stovetop, you can try using a hairdryer to shrink your pants in a pinch! While you can use this method to target small sections of your trousers, like the waistband, it is not practical to shrink the whole garment.
- Dampen your target area with a spray bottle. Alternatively, you can wash the jeans or trousers in a cold-water cycle in your washing machine and take them out damp before trying this method.
- Smooth out the target section on a large bath towel. You will want to work near an outlet, so your hairdryer cord can easily reach your workspace.
- Turn your hairdryer on its hottest setting. Sweep it back and forth over the damp fabric, targeting the portion you want to make smaller.
- Keep going until the fabric feels dry!
8. Wet Sheet
Ironing over a wet sheet is one of the quickest ways to shrink your pants when you need them smaller fast!
- Rather than washing or dampening your pants, soak a clean sheet and wring it out till it feels damp to the touch.
- Spread out your pants on a bath towel or ironing board.
- Smooth the damp sheet neatly on top.
- Iron firmly over top of the damp sheet, going back and forth repeatedly until the sheet feels dry.
- Let your pants cool down, and then try them on to see if they feel smaller!
9. Commercial Products
You may find it easiest to use a commercial product to help shrink your pants in some cases. For example, commercial products like Woolite or RNK Sew Shrink cause the fibers in some fabrics to contract and reduce the size of the garment overall.
You will want to read product descriptions carefully, though, because most commercial shrinking agents work only on certain types of cloth.
Finally, you may also want to consider paying a professional tailor to alter your trousers. Making a garment smaller is not that hard for a professional and can create a perfect custom fit for your clothing!
How to Shrink 8 Different Kinds of Pants
Every type of fabric reacts differently to shrinking methods, so check out this guide to how to shrink eight different kinds of pants! This way, you can use exactly the right technique for polyester trousers vs denim jeans, for example.
1. Cotton Pants
The simplest way to shrink cotton pants is to throw them in the dryer. Cotton has an amazing ability to expand and contract because it absorbs moisture so easily. For this reason, you can use pretty much any method to get great results.
The danger with shrinking cotton is that you could quite easily over-shrink your clothing and end up with capris instead of full-length pant legs!
That said, you can safely iron on cotton or place it in the dryer on high heat. You don’t have to worry about it melting or scorching. Just keep an eye on it during the process and measure the waist periodically to make sure you have not over-shrunk your pants.
2. Wool Pants
The easiest way to shrink wool pants is to use the dryer and monitor carefully every few minutes. You have to take a lot of extra care when reducing the size of a wool garment because it can condense down dramatically or turn into felt when mishandled. In fact, most wool clothing has a “dry clean only” label inside, for a good reason!
Wool fibers have tiny scales all over them that can lock together when heat or friction causes the fibers to expand and rub against each other. In some cases, a wool sweater could easily shrink from extra-large to small just from exposure to hot water in a washing machine! If you put your wool trousers in the washing machine, make sure you use a mesh laundry bag to protect the wool fibers.
You can use the warm water soak for wool and then gently reshape it into a smaller size as it dries. The easiest option, though, is to put the wool trousers in the dryer for about five minutes at a time. Keep checking and measuring to see when they have shrunk sufficiently.
3. Linen Pants
The simplest way to shrink linen pants is to soak them in warm water for several hours. Like cotton, linen has a high ability to absorb moisture, making it easy to either shrink or stretch!
After using the warm water soak method, you can place the linen trousers in your dryer for a gentle cycle or spread them on a large towel to dry flat.
You want to avoid any harsh motions such as wringing out the linen while wet, though, as this could damage the delicate fabric.
4. Yoga Pants
Depending on the type of yoga pants you have, you can use either the washing machine method or the hairdryer method to easily shrink them back to size.
If you have loose, cotton-knit yoga pants, you can safely put them in the washing machine for a nice hot cycle. This will usually reduce the size by one-half to one full size.
If you put the pants in the dryer as well, they may get even smaller. You may want to check on them after about twenty minutes in the dryer to make sure they do not over-shrink.
On the other hand, if you have tight legging-style yoga pants that contain spandex, you may not want to put them in a hot water wash or a hot dryer. You can risk this approach if you want to–it will cause them to shrink! But heat will also weaken and damage the elastic fibers and make them permanently lose their stretch much sooner.
Instead, you can try the hairdryer method. Dampen the yoga leggings with cool water and then apply a hairdryer to shrink key areas like the waistband.
The denim in jeans is made out of cotton, so you can shrink jeans easily using any of the methods in this article! One of the best methods for getting a custom-fit pair of jeans is to use the wear-and-soak technique. Yes, you have to wear damp denim for a few hours, but it really works!
Ironing key areas of your jeans through a wet sheet to shrink just that portion of the pants will also work great.
That said, lots of jeans contain a pretty good percentage of elastic fibers these days. If you have skinny jeans or stretch jeans, avoid any method that requires high heat. Exposure to too much heat will make them less stretchy over time.
6. Leather Pants
Believe it or not, you can safely shrink leather pants in your dryer! You only want to put the pants in for about ten minutes, though.
First, you will want to soak your leather pants in a bucket of cool water for about ten minutes. Then gently press away excess moisture using a towel and place the wet pants in the dryer.
Set a timer, so you don’t forget to take the pants back out after ten minutes! Too much heat could cause the leather to crack and will ruin your pants.
7. Polyester Pants
Polyester pants do not shrink easily, but you can shrink them by a size or two if you put in enough time and effort. You can use the dryer method with polyester very successfully, in fact, but you will probably need to repeat it three or four times to see any significant shrinking.
This is because polyester is a synthetic fabric made from a kind of plastic, and it requires a lot of heat to cause any shrinking.
The catch-22 here is that the wrong kind of heat can melt or scorch polyester. You should not try the ironing method on polyester pants. In some cases, your iron may have a special polyester setting, but even then, you could end up damaging your pants with the heat.
Chinos usually contain a type of khaki-colored fabric made from cotton. These pants will shrink easily in hot water or in the dryer. That said, chinos will shrink the most the very first time you wash them and much less every time after that.
One of the dangers of shrinking chinos in really hot water is that they could lose their sleek appearance and look dull and worn. You may want to target specific areas to shrink, such as the waist. This way, you can apply heat just to those portions, using the ironing method or the hairdryer method.
How to Shrink Pants to Make Them Shorter
You can shrink just the legs of pants by using a simple laundry hack. Most of the time, pants will shrink all over through both the garment’s width and length. Try this approach to shrink just the legs in a quick, easy way!
- First, run your pants through a cold water cycle in the washing machine.
- Take the damp pants out and smooth out the legs on a clean towel.
- Next, measure one-fourth a cup of fabric softener and ¾ a cup of hot water into a spray bottle.
- Spritz the portion of the legs you want to shrink, such as the knees or the leg opening.
- Put the pants in the dryer and run through a full cycle.
This method should work on any cotton pants, including jeans!
How to Shrink Pants By One Size
There is no perfect way to shrink your pants by exactly one size. That said, you can use any of the methods in this article and carefully monitor the amount of shrinking during the process.
The best way to do this is to measure your pants before you begin. Note down the waist measurement, the thigh measurement, and the length of the pant legs.
You can measure the pants again as you work on shrinking them. This way, you can turn off the dryer or unplug the iron before you over-shrink your pants!
How to Shrink Jeans and Pants Waist
You can shrink just the waist of your jeans or pants in several different ways, including using the boiling method or the wet sheet or hairdryer methods.
To use the boiling method on just the waist of your jeans, you will want to lower just the waist of your jeans into the pot of boiling water. You will have to hold the pants in that position for five to ten minutes to allow the hot water to do its work! Then put the jeans in the dryer for about twenty minutes or until the waist is dry.
You can also use the wet sheet or hairdryer method to target just the waistband of your jeans or pants. SImply do not apply the hair dryer or iron to any part of the pants, and you will have a smaller waist and an un-shrunken rest of your pants!
Can You Permanently Shrink Jeans?
You can’t permanently shrink jeans at home. You can shrink jeans very easily using any of the methods in this article, but unfortunately, the results will not last forever. Denim expands and stretches too easily and will eventually regain its larger shape.
You can keep several tips in mind, though, when it comes to keeping your jeans the perfect size.
First, you should wash your jeans only when absolutely necessary. This will help them keep their original shape instead of stretching out.
Second, if your do find that your jeans start to bag at the waist or the knees, you can always use a targeted shrinking method such as the hairdryer method on just that part of the jeans! This will allow you to quickly fix the issue.
Finally, you may want to consider taking your jeans to a dry-cleaner. In some cases, the extra-hot professional dryers can keep your jeans shrunk much more permanently than any DIY method.
You can shrink pants and jeans using basic laundry supplies you have at home. The easiest way to shrink most types of pants is to put them in the dryer! You can also use a pot of boiling water, hot water in your washing machine, or a warm overnight soak to shrink your pants. If you need to shrink only a select area of your jeans, try using a hairdryer or an iron through a damp sheet.
Some fabric shrinks more easily than others. Cotton and cotton-based fabric like denim will shrink super easily, but wool needs gentle treatment and polyester does not shrink easily at all. Shrinking stretchy pants containing elastic fibers can damage the stretchiness, so any leggings or stretch jeans also need careful handling.
Have you ever tried to shrink a pair of pants? What technique did you use? Leave a comment below to let us know!