How to Shrink a Shirt

White button-down shrunken shirt hanging on drying rack

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins
  • Total Time: 2 hrs
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

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:

Fiber Content

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.

White shirt label revealed before shrinking

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

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.

Warning

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.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Clothes dryer
  • Large pot
  • Stovetop
  • Kitchen tongs

Materials

  • Water

Instructions

Materials and tools to shrink a shirt

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

How to Shrink a Shirt in a Washing Machine

  1. Adjust the Water Temperature and Load Size Settings

    The water temperature should be set on hot and the load size to small. The cycle should be set to the longest wash cycle. The shirt needs to remain in the hot water for as long as possible.

    Washing machine set in hot water for highest spin cycle closeup

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  2. Wash the Shirt

    Add the shirt to the washer. Do not add any detergent or fabric softener. Run the complete washer cycle.

    White button-down shirt placed in washing machine

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  3. 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.

    White shirt placed in dryer machine on highest heat setting

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  4. 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

  1. 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.

    Water poured into large pot for shrinking shirt

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  2. 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.

    Water boiling in large pot on stovetop for shrinking shirt

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  3. 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.

    White shirt added to boiling pot with metal tongs for shrinking

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  4. 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.

    White shirt soaking in boiling water to shrink

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  5. Remove Excess Water

    Wring the cooled shirt to remove excess water.

    White shirt twisted by hand to remove excess water

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  6. 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.

    White button-down shirt hanging on drying rack to air dry

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  7. Repeat if Needed

    If the shirt still isn't small enough, repeat the steps.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. 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

  2. Salant, Katherine. "Heat Didn't Shrink That Shirt: Fabric Expert Offers the Scoop." The Washington Post, 2004.