How To Make Clothes Shrink In A Tumble Dryer (everything you need to know)

Most of the time, we are trying to avoid shrinking our clothes when we wash and dry them. But occasionally, there comes a time when we need something to fit better.

Say for instance you found a nice t-shirt online at a really reasonable price but they don’t have it in your size. Rather than miss out altogether, you buy the next size up.

You then need to find a way of shrinking it down to your size.

Before you start shrinking any of your clothes it’s essential that you understand the process of how and why clothes shrink. Otherwise you could completely ruin the clothing.

What Causes Clothes To Shrink?

There are 4 reasons that cause clothes to shrink which are;

  1. Felting
    This is what usually happens to clothes made from animal hair like wool and cashmere. The fibres have minute scales all over them which, when subjected to hot or even warm water, mesh together which causes the garment to shrink.
  2. Relaxation
    This affects natural fibres like cotton and linen which are formed by spun strands being pulled into threads or yarns. When these fibres get exposed to warm or hot water, they relax back into their original size.
  3. Consolidation
    This occurs when the garment is exposed to hot water, rough agitation and high heat. All of these combine to reverse the stretching and shaping processes the garment was put through in the manufacturing process. 
  4. Contraction
    This is caused by the many garments in the drum colliding with each other. This causes the internal structure of the fibres to contract which causes shrinking. This is the usual reason for clothes shrinking in the tumble dryer.

How To Shrink Clothes On Purpose

To successfully shrink an item of clothing you will need to know what the item is made from. This is because different fabrics need to be shrunk in different ways.

For example, it is not a good idea to attempt shrinking leather or fur clothing. This is because not only will they not shrink, but they’re likely to become ruined in the process.

There are many fabrics that have great shrinking potential so let’s look at ways to shrink clothes on purpose.

How To Shrink 100% Cotton Clothes

Cotton is an easy fabric to shrink, all you need to do is;

  1. Wash the cotton item in hot water
  2. Tumble dry on high heat
  3. Keep checking to ensure you don’t shrink it too far
  4. As soon as the desired size is achieved, remove from the dryer and air dry or change the setting on the dryer to low heat

How To Shrink Polyester/Blended/Denim Clothes

These clothes are designed to be hard wearing which means you will need to be persevering to get these to shrink. You will need to;

  1. Wash in hot water
  2. Tumble on high heat using a long cycle
  3. Check regularly to ensure you don’t shrink the garment too far
  4. Once the garment has shrunk to the desired size, switch to a low heat setting until dry

Polyester items might need to be put through this process a number of times to achieve the desired result.

How To Shrink Wool/Cashmere/Animal Hairs

Garments made from animal hairs like wool and cashmere are very susceptible to shrinking so you will need to take extra care with these. You will need to;

  1. Wash on a delicate/low heat setting and a short cycle
  2. Tumble dry using low heat and a short cycle
  3. Check regularly until the desired size has been achieved
  4. Once the garment has reached the desired size, remove from the dryer and air dry

How To Shrink Silk

Silk is extremely delicate and can easily become damaged. This means you’ll need to be extra vigilant when trying to shrink silk. You will need to;

  1. Place the silk item in a mesh wash bag
  2. Place the mesh bag in the washing machine and select the delicate setting and wash at the lowest temperature possible on the shortest cycle on your machine
  3. Once the machine has finished, the silk item should be placed on a towel then place another towel on top to absorb moisture
  4. Place the silk garment on a hanger and air dry
  5. Once the silk item is almost dry, place it in the dryer and select the delicate setting on low heat and dry for no longer than 5 minutes
One Thing In A Tumble Dryer

What Happens If None Of These Methods Shrinks Your Clothes?

There are a few reasons that could prevent your clothes from shrinking which include;

  • It could be preshrunk by the manufacturer
    If the clothes have been preshrunk by the manufacturer before you purchased them, they might not shrink visibly at all.
  • The clothes may have already been shrunk in the wash
    If you’ve owned the clothes for a while, and they’ve been washed a number of times previously, they could have already shrunk as far as they’re likely to.

If you suspect this is the case, you can still sometimes get them to shrink. You will need to;

  1. Fill a bucket with boiling hot water
  2. Soak the garment for 5 minutes
  3. Wash in the washing machine on a hot wash
  4. Dry on a hot cycle

Can You Shrink Clothes Deliberately Without A Tumble Dryer?

If you don’t own a tumble dryer or you’re worried using it to shrink clothes might be too extreme, there are various alternative ways to shrink your clothes.

You could try a boil wash, a hot wash or ironing your clothes to make them shrink.

How To Shrink Clothes With An Iron

To shrink clothes using an iron you should;

  1. Get the iron set up
    Once the garment is dry, plug the iron in and set it to the correct temperature for the material you want to shrink (consult the care label for guidance).
  2. Dampen the clothing
    With a damp cloth or spray bottle, lightly dampen the garment with water. This will help to make the fibres more likely to shrink
  3. Iron the garment
    Lay the clothing flat on the ironing board and apply pressure to move the iron in a back-and-forth motion. Pay particular attention to the areas you want to shrink, such as the sleeves and/or waistband. Repeat the ironing process several times until the garment reaches the desired size.
  4. Check the garment frequently
    During the ironing process, periodically check the garment to see if it has shrunk to your liking. Keep in mind that the level of shrinkage will vary depending on the fabric type and the original size of the clothing.

How To Shrink Clothes With A Boil Wash

Here’s what you need to do to shrink clothes with a boil wash:

  1. Fill a large pot or basin with enough water to fully submerge the clothes. Place it on the stove.
  2. Bring the water to a rolling boil on the stove.
  3. Carefully add the clothes to the boiling water, ensuring they are fully submerged.
  4. Let the clothes boil for approximately 30 minutes to encourage shrinkage.
  5. Stir the clothes occasionally during the boiling process to ensure even heat distribution.
  6. After 30 minutes, turn off the heat and carefully drain the hot water. Rinse the clothes with cold water to cool them down.
  7. Squeeze out excess water and air dry.

Remember, intentionally shrinking clothes using a boil wash can be a risky method and may lead to irreversible damage.

How To Shrink Clothes Using A Hot Wash

To shrink clothes using a hot wash in the washing machine, simply wash the item in the hottest water setting available, which is usually 90 degrees, and use a regular laundry detergent.

You can then repeat this process if further shrinkage is desired, but be cautious as this excessive heat may damage certain fabrics.

What If The Clothes Have Shrunk Too Far?

If you happen to have been too successful in shrinking your clothes, don’t despair. You can sometimes get the clothes to the right size if you;

  1. Mix ¼ cup of baby shampoo or hair conditioner into 1 gallon of warm water
  2. Soak the clothes for 15 to 30 minutes
  3. Then gently stretch the garment from side to side
  4. And then stretch from top to bottom

SEE ALSO: Does Washing At 60 Shrink Clothes?

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you shrink dry clothes in the tumble dryer?

It is possible to shrink dry clothes in a tumble dryer. Start by washing the items in the hottest temperature they can tolerate (check the care label) then dry on high heat. Check regularly and as soon as the desired size is achieved, switch to low heat or air dry.

What is the best dryer setting to shrink clothes?

The best dryer setting to deliberately shrink clothes is the high heat setting.

How long does it take to shrink clothes in the dryer?

It generally takes 10 minutes in the washing machine to shrink clothes by 1%. Using this as a guide we recommend checking the size of the garment after 10 minutes in the dryer.

Will low heat setting shrink clothes?

Clothes are less likely to shrink on the low heat setting in the dryer.

Is it better to shrink clothes wet or dry?

It is better to shrink clothes that are wet. Ideally they should be washed on the highest heat setting the fabric can withstand (check the care label) then tumble dried on high heat.

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