The Denim Snob’s Guide For How To Shrink Jeans Properly

It’s a painful experience for a man to throw away a pair of ill-fitting jeans he has no use for, because that was money he could’ve spent on something useful… like sneakers he doesn’t strictly need or some artisanal pale ale. But just like you can distress your jeans at home, you can also perform life-saving surgery on baggy denim. With a few DIY tricks, you can alter the fit of your jeans, without forking out on a new pair (if you do need a new pair, try these jeans brands next time). Shrinking jeans isn’t a 21st century life hack.

In fact, the first pair of jeans invented by Levi Strauss in the 19th century were made of unwashed, raw denim that came straight from the loom, and had to be rinsed by the customer to fit them. These were dubbed shrink-to-fit jeans, and were popular up until the 60s. You may have seen this demonstrated by Phil Daniels’s character in Quadrophenia, who submerged himself in the bath to get a classic mod fit. So, whether you’ve gone through a fitness transformation and lost a few of pounds or just overestimated the extent to which you’d like the late 90s baggy trend, here’s the denim snob’s guide for how to shrink jeans properly.

How to Shrink Denim: 5 Methods

The Dryer Method

Your parents might have told you to stay away from the high heat on the washing machine and dryer, but now is the time to disregard that advice and rebel against this housekeeping commandment. The easiest method is learning how to shrink jeans in the wash. Place your jeans in the washing machine and set them to the highest temperature and cycle.

Unlike the bath technique (below), here it’s fine to add powder or softener, as it won’t affect the outcome of the wash. When this is finished, put the jeans straight into a hot tumble dryer spin until dry. If they’re still not right, you can repeat these steps until you get the fit you require. But all in all, this shouldn’t take you more than a couple of hours.

Putting Denim Jeans In The Washing Machine


The Bath Method

This is probably the easiest of the jean-shrinking techniques and is ideal for unsanforized (shrink-to-fit) denim, although it might feel odd and you may get a few strange looks from your flatmates if you leave the door unlocked. Fill a bathtub with hot water without any soap. Put on your loose-fitting jeans, get into the tub and wait until the water cools before stepping out. Once out the tub, shake off any excess water and step outside into the sun and wait for them to dry, fitting naturally to your form.

During this drying period, you should walk around and perform some lower-body exercises such as lunges and squats to stretch out the denim if they feel too tight. If the weather is particularly cold, speed things up with a hairdryer or simply hang them out to dry after stretching. Getting pneumonia in the name of denim really isn’t worth it. This method is may be the best way to shrink jeans, but it also takes the longest. Proceed with caution.

Blue Denim Jeans


The Boiling Method

If the thought of sitting in water with your jeans on makes you feel weird, give your denim the spaghetti treatment instead and drunk them in a pan of hot water. This technique can lead to a slight loss of color if you boil your jeans for too long or at too high a temperature, but on the plus side you won’t get indigo dye on your thighs. And light wash denim is in. Your call.

For this one, fill up a large pot or pan with water boiled straight from the kettle. Turn your jeans inside out and place them in the pan, submerging them in the water until all of the denim has been covered. Leave them to simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring them now and again. Once the time is up, drain the water and dry them on a high heat for perfect, al dente denim. Bellissimo.

The Ironing Method

You may find that your jeans fit exactly how you want them to in some places (like around your calves) but don’t in others (around the thighs), so the above approaches might not be quite right for you. If this is the case, try treating your jeans with an iron. Use hot water to dampen any areas of your jeans that you’d like to shrink. You don’t want them to be soaking wet, so using a wet washcloth may be a better method here than running it under the faucet. Turn your iron on, using the cotton setting if your iron is fancy like that. Run it over the damp spots. Once they’re dry, try them on. Voila!

Selvedge Denim Jeans


The Tailoring Method

Okay, this is technically cheating because it’s hardly DIY, but if you really love the style of jeans you own, have an inclination you’ll set your kitchen on fire by boiling them, and some spare cash in your wallet, take them to a tailor. For some reason most of us just automatically assume that tailors are reserved for altering suits, but your local alterations shop will be more than willing to take in your jeans to your exact specifications for the legs, length and possibly the waistline. (Note that it’s difficult to alter the rise and hips).

It will probably take a couple of days for alterations to be made depending on how many there are, and shouldn’t set you back much more than $30 or so. Which, for a professionally tailored fit, is a small price to pay, but only if you paid more than $30 for your jeans in the first place.

Levi's Jeans



Can you shrink jeans?

Yes, you can. Refer to the methods above. Should you? That’s another question. We hate that passive-aggressive phrase, but do heed this warning: jeans are not meant to be constantly washed over and over again, as it alters its fit, quality and color. Keep this in mind and only wash your beloved selvedge denim when necessary. If your jeans get slightly dirty or they need a refresh, simply go over any stains with a wet cloth or invest in an antibacterial garment spray.

What is the best way to shrink jeans?

The best way is probably the shrink-to-fit method, because you have the highest chance of getting your jeans to fit you exactly the way you want them to. The easiest method, however, is a different story. The dryer method is a good first step, as it takes less time and will make your bits far less soggy.

How do you slightly shrink jeans?

The ironing method is good for spot-treating your jeans and trying to shrink them to a lesser degree than a full-on wash and dry will do. Drying on a less intense heat is another method to try if the ironing method fails.