It's normal for them to lose their shape over time.

Mackenzie Dunn
September 09, 2020
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It's tough enough to find a pair of jeans that you love and that fit just right, so when you love a pair so much that they become stretched out or baggy in all the wrong places, it can be a major bummer. But don't donate them just yet! Over time, it's normal for the cotton fibers in denim fabric to lose their structure. Frequent washing and constant wear can cause the material to loosen, but the good news is that the baggy shape doesn't have to be permanent. You can shrink your jeans at home and get them back to the perfect fit with a few simple, DIY methods. With a little know-how, you can revive your favorite tried-and-true pair or even customize the ones you took a chance on and ordered online—only to find they didn't fit quite right. After all, a great pair of jeans should make you feel comfortable and confident every time you wear them.

How to shrink jeans:

1. The washer/dryer technique

Vivienne Desurmont, the owner of Maison Vivienne and a styling expert with 20 years of experience working with vintage and pre-worn clothing, says that one of the easiest ways to shrink jeans is to throw them in the washing machine. Be sure to check on their material first since, according to research by Cotton Inc., 100% cotton can shrink up to 20% of its size. But if your jeans are a cotton and spandex or lycra blend (as many skinny jeans are), they may shrink less.

  1. Start by putting your jeans in the washing machine and selecting the hottest water setting (should be 60° or more).
  2. Select a normal or heavy wash cycle and add your regular detergent and fabric softener.
  3. When the cycle is finished, transfer the jeans to the dryer and turn it to the highest setting.
  4. Don’t hesitate to restart the dryer cycle or add an additional 10 minutes if the jeans are not completely dry or if they are still too loose for your liking.

The reason this works is that the heat, when applied to wet jeans, causes the cotton fibers to contract as they dry, which makes them shrink.

2. The boiling technique

According to Melissa Maker, a cleaning expert who works with Arm & Hammer Clean and Simple detergent, another easy way to shrink your jeans is to boil them in hot water for at least 30 minutes and then put them in the dryer at high heat. "This will yield better results since you're exposing them to an even higher temperature," she explains.

3. The spray technique.

You may find that your jeans fit exactly how you want them to in some places but not in others. For example, it's common for high-rise jeans to lose their shape in the thighs and waist with frequent wear. If this is the case, Desurmont says to try spot-washing your jeans with a spray bottle.

  1. Fill a spray bottle with three parts hot water and one part liquid fabric softener.
  2. Shake to mix the solution.
  3. Spritz the solution onto the areas of your jeans that you would like to shrink until they are well saturated.
  4. Leave the portions you don't want to shrink completely dry.
  5. Put the entire pair of jeans into the dryer on the highest heat setting.*

*If you don't have access to a dryer, you can also use a hairdryer or iron to apply heat to the saturated areas until they are completely dry. Any fabric that is left wet or damp will not shrink.

4. The shoestring method.

To shrink the waist of your jeans, one viral TikTok video showed an ingenious method of using a shoestring to cinch it in. Simply thread the string into two back belt loops, then tie it together to adjust the fit. Tuck the string into the waistband to hide it. While this isn't a long-term solution, it is a great trick to use if you're in a pinch.

To maintain the shape of your jeans, wash them less frequently.

"Jeans with a blended material (like a mix of cotton and spandex or lycra) will likely be the ones that would retain their original shape the best," says Maker. She explains that the elastic materials help the denim to stretch during wear and then snap back, as opposed to bagging out once they've been worn. "However, if your jeans are 100% cotton, it's recommended to wash them less because it can wear the material over time," she says. Her best advice? If you like the shape that they are, use heat as your guide: If they don't need to shrink, use cold water in your wash and a cool setting to dry (or hang), and if you do want them to shrink, use hot settings in both the wash and in the dryer. Good luck!