You finally found the perfect shirt. It's the right color, the right fabric, the right style, and it is too big. So, you decide to buy it and take a chance on being able to shrink it to fit.
Yes, clothes can shrink but before you buy the shirt, there are a few things to consider:
Natural fibers like cotton, wool, and linen are more prone to shrinkage than synthetic fibers like polyester, acrylic, and nylon. Synthetic fibers are more stable because these fabrics are heat-set (which can't be done to natural fibers) during manufacturing to stabilize the weave or knit.
Fabric Weave and Weight
Loose fabric weaves stretch more than tighter weaves; but loose weaves will also tighten up or shrink more when exposed to water, heat, and agitation than a sturdy weave. Read the care labels before you purchase the shirt. For a shirt made from natural fibers, look for the word "preshrunk". Some clothing manufacturers, especially bargain brands, find savings by stretching the fibers in garments as far as they can go during production so they'll use less fabric. If the fibers are preshrunk before the fabric is woven, the fabric is preshrunk before the garment is cut and sewn, or the garment was washed after it was made but before it was distributed to retailers, there will be less chance that you can shrink the shirt any further.
Colorfastness of the Fabric
If the dyes in the fabric are not colorfast, using the hot water necessary to cause shrinkage will cause the dyes to bleed as well. So, that perfect red shade may become pink. Before you attempt to shrink the shirt, test the colorfastness of the dyes by rubbing an inside seam with a cotton swab dipped in isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. If you see color transfer to the swab, the dyes will bleed. This is particularly important to know if the shirt is multi-colored.
These techniques are not guaranteed to turn out well. No one can predict how much or in which direction a garment will shrink. If you have found the perfect shirt but it is too big, take it to a professional tailor to have it altered to fit.
Equipment / Tools
- Washing machine
- Clothes dryer
- Large pot
- Kitchen tongs
How to Shrink a Shirt in a Washing Machine
Adjust the Water Temperature and Load Size Settings
Wash the Shirt
Add the shirt to the washer. Do not add any detergent or fabric softener. Run the complete washer cycle.
Dry the Shirt
Once the washing cycle is complete, place the shirt in a clothes dryer set on the highest heat setting. Tumble until completely dry.
Repeat if Needed
If the shirt hasn't shrunk to the size you desire, repeat the steps.
How to Shrink a Shirt in Boiling Water
Select a Pot
Select a pot large enough to hold the shirt as well as enough water to cover it completely. A deep Dutch oven or stew pot is best.
Boil Some Water
Fill the pot with water and place it on a stovetop. Allow the water to come to a roiling boil over high heat.
Add the Shirt
Use kitchen tongs to add the shirt to the boiling water. Turn off the heat source. Be sure the shirt is completely immersed in the water.
Soak the Shirt
Allow the shirt to soak for at least five minutes. It is fine to leave the shirt in the hot water until the water is cooled enough so the fabric is comfortable to handle.
Remove Excess Water
Wring the cooled shirt to remove excess water.
Dry the Shirt
If the shirt still looks a bit too large, toss it in a clothes dryer set on the highest temperature setting and allow it to tumble dry. If you are happy with the size of the shirt after boiling, hang it on a hanger and allow it to drip dry.
Repeat if Needed
If the shirt still isn't small enough, repeat the steps.
Venkatesh, G. M. et al. "Studies on Heating and Cooling of Synthetic Fibers, Yarns, and Fabrics: Properties of Nylon and Polyester Filament Yarns on Heat Setting in Silicone Oil." Journal of Applied Polymer Science, vol 22, no. 8, 1978, pp. 2357-2377. Wiley, doi:10.1002/app.1978.070220825
Salant, Katherine. "Heat Didn't Shrink That Shirt: Fabric Expert Offers the Scoop." The Washington Post, 2004.