How To Shrink Polyester [The Best Way]

Polyester is a synthetic fiber that has become very popular over the years due to its durability and ease of care. It’s also not prone to shrinking because of this reason, and this is why we have written this article.

Polyester is a manmade material that was originally developed in Germany during World War II. The material was created to replace cotton because it was easier to produce and had better properties.

Today, polyester is widely used in clothing, bedding, carpets, and other household items.

Although shrinking polyester is difficult, it’s not impossible, and you can do it! It can be done by using a washing machine or a dryer turned to high heat, or you could even use a clothes iron, but you need to be careful not to melt the fabric.

Each method has pros and cons, and in this article, we will evaluate each one to help you work out which is the best method for you.

How To Shrink Polyester [The Best Way]

Polyester

Polyester is a synthetic fiber made from ethylene glycol (EG) and terephthalic acid (TA). This chemical combination makes up about 90% of all polyesters on earth today.

Polyester is so common that most people don’t realize how much of it they are wearing every day.

If you look at your clothing right now, you’ll see that there are two types: 100% polyester and blended fabrics. Blended fabrics contain both natural fibers like cotton and synthetics like polyester.

These blends make up about 75 percent of all clothing sold today.

Polyester is known as a “synthetic” fiber because it doesn’t come from an animal source and is manmade. However, it does still require some type of oil extraction process to create.

Why Is Polyester So Popular?

There are several reasons why polyester is so popular. First, it’s extremely durable and easy to clean. You won’t find any stains or odors with polyester, and it’s resistant to fading and mildew.

It’s also hypoallergenic, meaning it won’t cause allergic reactions.

Second, polyester is highly versatile. Because it’s strong, flexible, and lightweight, it works well in many different applications. For example, it’s commonly found in clothing, furniture, carpeting, and more.

Polyester can also be found in artificial stuffing for soft toys and pillows, plastic water bottles, on top of ropes, balloons, and hoses.

Third, polyester is relatively inexpensive. It costs less than 50 cents per pound compared to $1.50 per pound for cotton.

Fourth, polyester is incredibly soft and comfortable. It feels great against the skin and provides excellent insulation.

Finally, polyester is recyclable. It can be recycled through either mechanical recycling or incineration.

Mechanical recycling involves breaking down the plastic into small pieces and then melting them down again. Incineration requires burning the polyester to destroy it completely.

Does Polyester Shrink?

It is commonly known and is popular because of this, that synthetic fabric like polyester is immune to shrinking. When a material is 100% polyester, it’s almost impossible for you to accidentally shrink it in the wash like a lot of other materials.

To keep original proportions, you do not have to take extra measures when washing 100% polyester. 

Synthetic fibers are artificial and do not expand, change shape, or contract when faced and washed in different temperatures. Their dimensions remain the same, whatever temperature you prefer to wash your clothes on.

Whilst this is often a selling point of the material and is often a good thing, there are times when you might want to purposefully shrink your 100% polyester clothing such as when you lose weight, or accidentally bought a wrong size but cannot take it back to the shop. 

Luckily, despite100% polyester not being made to shrink, it can still melt. It is technically plastic, which means very extreme heat can cause it to change shape and overall proportions, leading to a similar effect as shrinking.

Does Polyester Shrink?

The polyester blend is a lot easier to shrink than 100% polyester, but the challenges that are raised come with how much polyester makes up part of the blend. For example, it’s a lot easier to shrink fabric that is 50% polyester or less.

Although polyester can withstand certain heat fluctuations, it is generally heat-intolerant, and having your dryer too hot can cause damage.

This damage is similar to shrinking, but it means the fibers are technically melting, as we have previously mentioned. 

A minimum heat setting for an attempt to shrink 100% polyester is 140/50 degrees F, but you should always aim higher than this. Somewhere around the 155 – 178 degrees F mark is supposed to be the best temperature range for shrinkage in this fabric.

Polyester blends need lower heat levels. The natural fiber found inside the blend will have the capability to shrink, and this will make it easier to shrink the item of clothing.

How Much Does The Fabric Shrink?

How much a polyester clothing item shrinks depends on the blend and how much of the fabric is polyester. If you try to shrink 100% polyester, the shrinkage will remain minimal as the plastic is immune and resistant to shrinkage.

However, the heat can still damage the fabric fibers and make the clothing a bit melted. 

Attempting to shrink 100% polyester is never guaranteed to have the effect you want, and it is, therefore, best to return the clothing or just buy a smaller size.

A polyester blend, however, can be prone to shrinkage. A polycotton blend of around 65 to 35 percent means the cotton will shrink, but it will have such a small impact, you will hardly notice it. 

This is why the amount of polyester in the blend matters. To shrink a polycotton item of clothing, you should use extra heat when washing than you would under normal circumstances.

But bear in mind, the polyester content means it will shrink considerably less than if it were made entirely out of cotton.

How Do I Shrink Polyester?

Shrinking polyester is not easy, and it does require a few steps. You will first need to determine what kind of polyester clothing you own.

Some items may be able to be shrunk using the methods below, while others may not. You can also use these techniques to shrink other types of fabrics, but they will all require different amounts of time, heat, and effort.

You should not attempt to shrink an item of clothing over and over again, as this could lead to permanent damage. It might end up turning stiff or melting completely. 

Using A Washing Machine To Shrink Polyester

If you have access to a washing machine, then you can use a cycle called “delicate” which has a low water level and a high heat setting.

Using this method, you will need to wash the item at least twice to get the desired results, and choosing the highest heat will even help you on your way to shrinking 100% polyester. 

As polyester is heat-intolerant, you might think a medium heat will do it, but when it comes to 100% polyester, you will need the hottest setting to see visible results.

You will not need to worry about detergent if you are washing purely to shrink the clothing but ensure you turn the clothing inside out before popping it in the machine.

Furthermore, if you want maximum shrinkage, you will need to also use a dryer in the hottest setting. 

Pros

– Minimal effort required

– No chemicals are needed

– Can be used for any type of fabric

– Extra shrinkage can occur through using a dryer

Cons

– Takes longer than handwashing

– May cause damage to the fabric

– Might not work as well for blends

– Difficult to assess the level of shrinkage before choosing the heat setting

Using A Dryer To Shrink Polyester

Using A Dryer To Shrink Polyester

You can also use a dryer to shrink polyester and other fabrics. The same principles apply here as with the washing machine, except that you will need to use a lower temperature setting and more frequent washes.

You can use a regular dryer, and usually, the heat and the amount of time you put your garment in the dryer will vary the amount of shrinkage you will achieve.

Both 100% polyester and blends of the fabric can shrink when using a dryer but like washing, you need to remember to use a hotter setting than you would normally.

This will determine the shrinking level, whether this is moderate or maximum. The lower the setting, the more minimal the shrinkage.

Pros

– Quickest way to shrink

– Less effort required

– No chemical usage

– Can be used on any type of fabric

– Fluff-air setting is best used only a small amount of shrinkage

Cons

– More difficult to assess the final result

– May cause damage if dried too many times in a high heat setting

– Not suitable for every item and can cause some clothing items to wrinkle

Using A Clothes Iron To Shrink Polyester

An iron can be the key to achieving the perfect amount of shrinkage in your polyester clothing.

You will need to start by washing your garment at the highest heat level, either in the washing machine or by hand, and always remember to turn it inside out to protect the clothing color.

To dry the clothing, however, you will need your iron and will need to put the wet polyester straight on your ironing board. Ensure you set your iron to no higher than medium heat.

Using a pressing cloth, you should then continue to iron the clothing as you normally would until the fabric is dry. Avoid using the steam setting, as steam will create too much heat, causing the garment to end up damaged.

Remember, you want to shrink the polyester, not damage it.

Pros

– Easy to judge the shrinkage as your iron

– Can control the heat setting

Cons

– Can cause the fabric to melt

– Takes more time

Using Boiling Water To Shrink Polyester

There are two ways to use boiling water to shrink your garment, and for each method, you need one pan big enough to keep your item completely submerged in the water. You will also need a stove.

Before beginning, wash your garment and then bring a big pot filled with water to a boil. Avoid drying your polyester before submerging it in the boiling water.

Carry on boiling for about an hour. The time will vary and will depend on how thick your garment is. Smaller garments that are much thinner will not take the whole hour.

You could alternatively just boil your garment in the boiling water for about 10 minutes and drain. Leave to cool until it reaches room temperature and then you can use a dryer to dry the garment on high heat.

Pros

– Can check shrinking by taking out of water

– Uses less power and electricity- saves you money

Cons

– Timing can be hard to judge with thinner fabric

– Polyester can become too hot and get damaged

Using A Clothesline To Shrink Polyester

Using A Clothesline To Shrink Polyester

This method is great for polycotton blends, but you need to wash the item in a warmer than normal setting first.

Before washing, turn your garment inside out and set the washing machine to a relatively hot wash.

Remember, unless you are washing out dirt, with polyester, you do not need to add detergent. If you’re shrinking new clothing items or a clean item of clothing, hot water on its own will suffice.

Once you have washed the garment, either with detergent or not, hang the garment on a clothesline and allow it to dry. The extra heat coming off the sun will aid and encourage the shrinking process.

Pros

No detergent is needed

– Leave outside to dry until it has shrunk to the size you want

– Great for a little shrinkage

Cons

– Works well with polyester blends

– Won’t shrink as much as they would in a dryer

– Only a little shrinkage

Shrinking Polyester Tips

To ensure you get the best shrink, we recommend you wash your clothing first. If you do this at the same time as shrinking, you may end up with excess heat traps stains.

This is very important if you are using boiling water to shrink the material. Doing it this way, you make sure no chemicals clog up the fibers and stop them from shrinking.

As we have mentioned, polyester can melt with excessive heat, so you need to be careful with temperature settings. Monitoring the heat level through the process avoids this happening and makes sure you do not damage the fabric. 

Caring For Polyester

Polyester is considered a man-made fiber and therefore requires special care when washing, even after shrinking. It does not like being wet for too long and does not like excessive heat.

As it has been exposed to such high levels of heat in the shrinking process, you need to avoid it becoming too hot once more. Continued heat exposure can damage the fibers, and they might not be colorfast anymore.

Garments can then turn stiff and can become less durable. Ensure after shrinking you wash with a permanent press washing setting or use cold and luke-warm water. Always air-dry the fabric post-shrinking.

Shrinking Polyester Clothing: How Do I Know If It’s Working?

When you try to shrink polyester by hand, you will notice that there is no real way to tell how much shrinkage you’ve achieved until after the process is complete.

You may find that the amount of shrinkage varies from one piece of clothing to another.

However, if you’re trying to shrink something that is already made into a garment, you will know exactly what the shrinkage looks like when you next wear it because you’ll be able to compare it against the original size of the item.

When you’re working with polyester, you should always choose a higher heat setting than you would normally use for cotton. Remember that the higher the setting, the greater the shrinkage.

If you don’t think your clothes can handle the heat when washing and drying, remember you can still use a clothes iron to shrink polyester. Just make sure you use an iron that is specifically designed to work with polyester.

Some irons come with a special coating that helps prevent the fabric from burning during the process. Other types of irons are coated with wax or oil to help protect the fabric.

You can also use steam instead of heat to shrink polyester. This works best if you have access to a steamer and is similar to using a steam iron. Steamers are usually found in bathrooms or kitchens. They consist of a tank filled with water and a heating element.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Unshrink Polyester?

To unshrink polyester, try soaking the item in lukewarm water and a drop of chemical-free baby shampoo. Gently knead the garment using your hands and this should relax the fibers.

Pat with a towel to dry, and use your hands to stretch the item out until it is back to its original size. Air-dry.

How Much Does Cotton Shrink In The Wash? 

If you wash cotton garments in hot water, they can shrink by 5% but this will only happen the first time you wash them.

What Fabrics Can Be Washed In Hot Water?

Cotton, linen, and some durable synthetic fibers can be washed in hot water, but always do so with caution. When it comes to temperature, often with garments, including polyester, the colder the water, the better.

Final Thoughts

We hope after reading this article you have learned all you need to know about polyester and the shrinking process. Although it is immune to shrinking, it’s not impossible, and using the ways we have listed above, you will be successful. 

Blend fabrics are much easier, and the mix of a washing machine and dryer will often give the best results. Happy shrinking!

Amanda Brown

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