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How To Unshrink Jeans

I love jeans, but they have a habit of shrinking. My latest pair ended up in the dryer and are now a size too small. Should I throw them away? Can I fix them? Is there somewhere I can find out how to unshrink jeans?

To unshrink jeans:

  1. Wet them with lukewarm water and pull gently on the fabric.
  2. Avoid pulling at the seams or knees, as this will cause damage.
  3. Stretch the jeans until the desired size is achieved. If the fabric is too stiff, use baby shampoo, fabric softener, or hair conditioner to relax the fibers.

Sometimes it seems denim jeans are the world leaders at shrinking. Often, when you don’t want them to. In this article, we’ll take a look at how to unshrink your jeans and prevent them from shrinking in the future.
How To Unshrink Jeans

Why Do Jeans Shrink?

Jeans are traditionally made using a type of twill weave. You’ll know this weave better than denim. Originally introduced as a fabric used to make hardwearing working pants for miners, denim would have used 100% cotton fibers.

One of the main issues with cotton, particularly 100% cotton, has been a bit of a bugbear for generations. It has an annoying habit of shrinking. Regardless of whether it’s woven into gingham, lawn, canvas, or denim, shrinking is a sure thing when you’re dealing with cotton fibers.

The reason cotton is the master when it comes to shrinking is our old friend, heat. When it comes to laundry time, heat can spell disaster for the denim in your favorite jeans.

Cotton is a sturdy and durable fabric, especially when woven into denim. However, while your jeans can take a beating from either your washing machine or a rough tumble in a dryer, they can’t put up with too much heat exposure.

100% cotton shrinks when it’s washed in hot water. This shrinkage can amount to as much as 20%! That’s going to be a lot of jean fabric disappearing from your waistband or leg length.

You’ll also find cotton will shrink when your dryer’s heat setting is too high. Even leaving your denim jeans in a dryer for too long on a medium heat setting will see the fabric reduce down a size or two.

It’s not just 100% cotton jeans that suffer from shrinking, either. Even polycotton blends can and do shrink. So too, can stretch denim. You can blame the cotton content for that. The blended fibers in your denim jeans may be mostly synthetic, but even the smallest amount of cotton will cause shrinkage.

There is some good news, though. You could say shrinking is your jean’s superpower. An incredibly useful one that sets them apart from other garments. In some instances, denim’s ability to reduce in size is a good thing. But what is this magic hiding within the fibers of your jeans?

Have you noticed that your jeans get baggy over time? Especially around the knees? This is down to the denim twill weave & the fiber content. Although, you can’t blame cotton for this one. Not on its own anyway.

Nor is it an anomaly specific to regular cut jeans. Your skinny jeans are just as likely to suffer. Bagging out at the knee will occur regardless of how much synthetic fiber, spandex, or natural cotton the jeans contain.

Therein lies the magic. Denim doesn’t just shrink; it stretches. Fibers in the denim get tired and relax over time. This causes your jeans to lose their rigidity when you wear them a lot. It’s one of the reasons old jeans are so comfortable; the denim fabric has softened.

You’ll notice this softening phenomenon most in the knees of jeans and the seating area of denim skirts. It’s as though the fibers in your jeans are embracing their inner peace and taking a bit of a break. They’re letting it all hang loose, sort of speak.

Washing your jeans, even at a low temperature, will wake up the fibers and snap them back into place. It’s the inherent shrinkability of denim that allows this to happen.

Sometimes you don’t even need to wash them. Stretch denim in your skinny jeans will stretch out as you wear it. But leave your jeans off for a few days, and they’ll automatically return to their original size. Cool, isn’t it? You’ve got to admit; there aren’t many fabrics as magical as denim.

Can You Unshrink Jeans?

Yes, believe it or not, you can unshrink your jeans. Although you may not have been aware that unshrinking jeans is a thing, it’s pretty simple. It’s made possible by the nature of jeans and their unique denim weave.

Just like shrinking them in the first place is easy-peasy, reversing the process is a piece of cake. All you need is your shrunken jeans and some lukewarm water.

A twill weave like denim is pliable when it becomes wet. The fibers are easy to move and you can coax them back into their original positions. It’s simply a case of stretching the fabric gently in the areas you need to make bigger.

Sometimes the denim fibers can be too rigid to stretch using water alone, especially if the fabric is new. You might have to encourage your jeans to stretch with the help of some everyday household items. Hair conditioner, baby shampoo, and fabric softener are all tried and tested products for unshrinking your jeans.

How to Unshrink Jeans

Can You Unshrink Jeans

It’s not always easy to keep your jeans out of the dryer. Sometimes, they get bundled in there with other garments. Then there are the days you need your jeans in a hurry. One spin in a dryer isn’t doing much harm, right?

Unfortunately, yes, it will. It’s the heat of the dryer that causes shrinking. Not the number of times you dry your jeans in one.

For occasions when heat meeting your jeans is unavoidable, it pays to know what you can do to unshrink your jeans. As mentioned above, it’s possible to stretch your jeans back to their original size. All you need is lukewarm water and some popular household products.

Before we take a look at them, you need to proceed with caution. The methods we’ll be looking at all involve stretching the denim fabric. Be careful when you do this. There are some parts of your jeans you shouldn’t stretch.

Never stretch the seams of your jeans or the knee areas. Both are potential weak spots and you’ll damage your denim rather than stretch your jeans back into shape. With that in mind, let’s take a look at your options.

1. Lukewarm Water

Rayson Empty Spray Bottle Refillable Container, Fine Mist Sprayer Trigger Squirt Bottle for Taming Hair, Hair styling, Watering Plants, Showering Pets (1 Pack, Blue)

The easiest and quickest method of unshrinking your jeans is lukewarm water. Denim fibers have an awesome reaction when they come into contact with water, particularly if it has some heat to it. They will either shrink or stretch.

The water temperature will have a bearing on whether the jeans get smaller or expand. But, knowing they can go both ways is something you can use to your advantage.

You will need:

  • Lukewarm water
  • Spray bottle or sponge
  • Tape measure

Step 1

Measure your jeans to find out how much they have shrunk. This will give you an idea of how much you need to stretch your jeans.

Step 2

Fill your spray bottle with lukewarm water. If you don’t have a spray bottle, you can use a sponge. Spray or sponge the lukewarm water onto the parts of the jeans you want to stretch. Avoid the seams and the knees!

Step 3

Once the fabric has been thoroughly sprayed and feels wet to the touch, start to stretch it. Work gently and evenly until you have reached your target measurement.

Step 4

When you have stretched your jeans as much as you want to, leave them to air dry. Outside on a clothesline will work best.

2. Fabric Conditioner or Softener

Downy Ultra Liquid Laundry Fabric Softener, Cool Cotton Scent, 120 Total LoadsA fabric conditioner or softener is a product used to add extra softness to the wash. It stops your cotton towels from coming out of the laundry like cardboard. Better still, it relaxes and softens denim fibers. This product is specifically designed for use with fabric.

Wherever possible, always use a fabric conditioner or softener with textiles as the product will condition and protect those delicate fibers—making stretching them a lot easier and safer.

You will need:

  • Fabric conditioner or softener
  • Lukewarm water
  • Spray Bottle

Step 1

Fill your spray bottle with lukewarm water until it reaches the 3/4 mark. Add fabric softener to the remaining 1/4 of the bottle.

Step 2

Give the spray bottle a really good shake. Make sure you have the top on securely before you do this. Once the water and conditioner are completely mixed, spray the solution onto your jeans. Working only in the areas that need stretching, carefully pull on the fabric. Don’t pull on the seams or the knees.

Step 3

When you’re happy with the amount, you have stretched your jeans, leave them to air dry. Hang them outside on a clothesline. Avoid the dryer as this will re-shrink them!

3. Baby Shampoo

Aveeno Baby Daily Moisture Gentle Body Wash & Shampoo with Oat Extract, 2-in-1 Baby Bath Wash & Hair Shampoo, Tear- & Paraben-Free for Hair & Sensitive Skin, Lightly Scented, 12 fl. ozBaby shampoo is a product you can use when you don’t have any fabric softener. It works the same way, although it was designed for baby hair, not material. Because of this, you might find the fibers in your jeans don’t soften as much as they would with a product designed for fabric.

You will need:

Step 1

Fill your spray bottle with a mix of 3/4 water to 1/4 baby shampoo. Replace the lid of the bottle securely and give it a shake.

Step 2

Once the solution is mixed, start to spray the sections of your jeans you want to stretch. You want enough on the fabric to be wet but not dripping with water. Make sure to avoid the knees of your jeans and the seams.

Step 3

Stretch your jeans carefully and evenly. Work from the middle outwards where possible. Be sure to avoid stretching from the seams.

Step 4

When you’re happy with the level of stretch you have achieved, air dry your jeans. Hanging them on a clothesline will ensure they dry at a natural pace. Don’t be tempted to use the dryer, as this will cause your jeans to shrink.

4. Hair Conditioner

SheaMoisture Curl Shine Silicone Free Conditioner for Curly Hair Coconut Hibiscus Moisturize & Define 13ozAnother product you can use in place of a fabric conditioner is a hair conditioner. As with baby shampoo, this one isn’t meant for textiles. It will help you out if you don’t have any fabric softener, but you may find your fibers are less pliable.

You will need:

  • Hair conditioner
  • Lukewarm water
  • Spray bottle

Step 1

Add the water and hair conditioner together in your spray bottle. Use the ratio of 3 parts water to 1 part hair conditioner. Make sure to shake the bottle well to ensure an even mix. Secure the lid of the bottle before you attempt to shake it.

Step 2

Locate the area of your jeans to be stretched and spray the solution on it. Do this until the area is thoroughly soaked but not dripping wet.

Step 3

Begin to pull the fabric outwards gently and evenly. You need to stretch from the body of the fabric. Don’t be tempted to grab the seams and pull from the edge. This will cause damage. You also need to avoid the knees of your jeans.

Step 4

Once the stretching is complete, hang your jeans on a clothesline to air dry. Don’t use your dryer, as this will cause the jeans to shrink once more.

How to Stretch Shrunken Jeans Waist

How to Stretch Shrunken Jeans Waist

Stretching jeans that have shrunk at the waist is fairly straightforward. You can also use this method to give yourself extra room at the hips. Check out our step-by-step guide for how to stretch your shrunken jeans.

You will need:

  • Tape measure
  • Lukewarm water
  • Fabric Conditioner, baby shampoo, or hair conditioner

Step 1

Measure the waist of your jeans to determine how much you need to stretch them. You’ll need to lay them on a flat surface to do this accurately.

If this measurement is an inch or more, stretch in small increments. So start with half an inch and then repeat the process until you reach the desired amount. This will prevent you from overstretching and then having to reshrink your jeans.

Because we are working with a waistline, you’ll need to split your measurement in half. If you want to stretch the total waist by half an inch, you pull each side of your waist out by 1/4 of an inch.

Step 2

Choose your preferred product. You can use fabric conditioner, baby shampoo, or hair conditioner. It depends on which one is available to you. Each product will do the same job. However, the fabric conditioner will help protect the fibers of your denim.

Step 3

Using 3 parts water to 1 part product, mix the lukewarm water and your chosen product together. Do this by adding both to a spray bottle and shaking it. Remember to replace the bottle’s top before shaking.

Step 4

Spray the waist of your jeans. Make sure it is well covered but not dripping wet. Start stretching the fabric outwards evenly and gently. Keep your tape measure to hand to check the amount of stretch you have achieved. Don’t stretch from the seams. Always make sure you grip the fabric away from the seamline.

Step 5

Hang your jeans outside on a clothesline to dry naturally. Using a dryer will undo all your hard work and cause your jeans to shrink once more. When they are dry, try them on. If they are still too small, repeat steps 1-5.

Remember to hang your jeans from the waist. A peg at each side and one in the middle will keep the waist stretched and prevent it from shrinking inwards.

How to Unshrink Jeans Length

Next in our step-by-step guide to unshrinking jeans is regaining lost inches from the legs. Although this is as easy as unshrinking a waist, you do have to be careful. You’ll need to make sure both legs are stretched evenly to avoid one becoming longer than the other.

You will need:

  • Tape measure
  • Lukewarm water
  • Fabric Conditioner, baby shampoo, or hair conditioner

Step 1

Using your tape measure, find out how long you need your jeans to be. You’ll need to measure your own leg for this too. Pay particular attention to how you like your jeans to fit. Do you like them to skim your ankle? Or do you prefer the longer look to cover your shoes?

Step 2

Pick a product from the choice of fabric conditioner, baby shampoo, or hair conditioner. It doesn’t matter which one you use. Although fabric softener is designed for textiles and will protect the fibers more, they will all work.

Step 3

Grab your spray bottle and fill it with lukewarm water and your chosen product. You’ll need 3 parts water to 1 part fabric conditioner, or whichever product you decide to use. Put the lid back on the spray bottle and give it a good shake.

Step 4

Spray the solution onto the legs of your jeans. When both legs are wet but not dripping, start to stretch the fabric. In this instance, you want to stretch in sections.

Starting at the hip, stretch down towards the knee. Not as far as the knee, though. You want to stay away from the knee area. Knees take a bashing and will be a weak spot. Trying to stretch this section of the leg is more likely to rip the fabric.

From just under the knee area, stretch the fabric down to the hem. It might help to put one leg of your jeans on top of the other to see how much both legs are stretching.

Step 5

When you’re happy with the stretch, hang your jeans on a clothesline to air dry naturally. It’s best to hang them from the waist. Hanging from the hems will cause peg marks. You might even get an uneven hem as the pegged part stretches under the weight of the jeans.

Can You Unshrink Jeans by Wearing Them?

Yes, you can unshrink jeans by wearing them. Jeans have magical properties and can seemingly stretch and shrink at will. Although it can be more than a little annoying when your jeans shrink, it’s not the end of the world. You can fix your jeans by putting them on.

I do have to be honest here. Unshrinking jeans by wearing them isn’t going to be comfortable. Nor is it something you’ll want to do if you’ve got somewhere to be. This remedy is best done on a lazy summer day when you can lounge about outdoors for a couple of hours.

What you are going to do is get your shrunken jeans wet while wearing them.

If that doesn’t sound bad enough, you’ll have to leave them on until they dry. Hence the need for a warm summer’s day so you can spend it outside. Otherwise, you’ll be squelching water all over your home.

The good news is, wet denim fibers are completely flexible. Your jeans will not only stretch to fit your body, but they’ll also match your body shape for a perfect fit.

Can You Unshrink Jeans For a Better Fit?

Jeans may shrink, but they have a huge endearing quality. You can stretch them to any size you want. So much so you can use your own body to mold their shape to you. In fact, way back in the 1970s and 80s, before stretch denim was popular, people used to purposefully shrink their jeans to get a tighter fit.

The method they used was known as the bathtub method. Although it was originally used to shrink jeans, you can also use it to stretch them. A word of caution here, for this method to work, you do need to be able to get into your jeans. You don’t have to be able to fasten them, but you do have to wear them.

You will need:

  • Your jeans
  • Bathtub

Step 1

Put on your jeans. As long as you can get them over your hips and to your waist, this method is worth a shot. Fill your bathtub with warm water. It needs to be as warm as you can stand, but not so hot it burns you. You don’t have to be brave and withstand scorching temperatures for this.

Step 2

Sit in the bathtub wearing your jeans and allow the water to cover your lower body. Let the jeans soak up the water. Unfortunately, you need a bathtub for this, a shower won’t work.

Step 3

When the water starts to get cold, get out of the bathtub. Don’t leave it so long you start to shiver. You want to stretch your jeans to fit, not catch hypothermia. Pull the plug to drain the bath and squeeze as much excess moisture out of your jeans as you can.

Step 4

Grab a good book and sit outside in the sun for a couple of hours. You’ll need to leave your soggy jeans on to dry. Get up and move around occasionally. Bend and flex your lower body to help stretch the jeans as they dry. As they dry, they’ll mold to your shape, giving you the best fitting jeans ever.

How to Prevent Jeans From Shrinking

The best way to prevent your jeans from shrinking is not to dry them in your dryer. Jeans, regardless of whether they are 100% cotton or a cotton blend, will shrink if they are exposed to too much heat.

To prevent shrinking, always air dry your jeans. For best results, hang them on a clothesline outside. But you can also use a clothes rack or a hanger on the back of a door. Make sure to hang your jeans inside out and from the waistband.

As the weight of jeans is at the top, hanging from the waist will stop it from shrinking. If you turn them upside down and hang them from the legs, you’ll have another problem. Your legs will stretch out. You’ll also get unsightly peg marks and creases on the hem area. So always hang your jeans from the waist.

Avoid washing your jeans in hot water. Denim fibers are incredibly flexible when they get wet and you’ll find heat, especially high water temperatures, will cause shrinking.

One of the great things about denim is, it’s a fabric that doesn’t need to be washed that often. You only need to put them in the wash when they need it. So don’t wash them every time you wear them and you’ll help prevent shrinking from happening.

It’s a good idea to invest in quality, brand-name jeans. These will have been pre-shrunk during the manufacturing process and will be less likely to shrink after purchase. They’ll also last longer due to the better quality material used in their production.

How to Wash Jeans Without Shrinking

When you need to wash your jeans, always follow the instructions on the care label. This could be on the inside near the center back of the jeans or located in one of the legs. The care label will show you how to wash your jeans, the temperature to use, and how to dry them.

If there isn’t a label because they are older jeans, or it’s faded, you can still wash your jeans safely. There are generic washing instructions suitable for use on all denim items.

Always use a cool setting on your washing machine. A cold setting would still be better. Remove them from the machine as soon as the wash cycle has been completed.

Never put your jeans in a dryer, even for a short amount of time. You need to air dry denim to prevent shrinking.

The best way to prevent your jeans from shrinking is to steer clear of any heat. Not only will your jeans stay in shape and the correct size, but the color will also last a lot longer.

Conclusion

Knowing how to unshrink your jeans is a key part of caring for your denim. It’s so simple too! All you need is water, fabric conditioner, and a good old stretch.

Have you had to unshrink your jeans? What method did you use? How did you get on? Let me know in the comments.