Hacks For Shrinking Even Your Most Stretched-Out Jeans

The sturdiness and low maintenance of jeans made them a mainstay of farm and industrial wear in the U.S. throughout the late 19th century and mid-20th century, per CottonWorks™. When businessman Levi Strauss and tailor Jacob Davis patented blue jeans in 1873, they probably didn't expect that these garments — originally designed for miners and engineers — would evolve into a streetwear wardrobe staple that spans far and wide. They go great with any kind of attire, are available for all ages and sizes, and are not season exclusive. From second-skin-like skinny jeans to baggy boyfriend jeans to vintage flare jeans, there's a forever-trendy piece for everyone in the jeans universe.

While jeans have a reputation for being durable, even the fittest of them will get saggy over time. The academic program director of QUT's school of design Dean Brough tells ABC Everyday: "Jeans by nature actually do stretch. The fabric is meant to morph and form to the body which is why we love them." Per fashion designer Pia Interlandi, jeans that are made with 100% cotton would eventually puff out due to a lack of elastic recovery. When your skinny jeans no longer fit, all sorts of faux pas happen. These include constantly pulling up the waistband, gapping at the back as you sit, and showing a saggy crotch. Wearing stretched-out jeans can ruin your silhouette. However, before you throw away your loosened jeans, try shrinking them at home using these easy tricks to see if you can restore the stretch.

Wash in hot water followed by a high-heat drying cycle

Generally speaking, heat shrinks almost all types of fabrics. During the making of a garment, manufacturers tend to stretch out fabric so less cloth is used on a single article of clothing, allowing them to save a great amount of money on textiles and optimize profit margin, says fabric technologist Lucinda Ottusch to The Washington Post. Cloth fibers will shrink back to their original state when they're exposed to heat — like hot water and hot air.

To shrink denim jeans, Whirlpool recommends putting them in a warm or hot wash as high heat sucks away moisture. The water and detergent can fade the dye and discolor your jeans, so remember to turn your jeans inside out before laundering them. After that, let your jeans tumble dry on a high-heat dryer setting. To ensure everything is on track, remove the jeans from the dryer every five minutes and check their condition. Repeat the hot wash and hot dry process until you shrink your item to the size you want, and hang it up to air dry in a shaded area while it's slightly damp. If there's still excess moisture, put the item in a towel, roll it up, and gently press the water out of it. Once your jeans are all dried up, put them in a cool place sheltered from direct sunlight to prevent further shrinkage.

Use fabric softener

For spot-shrinking your jeans, a few spritzes of fabric softener and a tumble dryer can do the job, according to Land's End. The first step is to fill a spray bottle with a mixture of hot water and fabric softener based on a water-to-fabric-softener ratio of 3:1. Then, shake the bottle until the fabric softener is completely dissolved. After laying your jeans out on a flat surface, spritz the spots that need shrinking with the diluted formula until they're completely saturated. Once you're done, run your jeans through a full drying circle on the maximum heat setting, as high heat is typically able to cause wet fabric to shrink. If needed, repeat the process or apply more fabric softener into the spraying solution until your jeans constrict to your preferred size.

One thing to keep in mind is that fabric softeners can affect the permeability of the treated garment, so you need to find a product that doesn't contain ingredients that might potentially wear out the fabrics and speed up color fading. When it comes to shopping for fabric softener, Kay Gebhardt, senior product analyst at Seventh Generation tells Bustle: "It's always wise to look for vegetable-based ingredients and fragrances from essential oils and botanical extracts."

Soak the jeans while wearing them

This quick size-altering technique may sound like a bit of a stretch, but wearing jeans into a hot bath and letting them dry on your body might make them fit snugly around your legs again. "The wearing in a hot bath and drying in the sun while wearing is like the sped-up version," says stylist and blogger Hallie Abrams (via Martha Stewart). In fact, this wearing-jeans-to-shower hack had been around for many years before it went viral on TikTok after Lily Schoknecht — who goes by the user name @bug318_ — took to the platform to share her attempt to shrink her favorite jeans using this "sustainability hack of the year."

According to Schoknecht, her nana — who grew up using this method — advised her to take a warm shower in her jeans, wear them around the house, let them air dry, and skip the dryer. Schoknecht said in her video — which has now garnered 4.8 million views — as she flaunted her newly fitted jeans: "I took a shower, and this morning I put them on after air drying and they fit perfect." The idea of wearing dripping wet denim might gross many people out, but as long as it gets things done, we might as well trust the process. 

Throw your jeans into boiling water

If you think nothing gets more hair raising than showering in your favorite jeans, wait until you see them heated up in boiling water. According to jeans maker Levi's, boiling your jeans might be the most fun way to shrink them back to fit while using less water compared to machine washing. For this to work, you must have a pot roomy enough to fit your jeans. If you have one, fill it with water and bring it to a boil. When you see vapor bubbles rising to the surface, put your jeans inside and leave them there for half an hour.

Once you're done, use tongs to grab your jeans out of the pot and put them in a tumble dryer, letting them get tightened up at the highest temperature. After a full drying cycle, your denim will probably shrink by 10% of its original size. If there's any comfort, TikTok user @carosburk shared a video of herself trying this hack at home with her 100%-cotton jeans, and the verdict was "I feel like they fit so much better now."

Iron the spots that need shrinking

Ironing your jeans is also one fast way to tighten them up, fashion expert Paul Marlow and founder of the blog Tall Paul advises. However, this method is only effective when you want to shrink certain parts instead of the entire pants. After dampening (not soaking) the loose areas of your jeans with hot water, iron out the wet spots and avoid letting the iron sit on one spot for too long. Once you've seen shrinkage in the treated areas, run the iron over your entire jeans for a second round to smooth out the creases. 

According to FashionMike.com, you can shrink the waistband or legs by soaking the parts that need shrinking in boiling water and tumble-drying them on high heat for some time. Take them out of the dryer while they're still damp, turn them inside out, and use an iron to dry them out completely. If you don't have an iron, consider using a steaming pot of tea as an alternative. What you'll get as a final result is jeans with a tighter waistband and shrunken legs.