How to Shrink Any Type of Shirt

From cotton to wool, these easy tricks will help you achieve the perfect fit.

How to Shrink Any Type of Shirt
Someone wearing a white button down shirt off of one shoulder and orange sunglasses. Photo: Getty Images

When clothes shrink in the dryer, more often than not, it’s a tragic mistake. But once in a while, you’ll come across a blouse or graphic tee that’s a little too baggy, and rather than take scissors to the material or visit a tailor, you pop it in the wash and cross your fingers for shrinkage. Truth is, though, luck has nothing to do with it.

The key to learning how to shrink a shirt is understanding why fabrics even shrink in the first place. It starts with the manufacturing process when the shirt is made. According to Dr. Karen Iveson, a researcher, and developer at Dropps, woven fibers are subjected to stress, so they’re easier to cut into the final garment.

“When the garment is subjected to heat, the stress that the fibers are under is lowered,” Iveson explains. This causes the fibers to spring back to their “desired state,” decreasing the fabric’s surface area. As a result, “any type of heat will alleviate the stress forces that the fibers are under” and shrink the garment, she says.

How to Shrink Any Type of Shirt
Someone wearing a grey button down top and black leather pants. Getty Images

Once you know how much heat a piece of fabric can handle, altering tops to fit your style preferences becomes a piece of cake. However, it’s worth noting that different fabrics, weaves, and fabric quality all play a role in how much a fabric shrinks and whether or not it gets distorted, Lee W. Johnson, founder of Old Bull Lee tells InStyle.

For example, high-quality cotton can shrink anywhere from 5 to 7%, whereas lower-quality cotton will shrink 7 to 10%, Johnson says. Additionally, materials shrink by percentage, and because shirts are typically longer than they are wider, “it is to be assumed that a shirt will shrink more in length than width,” Johnson adds.

It boils down to this: The only surefire way to shrink your clothes is to use heat in some way, shape, or form. Running them through the washer and dryer is a popular method, but it’s not the only one, so we reached out to an expert for their most creative tips.

Ahead, Priya Raj, founder of SAUCE, a personal shopping and styling brand that procures and restores new and vintage luxury garments, breaks down how to shrink a shirt by fabric.

How to Shrink Any Type of Shirt
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How to Shrink Denim, Polyester, and Cotton

If you’re hoping to shrink a fabric from this trio, the key is to wash it on the longest, hottest setting of your machine, says Raj. Then, once your shirt is finished washing, pop it into your dryer ASAP on the highest setting. The trick, Raj tells us, is not to allow the shirt to cool down. “Keep checking on the garment and remove once you’re happy with the size — remove and air dry.”

How to Shrink Cashmere and Wool

Skip the washing machine method if you’re looking to shrink a shirt made of cashmere or wool. Instead, Raj suggests taking a spray bottle and evenly spritzing the front of the garment down using about 2 oz of water.

“Fold [the garment] on itself so that the wet sides are together, and press down,” Raj instructs. “Repeat on the backside of the garment, then turn it inside out and do the same. Now put it in the dryer for 20 minutes on high heat then on low heat for 20 minutes. This will get it down by about a full dress size.”

But, be warned, DIY shrinking can slightly distort the texture of cashmere and wool, so you should look and consider if it’s worth hiring a professional tailor to make adjustments instead, Raj tells InStyle.

How to Shrink Linen and Silk

The process of shrinking linen and silk is arguably the easiest labor-wise. All you have to do is soak the shirt in warm — not hot — water for a few hours, stirring the water every so often, then dry it on low heat. “This is the best method to shrink without damaging, as these are two quite delicate fabrics,” says Raj.

This is Ask the Experts: Where our favorite fashion know-it-alls share their wisdom. Just because you can trust your style instincts doesn't mean you should have to.

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