How to Shrink a Cotton Shirt

Lester Fangonilo - October 5, 2021


Scenario: you’re out shopping and you find the perfect T-shirt that suits your style and, because it happens to be cotton, you know it’s bound to be extra-comfortable. Unfortunately, you get home and discover that your perfect T-shirt is at least two sizes too big and will hang awkwardly from your body.

But, don’t fret: there’s a way by which you can fix the situation without suffering through buyer’s remorse: you can actually shrink the shirt to your ideal size. While shirts shrinking in the wash have long been a gag in visual comedy, you can actually use the principle to your advantage and save you the cost of buying another shirt.

The first thing we’re going to ask, though, is whether or not your shirt was made with cotton, or if it was made with a blend of cotton and linen, a mix of cotton and synthetics, or pure synthetic fibers.

Materials Matter in This Case

Seriously, the following tips apply if your shirt is made with cotton; shirts made with a combination of cotton and synthetic fibers or are purely synthetic can be hard to shrink to size.

Applying heat to cotton fibers causes them to contract, thus shrinking whichever piece of clothing you've heated to around a size smaller.

There are two methods by which you could do this: a wet method and a dry method. The wet method involves putting an oversized shirt into a pot of boiling water - but that does not mean that a quick dip will solve your problem. No: time is the other factor to consider when it comes to shrinking a shirt to your ideal size.

In the case of the dry method, you'll need a dryer - a clothes dryer, not a hair dryer, obviously - for it to work. Even then, especially if the shirt you bought has not been pre-shrunk by the manufacturer, shrinkage will only be around 20% of the shirt's original size. But if you're fine with that, you can try it for yourself.

Shrinking a Cotton Shirt: Dry Method:

This method has just two steps and both of them involve the application of heat directly to the fabric:

  1. Wash your shirt in a washing machine set to HOT/HOT; and 
  2. Dry your shirt in a dryer set at HIGH HEAT.

 Again, the dry method only allows for minimal shrinkage to around 20% to a quarter of the original size. It may not shrink all the way, but it may result in a more comfortable fit and appealing appearance.


Shrinking a Cotton Shirt: Wet Method

Using the wet method is a bit more involved and, as such, there are a few items you will need:

  • The t-shirt (obviously;)
  • A saucepan large enough to hold the shirt;
  • Enough water with which to cover the shirt; and
  • A stovetop to heat it through.

 The process also takes considerably more time compared to that of the dry method, and the results may be more satisfying.

  1. Set a large saucepan over medium heat;
  1. Add enough water to keep your shirt well-submerged and bring it to a rolling boil;
  1. Place the shirt in the water, making sure that it is completely soaked through and submerged;
  1. Turn off the heat and leave the shirt to sit in the hot water for ten to twenty minutes. Note that this will depend on the size of the shirt - very large ones will need a longer soaking time;
  1. Wring the water out of the shirt, and then check if it has shrunk down to the size you want. If it still hasn't shrunk to the ideal size, repeat the process.

Hold Up: Can You Still Shrink a Pre-shrunk Shirt?

Okay, now this is where things get a bit tricky. The good news is: yes, you can shrink shirts that have been shrunk beforehand by the manufacturer. The bad news, however, is that you can ruin the garment if you aren't careful.

 For those of you who want to give it a shot, here's how it goes:

  1. Be sure to wash the shirt at the highest possible setting of your washing machine;
  1. Turn the shirt inside-out to minimize color fading and be sure to wash it on its own to prevent any of your other clothes from shrinking;
  1. When the shirt has completed its wash cycle, wring it out well and toss it into the dryer, making sure to use the PERMANENT PRESS setting. Take note that you may have to run the shirt through a couple of times to get it to the size you want.

 A caveat here: this method demands that you know when to quit. Running your shirt through multiple wash-and-dry cycles in one go will damage the fibers; you may end up with a ruined shirt rather than a properly shrunken one.

Some Key Points to Remember When Shrinking Cotton Shirts

While cotton lends itself well to deliberate (and, well, accidental) shrinkage, other fabrics will not take too kindly to the shrinking process. In which case, do not attempt to shrink clothing made with rayon or cashmere as high heat will ruin their texture and the structural integrity of the fabric.


  • Be sure to wash any garments you intend to shrink on their own or with other pieces of clothing that you also want to reduce in size.
  • Heat is integral to the shrinking process, so follow the recommended water and dryer temperatures stated earlier.
  • In the case of shirts with printed graphics or decals, avoid hot water as it can cause images to fade. Just run your shirt through a cold or lukewarm water setting.
  • For colored garments, be sure to wash them only with similarly colored clothing that you also intend to shrink and toss in a cup of white vinegar into the machine during the wash cycle.
  • For deliberately shrunken garments, be sure to use a gentle hand-washing detergent to prevent the fibers in the shirt from deteriorating further.
  • If for some reason you managed to over-shrink your shirt, soak it in warm water with a tablespoon of hair conditioner. The emollients in the latter will help the fibers in the fabric expand. Just be sure not to overstretch the garment; this process will take at least an hour to do.