How to Shrink Your Jeans at Home
While having your denim professionally tailored offers the best chance for a perfectly flattering fit, shrinking a pair of jeans at home is fast, easy, and extremely affordable—which means you can finally wear your favorite pair of too big flares, splurge on a slightly loose designer jeans from an upscale consignment boutique, or give your mom's best vintage denim new life.
"For an overall smaller fit," says Hallie Abrams, stylist and founder of The Wardrobe Consultant, "it's basically all about heat: Hot water and a hot dryer. The easiest, quickest way to shrink denim is to wash and dry them on the hottest temperatures possible—similar to the way that washing your favorite sweater in hot water and putting it in the dryer is something you try to avoid because it will shrink." A similar technique trades the washing machine for a pot of boiling water on the stove, followed by a run through the dryer. "Boiling your jeans for 20 to 30 minutes and then drying them in a hot dryer will usually shrink them more quickly than the washer method—and shrink them slightly more effectively," says Abrams.
If you're looking for a more tailored look that works for your specific shape, you can opt for raw denim, which forms to your body as you wear it. "Die-hard denim enthusiasts tend to prefer raw denim—often Japanese denim—and they swear by the no-wash method," says Abrams. "The theory being that the oils from your body combined with the heat of wearing the denim will give a truly customized fit." This approach inspired another shrinking method, which requires you to wear your jeans while soaking in a bathtub of hot water and then allowing them to dry on your body. "The wearing in a hot bath and drying in the sun while wearing is like the sped-up version," says Abrams. It may sound uncomfortable, but if you can get past the idea of wearing wet denim, it should result in a nearly-perfect fit.
When to Shrink Your Jeans at Home and When to Get Alterations
How much you can shrink your jeans—and how long they'll stay that way—depends on their original size and fabric; you're likely to have the best success shrinking your denim if it's already close to the right size. "Expecting to shrink one number size down is possible—more than that, and for a more foolproof and permanent solution, I'd recommend tailoring," says Abrams. "The shrinkage method will be most permanent in length. The other areas will have warmth, tension, and friction and likely stretch out again with wear."
If your jeans have one specific problem area—a gaping waistband, a drooping back pocket area—Abrams recommends using a local or online denim tailor instead of trying to shrink them on your own. "Shrinking just one part of a garment in a DIY method can be really challenging—I would not recommend it," she says. Your end result also depends on the fabric content of your denim: If your favorite pair has more than one or two percent elastane for stretch, they're more likely to stretch out again. "It is the cotton that will be the agent in the jeans shrinking process," Abrams says. "So a 100 percent cotton denim will do a better job of shrinking and staying smaller for more wears."