Does Denim Shrink? A Guide To Shrinking Denim Jackets And Jeans

Caring for the clothes in your wardrobe is critical to ensure they remain comfortable and fit well for years. Denim is just like any other fabric in that it will need regular washing and can shrink when certain conditions are met.

This is somewhat inevitable unless you buy it pre-shrunk or look after it properly. 

You may wonder why your favorite pair of jeans suddenly feels a bit tighter after a few months in your wardrobe. No, you have likely not put on weight but denim does shrink naturally over time and especially if you wash the material in a high heat then tumble dry either a pair of jeans or a jacket. 

In this guide, we will look at why denim shrinks, how you can prevent denim from shrinking, and how you can purposefully shrink denim jackets and jeans.

Does Denim Shrink A Guide To Shrinking Denim Jackets And Jeans

Why Does Denim Shrink?

When you wear your denim jeans and jackets, over time you will need to give them a good clean. This will usually be done in the washing machine or laundromat, you could dry them by hanging them outside or in the tumble dryer. 

However you decide to wash then tumble dry the material, you can expect denim to shrink and this will be noticeable after the first wash. In fact, denim is renowned for shrinking as much as 10% from the first wash which may make it feel tighter than expected when you next wear your jacket or jeans.

Try not to think of denim as a wholly different fabric from the rest of your wardrobe. It may look tough and feel more durable than the rest of your clothes yet it shrinks precisely because it is either totally cotton or a high cotton blend. 

That’s right if you knew that fact you would expect it to shrink every time you wash it at high heat. This is because cotton is known to shrink when exposed to heat, notably in the form of hot water. 

Denim is primarily made of plant fibers that individually wilt and expand when they are exposed to excessive heat.

These plant fibers then constrict and shrink as they dry to become smaller so the collective effect is that your jeans or jacket will shrink too.

Try not to think of denim as any different from cotton when you wash it because if you think it can withstand a hot wash any better then you may get an uncomfortable surprise, especially when you struggle to put on your jeans or jacket.

There are some subtle differences between denim and cotton that you may notice over time. They can both shrink substantially on the first wash yet that is largely where the similarities end.

Denim can still shrink every time you wash it, especially in a hot wash, yet the shrinking does diminish and can be altered. For one, the plant fibers are more malleable and are specially designed to stretch to fit your body shape well. 

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How Denim Reacts When You Wear It

You should be encouraged to wear denim more often. Not just because it looks good, but because of the improved fit as the fibers stretch out in certain places to better fit your body.

That can be seen with your denim jacket as the fibers shrink just a bit every time you wear it. The next time you put on the jacket you should note that the fibers have shrunk back to their original state.  

How Denim Reacts When You Do Not Wear It

So you should appreciate how denim stretches when you wear it then reverts in your wardrobe. However, if you fail to wear your denim jacket or jeans then there should be minimal shrinkage if any at all. 

That is largely due to most of the shrinking being a result of the laundry process, especially from a hot wash. Simply wash the denim when you need to, try to do it on a relatively cold wash and it should be clean while in its original size. 

How To Prevent Denim From Shrinking

One simple rule to remember that should help you prevent your denim clothes from shrinking is to pay attention to the water temperature when washing.

If you leave your denim jackets and jeans in a hot wash then throw them in the tumble dryer, especially for the first time, you should expect them to shrink. To prevent this from happening, just wash them at a colder temperature and leave them to dry outside. 

There is no set temperature where denim is unlikely to shrink, but the lower the temperature, the less chance your denim jacket and jeans should shrink. Try washing them at 40°C and if that does not work go even further down to 30°C. 

Also, check the percentage of cotton if your denim is made from a high cotton blend. The more cotton, the more careful you have to be when washing it as materials such as polyester can be increasingly resistant to the effects of hot temperatures. 

There are various ways to prevent your denim jackets and jeans from shrinking. If you want a more hands-on approach to looking after them then you can try handwashing. You could also look at the label for more polyester in the band as it is more heat-resistant than cotton.

Try turning your jacket and jeans inside-out when washing as the denim material’s outside layer is known to be more sensitive to heat. 

One final way to ensure that your denim jacket or jeans do not shrink is to buy them pre-shrunk as they will be designed to resist shrinking. This can be more expensive than regular denim yet it should mean it is more durable and should have a longer-lasting fit.

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How To Shrink Denim Jackets And Jeans

If you did want to shrink your raw-denim jeans then bear in mind that a pair can usually shrink between 7 to 10% on a first wash then conform to your body shape. According to Levi’s, if your denim jeans have not been pre-shrunk then they can be shrunk by as much as two pants sizes. 

This is more likely if you wash them in hot water for the first wash so be careful if you want them to remain the same size as intended. That can mean an especially tight, more close fit than they felt when you tried them on in the shop. 

Buying a new pair of jeans that you know will suit you for years can be a difficult task on its own. That can be made even worse when you get them home and they already seem a little too big.

You can still get them on but there is just too much slack, though you may want to return them and risk exchanging them for the smaller size you can shrink them yourselves. 

Washing And Tumble Drying At High Temperatures

The background to all denim shrinking is in the application of moisture and high temperatures. For shrinking your denim jacket and jeans, we would recommend a washing temperature of around 85 to 90°C.

You could go even higher if your washing machine allows you to but try to steer above 60°C. This may be advisable after a vacation where you may have worn your jeans for several days as the hotter temperatures tend to kill off bacteria better than washing in cold ones.   

You may notice that the tag does state not to wash and tumble dry at high temperatures, with good reason. With that warning in mind, it can be difficult to shrink denim exactly how you want it to shrink.

For instance, if a pair of jeans is too long then you may want them shorter yet denim can shrink in both length and width. 

An Extra Ten Minutes When Dry

It may be good to know that a totally cotton pair of denim jeans can shrink by 20% of its original size. That may be an excessive amount if you cannot physically move in them as they have limited ability to stretch.

If you did want optimum stretching then wash and tumble dry your jacket and jeans at the highest possible temperature then leave them in the dryer for a bonus of ten minutes when they have dried out to contract the fibers even further. 

Boil Them Up

This may sound like a drastic move but needs must be if you want your denim to shrink then you should boil them. Get your largest pan (big enough to comfortably accommodate your jeans or jacket), pour in some water, and bring it to a boil. 

Carefully drop your denim in with some tongs and let them soak while submerged for around 20 to 30 minutes. You may have to keep an eye on the boiling to make sure that the denim remains underwater.

This is only the washing stage so once they have had their time, use the tongs to remove the denim then put your jacket or jeans into the tumble dryer at the highest temperature setting. Do not forget to give them the extra ten minutes once that cycle has finished too.  

The less cotton, the less you can shrink your denim jacket or jeans. You may be able to achieve some admirable shrinking with totally cotton denim, a blend of 20% polyester and 80% cotton may only shrink by 3%. You can forget about spandex shrinking as that is designed to be stretchy. 

Shrinking A Single Part Of Your Denim Jeans

It may be a specific area of your denim jeans that seems excessively big and you want to shrink it down. That can be done too and you only need a spray bottle to target that area.

Use hot water and fabric softener in a three to one ratio then shake to mix it up and liberally spray it on that area. Be careful not to go past that area as you do not want any more denim to shrink. 

Just like the boiling, this is only the washing stage so drop your denim jeans into the tumble dryer for a cycle at the highest temperature setting.

Forget about air-drying as this will not have the desired effect though an iron or hair dryer may prove effective. This is an ideal method for areas such as the thighs or crotch that you simply want to tighten up. 

Does Denim Shrink A Guide To Shrinking Denim Jackets And Jeans

How To Shrink A Denim Jacket

It may prove a lot more difficult to shrink a denim jacket than it will a pair of jeans. That is down to how denim jackets tend to be made out of cotton blends and the introduction of some synthetic fabrics can reduce the stretching factor.

These synthetic fibers are also more susceptible to damage when exposed to high temperatures too. 

You may want to ask yourself if shrinking your denim jacket is worth it as it can feel wholly more comfortable with a bit of leeway, especially when you put it on and try to button it up.

If you are keen on shrinking your denim jacket then you need to control the process yourself. Try focusing on certain areas that you want to shrink or take the time to try the boiling method. 

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How To Stretch Out Denim After It Has Shrunk

Once you have struggled to zip up a pair of shrunken denim jeans, it can feel disheartening. You cannot simply go around breathing in and hoping that your jeans will become more comfortable over the course of the day.

The struggle can be even more real as you try to take those jeans off though there are ways to stretch out any denim that has shrunk.

Knowing that a hot wash and tumble dry can shrink a denim jacket and jeans then submerging them in lukewarm water should have the desired effect. Leave them in a bucket or bath for around an hour with some baby shampoo then rinse and squeeze them to remove any excess water. 

You could also try laying them flat then rolling them in a dry towel which you can squeeze to allow the towel to take up more excess water. 

If you do not have a bucket then try filling a spray bottle with water and then spraying them. You could even throw in some baby oil, baby shampoo, or fabric softener to the mix to increase the suppleness.

Whichever way you decide to get your denim wet, grab either the sleeves of your jacket or the bottoms of your jeans then pull them wide to stretch them.

You can also stand on them if you feel more comfortable stretching them that way though avoid doing this at the pockets or belt loops as they can rip. Instead of tumble drying, allow your jacket or jeans to air dry hanging up.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Get your last-minute questions answered here! 

Does Using A Tumble Dryer Shrink Denim Jackets And Jeans?

In a short answer, yes, if you do use a tumble dryer then you can also shrink your denim jackets and jeans.

Again, this has more to do with the effects of high temperatures on the plant fibers in the denim material. Just as washing at a high temperature can shrink your denim jackets and jeans, so can drying them too. 

If you do want to avoid shrinking your denim jackets and jeans then wash them at a relatively cold temperature then leave them out to air dry.

This may take longer than you want yet you would be looking after your denim properly. Should you prefer to wash and tumble dry at a hot temperature then try to insist on buying pre-shrunk denim instead where any effects are less pronounced.

How Do Denim Jeans Shrink In Length?

Denim jeans can shrink by as much as 3 to 4% in a hot wash and a lot of that will be seen in the length. As a specific length, this could be as much as around one to one and a quarter inches which may be ideal if you do not want to turn up the bottom of your jeans. 

Do bear in mind that once denim jeans have shrunk in length it can be very difficult to get them to revert to their original length as the denim fibers tend to stretch in the waist rather than the length. 

How Do Denim Jeans Shrink In Waist?

If you want your denim jeans to shrink in the waist measurement then you may be pleased to learn that this can total one to three inches. However, this is largely relative to the original size of the jeans so larger ones will shrink more inches than smaller ones.

Even then, you may not expect such a tight fit as denim tends to stretch back out as soon as you put it on. Any shrinking will also likely be a one-off as denim jackets and jeans are unlikely to shrink as much the following times you wash them.

Can You Permanently Shrink A Pair Of Denim Jeans? 

After losing some weight, you may want to keep hold of your favorite pair of jeans but unfortunately, it is very difficult to permanently shrink them. This is largely due to the material’s tendency to stretch and conform to your body as you wear it. 

You could dry the hot water wash and tumble dry yet your jeans may simply revert to their original size over time anyway. Though it is possible, denim can be a temperamental material to shrink and you cannot control how much it will shrink so you may be forced to buy a new favorite pair of jeans. 

Final Thoughts

Once you get past thinking denim is a wholly independent fabric then it can become less daunting when you realize it is malleable.

As a wholly cotton blend, denim can shrink by up to 10% when put in a hot wash and tumble dry the first time you get it home. That may be reassuring if the size is just a bit too loose but you should remember that it conforms to your body over time too. 

Denim is made of plant fibers that naturally wilt when treated with hot temperatures and a way to prevent it from shrinking is to wash at colder temperatures then allow it to air dry.

Not only will you be looking after your clothes to keep them in the same size but this is a more environmentally friendly way of doing your laundry too.

Amanda Brown
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