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Denim Downsizing: 5 Easy Ways To Shrink Jeans

Denim Downsizing: 5 Easy Ways To Shrink Jeans

Ill-fitting jeans got you looking like a Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 character? Fear not. One of the great things about denim is that it’s pretty easy to shrink, and if you learn how to do it properly you can avoid having to fork out.

Knowing how to shrink jeans will enable you to achieve a perfect fit with a new pair, or just tighten up old ones if you’ve shed a few pounds. There are a few different methods to choose from, each useful in its own way, but which you opt for will be largely dependent on what exactly you’re trying to achieve.

For example, getting a new pair of raw denim jeans down to size calls for a much different approach than knocking a few inches off the waistband of your old 501s. That’s why we’ve broken down a number of methods to suit all requirements.

Below, we look at some of the best ways to shrink jeans, from spot shrinking problem areas to hopping in the bath (no, seriously). Here’s everything you need to know.

The Pre-Soak Method

Best For: Christening Raw Denim

Denim Downsizing: 5 Easy Ways To Shrink Jeans
Nudie Jeans

The world of raw denim is a confusing place. Not least because half the population are telling you not to let a drop of water near your new jeans for at least six months, while the other half swear blind you should throw them into a bathtub before you even wear them. So who’s right? Well, it depends.

Raw denim can be either sanforized or unsanforized. Sanforized denim has been pre-shrunk, whereas unsanforized denim has not. For the latter, you’ll need to get that initial shrinkage out of the way yourself by giving your jeans a pre-soak. If you are buying unsanforized jeans, make sure to buy them a size or two bigger for this reason.

For the soak, fill your bathtub with two-to-three inches of hot water (not too hot though). Turn the jeans inside out and lay them flat in the water until it has gone completely cold. You can place bottles on top of them to stop them floating to the surface.

Once done, carefully lift them out and hang them to dry.

Stick Them On The Boil

Best For: An Aggressive All-Over Shrink

Denim Downsizing: 5 Easy Ways To Shrink Jeans

Before we go any further, note that this method is only good for 100% cotton jeans. If your jeans are some sort of blend with elastane or polyester then don’t do it. It’s also quite an extreme option, so only attempt it if you can afford for it to go wrong.

First you’ll need a large pot of boiling water. Turn your jeans inside out, pop them in, let them boil away for around 30 minutes and add salt and pepper to taste (not really). Once your jeans are sufficiently boiled, carefully remove them from the pot and pop them in the tumble dryer on the hottest setting.

When you remove them from the dryer, your jeans should have shrunk pretty dramatically all over. But be warned, there’s a high chance your jeans will eventually stretch back to some extent and if you keep repeating this process they’ll lose colour quickly.

Let The Pros Handle It

Best For: Peace Of Mind

Denim Downsizing: 5 Easy Ways To Shrink Jeans

Let’s face it, using heat to shrink any sort of material is always going to be a risky business. It’s bad for the fabric, it’s bad for the dye and it’s never going to lead to the exact results you want. The alternative? Take your ill-fitting jeans to someone who has made a career out of making clothes fit people correctly.

Taking your problem jeans to a tailor may not be ‘shrinking’ in the strictest sense of the word, but by our reckoning, you’re taking something big and making it smaller, so it still counts.

Your local tailor will be able to talk to you about how exactly you want your jeans to fit and can then alter them accordingly. A pot of boiling water is never going to be able to offer that same level of service, which is why a real person is always going to be the best option when it comes to adjusting clothes.

Spot Shrinking

Best For: Minor Adjustments

Denim Downsizing: 5 Easy Ways To Shrink Jeans

If your jeans fit well in some areas but need tightening up in others, spot shrinking might be your best option. This is the practise of shrinking only specific areas of the jeans while leaving others as they were.

There are a few ways of doing it but one of the most popular involves using a spray bottle and some fabric softener. Simply fill the bottle up with roughly three-parts hot water and one-part fabric softener, spray the problem area(s) and leave to dry. If you need the shrinkage to be more drastic, you can use the tumble dryer instead.

Another method is to fill a sink with hot water and submerge the portion of fabric you want to shrink, leaving the rest of the material out of the water. Leave it to soak until the water turns cold and then either hang or tumble dry.


Best For: A Quick Fix

Denim Downsizing: 5 Easy Ways To Shrink Jeans

Sometimes you just need to fix a baggy backside or knees before heading out. Using an iron is a quick and easy way to make these small corrections without going nuclear. For best results, you’ll want to use an iron with a spray function. Failing that, use a spray bottle instead.

Spray the area you want to tighten up and then go over it with the iron on a high setting, making sure to keep it moving. Do this until the fabric is completely dry and repeat as many times as necessary.

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