How To Shrink Polyester

Polyester is used for a wide variety of garments thanks to its durability and resistance. However, while it will resist things like stains and mould, it’s also quite resistant to shrinking. That’s great if you don’t want your garments to shrink but at times when you do, you’ll need to be willing to put in a little effort. 

But while polyester is notoriously difficult to shrink, that isn’t to say that it’s not possible. There are several ways you can do this but you should keep in mind that, depending on how much you want to shrink the polyester, you may need to repeat your chosen process a few times.

In this guide, we will get you better acquainted with polyester so you can understand how to properly care for it. We will also be showing you some excellent ways to shrink this material so that pair of trousers that are slightly too big will fit like a glove in no time. 

What Is Polyester?

Polyester is a type of man made material used for a whole host of applications. It is very commonly used for clothing but is also seen in things like bedding, footwear, textiles and much more. This durable and lightweight fabric is actually derived from petroleum and is quite often blended with other materials. 

For example, there are a lot of polyester and cotton blends which give you the benefits of both materials.

What’s great about polyester is that its resistance to the elements and other factors make it the ideal fabric for outdoor use.

Does 100% Polyester Shrink?

One of the advantages of polyester, depending on how you look at it, is that it is very resistant to shrinking. If you are actively looking to shrink a polyester garment then this won’t work in your favour and you may find yourself asking whether 100% polyester will even shrink at all. 


The short answer is yes, it will shrink. But it won’t do so easily. The reason for this is that it is made with a polymer which, by nature, can and does shrink. It’s very resistant so you will have your work cut out for you but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. The best way to get polyester to shrink is to apply high heat, this will cause the fibres to shrink and make your item smaller.

If you don’t want to shrink your polyester garments, then you will need to make sure that you follow the care instructions on the label. 

How To Care For Polyester Properly

Before we look at the best ways to shrink polyester, it is important to understand how this synthetic fabric should be cared for. Once you have got your material to the right size, the last thing you want is to improperly care for it and ruin all of your hard work. 

While polyester is a very durable fabric, washing it incorrectly will damage it. Usually, a standard detergent and regular water (we wrote an article Is Polyester Waterproof?)are more than enough to get your poly garments clean and fresh so you won’t need any specialist cleaning products. Of course, what you do need to keep in mind is that each individual garment will come with specific washing instructions. Don’t become complacent and think that all polyester clothes can be washed in the same way. It takes moments to look over the washing instructions so always follow these.

When putting polyester garments into the washing machine, make sure that you turn them inside out. When drying your clothing, it is possible to use your tumble dryer although many would agree that hanging the garments to air dry is the best option for keeping the fabric at its best. It won’t take long to dry and this way, you can be sure that the material won’t crease. 

If you do need to iron your polyester clothing, don’t be tempted to use the iron on the highest heat. Yes, polyester is a very resistant and durable material but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to treat it gently. Especially if you want it to last as long as possible. Using too much heat to iron your polyester will make it harden and this can cause it to shrink. While this is a guide on getting polyester to shrink, you don’t always want this, certainly if you have already achieved the amount of shrinkage that you require. You will typically find that your iron has a polyester setting, so make use of this. 

Where you can, make sure that you are washing your polyester clothes without mixing them with other materials. Moreover, keep in mind that this is a very absorbent material, especially for things like oil so never put it into the washing machine with anything that has grease stains. 

Ways To Shrink Polyester

We will reiterate the fact once again that polyester is not the easiest fabric in the world to shrink. But it certainly isn’t impossible. You just need to put in a little effort and use the right methods and you will succeed. As we have already discussed, you may need to repeat your treatment more than once for the best results. Below, we discuss some of the best and most effective ways to shrink polyester. 

How Does Polyester Shrink?

Before we get into the nitty gritty of how to shrink polyester, it’s first important to understand what happens to your garment when it shrinks. This is essential knowledge because there is such a thing as too much of a good thing and applying too much of a shrinking technique could cause your garment to shrink too much. 

Polyester, being a durable and manmade fabric is, as we have mentioned, much more resistant and durable than natural materials. This means that you need to expose it to very high temperatures if you want it to shrink. As an absolute minimum, you would need to apply 60ºc (140ºf) heat to get the material to even start shrinking. But this applies only to 100% polyester. If you are working with a polyester blend garment then you won’t need to be as extreme. Most commonly, you will find polyester and cotton blends with a 50:50 ratio. It’s important to keep this in mind as you’ll also need to know how to treat the cotton. 

How To Shrink Polyester Blend Fabrics

As we have discovered, these types of fabrics take far less to shrink than 100% polyester so you’re already off to a good start. What’s great is this process doesn’t take any special equipment or knowledge and you can generally shrink the garments during a regular washing cycle. That said, we would recommend giving the garment a wash before trying to shrink it.

You will need to set your machine to a hot wash and turn your garment inside out. This is just good practice regardless of what you’re washing and will stop fading. Provided that the garment is already clean, you don’t need to worry about adding any detergent. 

Once the wash cycle has finished, you can remove the garment and hang it to air dry. The hot temperatures in the machine should be enough to have successfully shrunk your item. However, if you need maximum shrinking then you could dry the garment in the dryer on a hot setting. It’s worth stopping the machine and checking the garment every so often as this method could cause it to shrink too much if it is left for a long period of time. 

Shrinking Polyester Without The Washer Or Dryer

You might think that using your washer and dryer are the only ways to get your polyester garments to shrink. But that is not the case. It is possible to achieve good results using nothing more than a stock pot filled with boiling water. As you do this, the fibres will be broken down, causing the item to shrink. 

It’s an incredibly simple method that involves bringing a large stock pot filled with water to the boil. Turn the heat up as much as possible to get the water to boiling point much more quickly. You can then remove the pot from the heat and pop your polyester item into it. 

You will need to leave your garment to soak for around seven minutes, after which you can drain the water and hang your clothing to dry. Once it is fully dry, check it to make sure that it has shrunk to the desired size. If it hasn’t, then you can repeat the process again to achieve even more shrinkage. 

Controlling The Shrink

One of the great things about polyester is that you have excellent control over how much you shrink your garment. If you have a polyester shirt that is only slightly too big then there are techniques you can use to alter the size just a little. On the flip side, if you have an item that is far too large then there are also things you can do. 

Minimal Polyester Shrinking

As we discussed above, washing your polyester garment on a hot cycle is one of the best ways to get the shrinking process off to a good start. But do keep in mind that if you are only trying to shrink your clothing by a fraction, you might need to turn the temperature down. 

Generally speaking, you could get away with washing and drying your polyester garment on a medium setting. You should check the item while it is in the dryer to make sure that it doesn’t go further than you’d like. It’s always a good idea to start off using this method and if you’re still not happy with the results, you can try upping your game a little. 

Middle Of The Road Polyester Shrinking

Some polyester blends do not contain cotton but other materials and these require a little more heat to get them to shrink. This time you will need to choose the hotter setting for both the wash and the rinse cycles. It’s also a good idea to choose the longest possible setting so that you expose the garment to as much heat as possible. As before, unless the garment is very dirty, you won’t need to worry about adding any detergent. 

Once the wash cycle has finished, you can then put your garment into the dryer on the hottest setting. After this, most polyester blend garments should have shrunk to the desired size. However, if you’re still having trouble, you can take it to the next level. 

Maximum Polyester Shrinking

If you are working with a 100% polyester garment then the previous methods will be unlikely to have any effect. This is because this synthetic fabric is very resistant to shrinkage and will need enormous amounts of heat to have any noticeable change. 

But don’t worry, there is still a way you can do this and it all comes down to your iron. It is worth putting the garment through a hot wash cycle first, as we have already discussed above, this may have a minor effect and will get the process started. But if you want to make a real difference, you will then need to use a pressing cloth and iron while the garment is still wet. 

It is essential to place a pressing cloth over your item before ironing as placing the iron directly onto wet fabric could cause damage. You don’t need to set the iron to the highest heat as this could stiffen the polyester which isn’t the result we are looking for. 

Instead, opt for a medium heat and then iron over the garment, with the pressing cloth in place, until it is completely dry. Make sure that the steam setting is turned off as this will not aid the drying process. 

Will My Polyester Stay Shrunken?

Once you have successfully shrunk your polyester item, it should remain that way permanently. However, it is important to care for it correctly to make sure that it stays bright, comfortable and durable. 

As we have already discussed, it is good practice to wash your garments inside out but you should, from now, set your washing machine to the press setting which will further help to reduce the chance of wrinkles. 

You will also need to make sure that you only wash your garments on a medium temperature. Using something too hot may cause it to shrink even more and that’s the last thing you want after you’ve gotten it to the perfect size. On the other end of the scale, you want to avoid using a very cold wash as this won’t remove dirt and germs. 

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Polyester?

One of the greatest benefits of polyester is that it is so lightweight. This man made material first became popular in the 1970s and was sold on the premise that one could wear a polyester garment for 68 days without the need for ironing and it would still look presentable! That’s quite a claim, but it’s not far wrong. When you wash polyester, provided that you lay it flat as soon as it comes out of the machine, it is very resistant to creasing. 

Much more than this, polyester is incredibly durable which is why it is often used for outdoor clothing. It will stand up to a lot more than many other materials and will more easily resist wear and tear. 

Polyester is fantastic for printed garments as it takes colour and print very well which is why so many manufacturers choose it, not only for clothing, but for other things too such as bedding, tablecloths, tote bags and much more. 

Another great quality of polyester is that it can be recycled. While this is a synthetic fabric so it won’t biodegrade, it is possible to turn it into other things when you’re done with it. That’s something we can all get on board with. 

However, as with anything, polyester is not perfect. For starters, as we have mentioned, it is very resistant to shrinkage. If you’re looking to make a garment fit a little better by shrinking it, you will have your work cut out for you. Moreover, if you do need to iron it because it hasn’t been laid flat after washing, you may find it a little more time consuming to get any creases out. 

If you choose polyester for a craft project, keep in mind that this material is much more difficult to sew than many natural materials. You may even find that your sewing needle snags, causing damage to the fabric. 

When choosing clothing for summer, polyester probably isn’t the best option as it is not breathable. This means that you will sweat much more and feel a lot hotter than if you were wearing a natural fabric.

Conclusion

There’s nothing quite as annoying or uncomfortable as an item of clothing that almost fits but isn’t quite right. Even if it’s just by a tiny amount, it’s something that you’ll always notice and while many people think you cannot shrink polyester, this isn’t the case. 

Polyester, whether 100% or a blend, will shrink when it is exposed to high temperatures. This means that you can wash your clothing on a high heat and put it in the dryer on the hottest setting. Usually, this will be enough to achieve the shrinkage you are looking for. 

However, if you are trying to shrink 100% polyester or your poly blend garment isn’t cooperating, you could use your iron to force it to shrink. Be mindful that you will need to properly care for your garment after shrinking in order to get the most out of it. 

Sign up our mailing list to claim your FREE Ultimate Camping Checklist PDF