How To Shrink Jeans Without Ruining Them 

By  Emily Konatella

LAST UPDATED - December 11, 2023

Let's face it. It's hard (sometimes downright impossible) to find a pair of jeans that fits just right. After a few wears, what you once thought was the perfect pair of jeans can get loose in the waist, baggy in the knees, or worst of all, saggy in the backside. But before you toss your old favorite pair in the donate pile or retire a new pair to the back of your closet to never be worn again, it's worth trying to shrink your jeans for the perfect fit.

Below, we'll teach you how to shrink your jeans without ruining them. These easy methods can help you get your jeans back to the perfect size in no time.

Can you shrink jeans?

Yes! Depending on the type of denim, there are a few different ways to shrink jeans to their original size. There are a few different reasons why you may want to as well. Whether you've lost weight, purchased the wrong size, or just didn't realize that your jeans would stretch that much when you bought them, there's no shame in shrinking your jeans from time to time.

But be warned, low-quality denim and super-stretchy materials may not fare well with some shrinking methods. Synthetic fabrics like polyester and elastane can warp and snap under high-heat conditions, leading to permanently saggy, stretched-out jeans with that weird rippled appearance around the crotch.

Unlike other garments, jeans should be washed sparingly to keep them looking their best. Denim experts recommend washing your jeans after every five or six wears. Spot clean with a Tide Pen to keep your denim looking fresh for longer between washes. When it does come time to wash, be sure to zip, button, and turn your jeans inside out to protect them from fading, bleeding, or rubbing against rough zippers.

How to Shrink Jeans

Before we break down the different ways to shrink baggy jeans, we first need to break down exactly what jeans are made of. It's crucial to check the care label of your jeans to determine the fabric content and recommended washing and drying methods. Some finishes and embellishment may require special care or dry cleaning.

While most vintage (and vintage-inspired) jeans are made using traditional 100% cotton twill fabric, many modern styles now spin the cotton yarn with additional synthetic fibers that add a bit of stretch. Even just 1 or 2% spandex can help make your jeans a whole lot more comfortable. 5% or more allows for body-hugging fits like skinny jeans and jeggings.

As a rule of thumb, the higher the cotton content, the easier the jeans will be to shrink. Cotton fibers naturally shrink under high heat conditions, such as in your washing machine or dryer, and hold up well during laundering. These cotton fibers also naturally stretch over time. It's totally normal for raw denim and vintage jeans to loosen up between washes. They'll shrink right back to their original size as soon as you launder them.

Stretch fabrics like polyester, spandex, nylon, and elastane are made using synthetic, petroleum-based materials that typically don't hold up well in high temperatures. Just like your Tupperware can warp in a hot dishwasher, your skinny jeans can ripple and lose their shape in a hot dryer. While shrinking these jeans may temporarily improve their fit, it'll significantly shorten their lifespan in your wardrobe.

Now, let's take a look at a few popular ways to shrink your jeans.

Washing Machine & Air Dry

Oftentimes all your jeans need is a trip through the washing machine. It's natural for denim to stretch a little with each wear, so don't be alarmed if your jeans fit a bit differently each time you pull them on. This is especially true for rigid, 100% cotton jeans that don't contain any spandex or elastic to help hold their shape.

Unless you're looking to seriously shrink your jeans, avoid drying them in the dryer. The high-heat and agitated motion can damage stretchy synthetic fabrics and delicate vintage jeans. After taking your jeans out of the washing machine, hang them out to air-dry until completely dry.

While they may feel a bit stiff at first, they'll soften up again after a few hours of wear. Or toss them in the dryer with a damp towel for about five minutes on a low-temperature setting to relax them a bit.

Dry at a High-Heat Setting

If you're shrinking jeans made of 100% cotton denim (perhaps a pair of timeless Levi Strauss 501s), it's safe to shrink them using the highest heat setting on your dryer. These high temperatures naturally cause the cotton to shrink, just like when you tumble dry your favorite basic tee. Cotton is one of the more durable fabrics out there, so it shouldn't cause any significant damage to your jeans.

The dryer method is not suitable for jeans made with polyester, elastane, spandex, and other synthetic materials. These high temperatures can cause these stretchy fabrics to lose their shape or become permanently stretched out. When dried, low-quality denim often gets a strange ripped appearance across the hips, knees, and front crotch area.

Spray with Water and Dry on High

To shrink your jeans in a pinch, spritz them until damp with a spray bottle full of water and toss them in the dryer on high heat for about ten to fifteen minutes or until fully dry. While it won't shrink them as much as a full wash and dry will, it can help eliminate baggy spots for a better fit. This no-wash method works best on jeans made with heavyweight, 100% cotton denim.

To refresh your jeans even further, add a few drops of essential oils to the spray bottle before you spritz. Not only will your jeans return to their original shape, but they'll smell nice too!

Wash on the Hottest Setting

While some fashion blogs will recommend a boiling method involving a large pot of rolling boil water and a watchful eye, we recommend skipping this method in favor of a simple trip through the washing machine standard washing cycle on its highest heat setting. Be sure to button, zip, and turn your jeans inside out before you toss them in the washer. For more dramatic shrinkage, follow this up with a trip through the dryer.

But be warned, hot water can cause some denim dyes to bleed. Avoid washing dark wash or black jeans with other clothes that could get stained in the process. Stains from denim dyes can be particularly difficult to remove from other clothes.

Hot water can also cause dark washes to fade, so this method is best suited for washes that already have a distressed, lived-in look. Alternatively, you can lock in dark-colored dyes using a vinegar treatment. Add a cup full of plain white distilled vinegar and a spoonful of salt to a sinkful of cold water. Submerge your jeans fully and leave them to soak for an hour or two. Rinse well-soaked jeans thoroughly and hang the jeans dry. This should help remove loose dye particles and lock in colors so they don't bleed or fade during future washes.

Mold Wet Denim

If you want to shrink denim perfectly to your body, then you must try this method. Put on your stretched-out jeans, and then get in a bathtub filled with warm water. Make sure the denim on your body is fully submerged in lukewarm water to hot water (hot enough to your comfort, of course). While wearing wet denim is uncomfortable, but it will get it almost perfect. The hot bath and heat will help jeans shrink and closely conform to your body. Either let the wet denim air fry on your body or gently remove them and put them in a dryer for even more shrinkage.

How To Shrink Jeans Tips

  • To avoid and prevent stiff shrink jeans, add some liquid fabric softener before washing.
  • The key to shrinking denim is to apply heat. If you just need that a little bit more or target a certain area after trying the above methods, you can use a really hot iron on the ironing board to target specific areas. This is perfect if you need a customized fit.
  • Air drying can potentially cause shrinkage to stretch out. If you accidentally shrink too much, you can hang your jeans after washing. Air drying also prevents bleeding or fading of your jean color.

About the author

Emily is a fashion consultant, designer and creative director with more than 15 years experience creating, designing and developing clothing & jewelry. From managing pageant shows to turning concepts into actual designs, she has experience with almost all fabric types and jewelry designs and is in touch with the latest fashion trends.