How To Shrink Clothes Without A Tumble Dryer (easy alternative ways)

If you found a great t-shirt in the sales at a bargain price only to find it’s too big for you, you’re going to want to find a way to shrink it down to your size. Shrinking certain fabrics is a relatively easy task using a washing machine and tumble dryer.

But what if you don’t have a tumble dryer? If that’s the predicament you find yourself in, keep reading. Because in this article we list 5 ways you can successfully shrink clothes without using a tumble dryer.

Why Do Clothes Shrink?

Clothes shrink if they are exposed to heat, moisture and agitation. This is because of the way fabrics are made, for instance cotton is made by stretching fibres into threads or yarns. Once those fibres become hot and wet, they relax back to their original length which causes the garment to shrink.

Most natural fibres will shrink by way of relaxation, wool is another good example however, wool is made from animal hair which reacts differently and shrinks far faster than cotton.

The usual problem we have is preventing the items of clothing from shrinking too much. This is especially true if using a tumble dryer to shrink your clothes (or even just dry your clothes in some cases).

How To Shrink Clothes Without Using A Tumble Dryer

As with all modern conveniences, using a tumble dryer to shrink clothes makes the task easier. Having said that, people were washing, drying and even shrinking clothes for 100s of years before the invention of the washing machine or tumble dryer. 

So let’s look at 5 different ways to shrink clothes without using a tumble dryer. We’ll start with the easiest way which involves no more effort than popping the item into the washing machine.

Before using any of these methods for shrinking your clothes, you should always consult the wash care label. This will advise you on the material the garment is made from which allows you to choose the best way to proceed.

How To Shrink Clothes Using A Washing Machine & Washing Line

This is the easiest method in terms of the amount of preparation involved.  All you need to do is;

  1. Place the item in the drum of your washing machine
  2. Select the appropriate wash cycle for the fabric you’re trying to shrink (if you’re trying to shrink a cotton t-shirt for example, you’ll need to select the hottest and longest wash cycle)
  3. Once the machine has finished, hang the garment on a coat hanger and attach it to the washing line, rotary line or retractable washing line.

If the garment hasn’t shrunk to the desired size, you should repeat the process.

How To Shrink Clothes Using Boiling Water

This method is effective but as you are dealing with boiling hot water, it’s also quite dangerous. You will need to be careful if you decide to use this method. All you need to do is;

  1. Fill a large pan with water and bring it to the boil on the hob
  2. Once the water is at a rolling boil, turn the heat off
  3. Taking extreme care, lower the garment into the water ensuring it is fully submerged (use tongs or a large spoon)
  4. Allow the garment to soak for; wool clothes-5 minutes, 100% cotton clothes-10 minutes, denim/synthetic clothes- 20 to 30 minutes
  5. Remove the garment from the pan and check at regular intervals to avoid over shrinking
  6. Air dry on a washing line, rotary line, retractable washing line or airer

How To Shrink Clothes Using An Iron

For this to work the item should ideally have been washed or soaked first. Then all you need to do is;

  1. Place the garment on your ironing board
  2. Set the iron to the correct setting for the material your garment is made from (check the care label)
  3. Iron the garment making sure to move the iron over the whole surface of the garment (to ensure an even shrink rate)
  4. Keep ironing until the desired size is achieved

How To Shrink Clothes Using A Hairdryer

To get successful results using this method, you need to keep the hair dryer moving over the fabric constantly and never allow the nozzle to touch the actual material. All you need to do is;

  1. Wash the garment or soak it in hot water
  2. Lay the garment flat on top of a towel
  3. Select the highest heat setting on your hairdryer
  4. Keep the hairdryer’s nozzle around 1 to 2 inches from the fabric
  5. Keep the nozzle moving constantly and ensure each area of the garment gets an equal amount of hot air

How To Shrink Clothes By Soaking In Hot Water

This method is fairly hit and miss, in other words, it has mixed results. The actual process is fairly simple to execute, but timing is crucial. All you need to do is;

  1. Fill a bucket with hot water
  2. Place the garment in the water and submerge fully
  3. Allow to soak for  5 minutes for woollen items, 10 minutes for 100% cotton items, and 20 to 30 minutes for synthetic and denim items
  4. Remove from the bucket, check for sizing and air dry

Things To Remember When Shrinking Clothes 

There are a few things we feel we should point out before sending you off to shrink your clothes. Which are;

  • Always consult the care label
    Before attempting to shrink any of your clothes, you should always check the wash care label first. This will allow you to be better prepared for the time needed to soak clothes etc.
  • This is not an exact science
    As with everything that relies on outside forces like heat etc, there are no absolutes and any timings given are for example purposes only. Actual times could be more or less depending on the fabric.
  • Different fabrics react at different rates
    The amount of time needed to shrink your garments will depend largely on the type of material they’re made from. For instance;
    • Silk shrinks incredibly fast when exposed to heat
    • Wool shrinks fast but not quite as fast as silk
    • 100% cotton shrinks at a faster rate than denim or polyester
  • You might need to repeat to get the desired results
    Sometimes one shrinking session isn’t enough. Materials like polyester and denim can take 2 or even 3 attempts to shrink.
  • Preshrunk Items Might Not Shrink
    If you’re trying to shrink items that have already been preshrunk, either during manufacture or over the years of being washed, they might not shrink at all.

What To Do If They Shrink Too Far

If you have too much success shrinking your clothes, it is sometimes possible to restore them to a size that will fit you. All you need to do is;

  1. Mix ¼ of a cup of hair conditioner or baby shampoo into 1 gallon of warm water
  2. Soak the garment for 15 to 30 minutes
  3. Remove from the soak and gently squeeze to remove excess water
  4. Gently stretch the clothing from side to side
  5. Then gently stretch from top to bottom
  6. Repeat if necessary
  7. Air dry

If this doesn’t work, you’ll either have to find someone smaller to give the clothing to or use it for cleaning clothes.


Frequently Asked Questions

Does boiling water shrink clothes?

Boiling water can shrink clothes, in fact boiling hot water can shrink clothes after one wash.

What temperature shrinks clothes?

Clothes will shrink faster and easier in hot water, a 60 degree C wash can shrink clothes. For faster, more radical results try a 90 degree C wash.

How long does it take to soak clothes in hot water to shrink?

It can take as little as 5 minutes soaking clothes in hot water to get them to shrink.

Can ironing shrink clothes?

It is possible to shrink clothes with an iron. If you do use an iron to shrink your clothes, take care that you don’t burn the fabric, keep the iron constantly moving.

Can you shrink clothes without a tumble dryer?

There are several ways that you can shrink clothes without using a tumble dryer. You could boil the clothes in hot water, soak the clothes in hot water, use a hot wash in the washing machine or use an iron or a hairdryer to shrink your clothes.

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