How to Shrink Cotton Clothing to Fit Like a Glove

I will wear my favorite cotton T-shirt as often as humanly possible—to work, to sleep, to brunch, to run errands, to a wedding (tucked into a tulle ball gown, mind you). But after so many wears, it’s fairly stretched out and it doesn’t fit quite as well as it did on the day I bought it. So how can I shrink my cotton tee back to its former glory? The answer, luckily, isn’t all that complicated. Here are two easy ways to shrink cotton clothes, like jeans, sweaters and, of course, T-shirts, so you don’t need to spend money shopping for new versions of pieces you already love.

What to consider before you shrink cotton:

1. Be Sure The Item Of Clothing You’re Working With Is 100 Percent Cotton.

Pure cotton is much easier to shrink than other fabrics or blends. You can certainly try both of our methods on clothing that is made with some cotton, but be aware that they may not be as effective. Preshrunk cotton may also be less receptive to these techniques, but it’s always worth a try.

2. There’s Only So Much That Cotton Can Shrink.

Listen, you won’t be able to take an XXL T-shirt and turn it into a small. You’ll most likely shrink your clothing between 1 and 3 percent, or up to two sizes. That means a dress that’s 35 inches long can lose up to one inch in length.

3. The Process Is Pretty Permanent.

Stretching clothing is much more time consuming and complicated than shrinking clothing, so be sure you really and truly want to minimize the size of your T-shirt, jeans or other cotton clothing before going ahead with these processes.

how to shrink cotton t shirts
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How To Shrink Cotton Clothing With Boiling Water

  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil.
    Be sure the pot is large enough to completely submerge the item of clothing without water pouring over the side. It’s also recommended that you boil one item of clothing at a time as colors may bleed into the water and transfer onto another item.

  2. Place your cotton clothing in the pot and soak for five minutes.
    Use a wooden spoon to push the item underwater and ensure the entire thing gets wet. If you’re hoping to shrink your T-shirt just a little bit, you can remove the boiling pot from the burner and let the water cool for about five minutes before adding your garment and letting it soak for five minutes.

  3. Carefully remove your clothing from the pot and place in the dryer.
    Run the dryer on the highest possible setting the fabric will allow (check the care label if you’re unsure) until your clothing is completely dry. This sets the shrinking in place. However, feel free to check your clothing before the dryer finishes its run to ensure your item isn’t getting too small. If you find it has shrunk to your desired size before drying completely, you can finish by hanging to dry instead.

  4. Repeat as necessary.
    You’ll see the biggest size difference after the first time you boil your cotton clothing, but you can repeat the process as many times as you’d like to further shrink pieces down. One word of caution: Give your clothing some time to recover from all that heat between efforts or you may risk damaging the cotton and weakening the fibers too much.
how to shink cotton jeans
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How To Shrink Cotton Clothing In A Washing Machine

  1. Place your cotton clothing in the washer on its highest temperature setting.
    Again, it’s best if you place only the item you wish to shrink into the machine rather than including it in a regular load. You can add a small amount of detergent if you wish (or white vinegar to prevent colors from bleeding), but it isn’t necessary.

  2. Move your clothing to the dryer.
    Use the highest temperature setting the fabric will allow (you can find this on the fabric care label) and run until the clothing is completely dry. Feel free to check on your item throughout the drying process to ensure you’re going to end up with the desired result.

  3. Repeat as necessary.
    Just like with boiling water, this method is most effective the first time you do it. You can keep washing and drying if you find your T-shirt isn’t quite as snug as you’d hoped after the first wash.



Abby Hepworth is an RRCA-certified running coach who has worked in fashion for over 10 years. Want to know what shoes are in this season? She's got you. Need recommendations on...