How to Shrink Your Clothes Correctly

Chances are the first time you ever shrunk a piece of clothing it was accidental. Perhaps you assumed a cotton dress would be fine in the warm-wash load of laundry along with the rest of your socks and towels. However, when the cycle ended, your dress was closer to a shirt than anything else. It happens.

But were we to intentionally take matters into our own hands, we’re still unclear on what the real deal is when it comes to DIY shrinking. With our questions in mind, we turned directly to Adam Vanunu, founder of Cotton Citizen, to tell us what we—total amateurs, let’s face it—need to know about shrinking clothes.

All fabrics can shrink,” Vanunu tells us off the bat, “and because there’s no exact percentage or measurement of shrinkage labelled, as a manufacturer, you find processes of working with fabrics to minimise or avoid shrinkage by the time a final product gets to a customer.” Of course, he’s referring to his own line of It-girl-loved basics, but some pieces are more prone to shrinkage the others. For instance, he says a mass economy retailer brand of T-shirts might “shrink a full size at minimum after a home wash.”

How to Shrink Clothes


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But is it as simple as that? One size per warm wash? “It’s basic science that the more heat you apply, the more a cotton garment will shrink.” And since the vast majority of us don't have absolute control of the temperature of our dry cleaner's or washing machine, that’s where the beauty of a pre-shrunk items comes in.

“Pre-shrunk products have gone through different processes by the manufacturer to shrink the fabric down before the final product gets to the consumer,” Vanunu says of the process used at Cotton Citizen, not to mention other popular brands such as Everlane, Lacausa, Outdoor Voices, and BackBeatRags. “Products that are not pre-shrunk tend to shrink a full size, along with 'torquing'—what happens when your T-shirts start to twist after you wash them at home.”

The moral of the story is to shrink at your own risk. “There’s a lot that can happen when you don’t control shrinkage at the manufacturing level—you can ruin the fabric, change the fit, or simply shrink it too much,” says Vanunu. And don’t forget to check the labels for which items are pre-shrunk and which are not. Especially if you tend to be lazy about separating your laundry into cold and warm piles.

Ahead, shop some of our favourite pre-shrunken styles.

This classic white tee gets an upgrade with the subtlest bit of distressing.

Wear this plus a high-waist pair of jeans, booties, and a leather jacket, and your model-off-duty look is set.

The non–summer camp way to do tie-dye.

This post was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated by Elinor Block.