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Can You Unshrink Denim? 6 Awesome Ways

Can You Unshrink Denim? 6 Awesome Ways

Denim jeans are a staple of Western fashion, known for their rugged style and durability.

But what happens when your beloved denim jeans accidentally shrink in the wash, leaving you with a tight and uncomfortable fit? Is there a way to unshrink denim and bring those jeans back to life?

In this helpful guide, we’ll look at how to unshrink denim and give you clear, step-by-step instructions to save your favorite denim clothes.

Can You Unshrink Denim? Step-by-Step Guides

Before we explore the various methods to unshrink denim, it’s essential to understand why denim shrinks in the first place.

Denim, a fabric mostly crafted from cotton, possesses a unique characteristic: when exposed to heat and moisture, it undergoes a natural contraction, leading to shrinkage.

This phenomenon is a result of the cotton fibers compacting in response to these environmental factors.

However, this doesn’t mean your shrunken denim is destined to remain unwearable. The good news is that denim can indeed be unshrunk to some extent.

While it may be unrealistic to expect a complete restoration to its original size, you can certainly improve the fit and comfort of your jeans.

Below, we’ll delve into several methods to help you achieve this.

Method 1: Vinegar and Water Soak

Use vinegar and lukewarm water to unshrink jeans

Vinegar and water create a solution that helps relax and soften the cotton fibers in the denim. The vinegar’s mild acidity helps break down some of the rigidity caused by shrinkage.

This method is effective because it allows the fabric to expand and regain its original shape when stretched and reshaped.


  • Before soaking the entire garment, test the vinegar solution on a small, hidden section of the denim to check for colorfastness.
  • Use white vinegar: White vinegar is less likely to cause color changes compared to other types of vinegar.
  • After the process, hang the denim outdoors or in a well-ventilated area to help dissipate any vinegar odor.

Materials Needed:

  • A bathtub or large container
  • White vinegar
  • Warm water
  • Towels

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Fill the bathtub or container with lukewarm water.
  2. Add one cup of white vinegar to the water and mix it thoroughly.
  3. Submerge your shrunken jeans in the mixture, making sure they are completely soaked.
  4. Let the jeans soak for 45 minutes to an hour.
  5. Gently stretch and reshape the denim while they are still wet.
  6. Rinse the jeans with cold water and gently squeeze out the excess water.
  7. Lay the jeans on a towel and roll them up to remove additional moisture.
  8. Finally, hang the jeans to air dry, reshaping them as they dry.

Method 2: Hair Dryer and Stretching

Use hair dryer to unshrink denim

When exposed to heat and moisture, cotton in denim can initially shrink. However, you can unshrink denim by applying low heat from a hairdryer and stretching it. This process temporarily relaxes the cotton fibers in specific areas, allowing you to reshape and restore the fabric.

The heat from the hairdryer is applied only to the areas you want to unshrink, and it’s not prolonged or excessive. This controlled heat has a different effect on the fabric than the intense heat of a dryer.

It’s this controlled and localized approach that makes heat from a hairdryer a useful tool for unshrinking denim.


  • Use low heat: Set the hair dryer to the lowest heat setting to minimize the risk of heat damage.
  • Stretch gradually: Be gentle and gradual when stretching the fabric, avoiding excessive force that could cause damage.

Materials Needed:

  • Hairdryer
  • Clothes hanger

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Put on the shrunken jeans while they are still damp.
  2. Use a hairdryer on the low heat setting to warm the denim.
  3. As the denim warms up, gently stretch and pull in the areas where they have shrunk.
  4. Continue to wear the jeans until they are completely dry, ensuring they maintain the stretched shape.

Method 3: Baby Shampoo and Conditioner

Unshrink with baby shampoo

Using a mixture of baby shampoo and conditioner in lukewarm water is effective because these products have softening and moisturizing properties.

The shampoo cleans the fabric gently, and the conditioner adds moisture, making the denim more flexible. This combination helps the cotton fibers relax and regain their original form.


  • Perform a colorfastness test on a hidden part of the denim to check for any adverse effects before proceeding with the entire garment.

Materials Needed:

  • Baby shampoo
  • Hair conditioner
  • Lukewarm water
  • Towels

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Fill a basin with lukewarm water.
  2. Add a few drops of baby shampoo and a generous amount of hair conditioner to the water.
  3. Submerge the shrunken jeans and allow them to soak for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Gently stretch and reshape the denim while they are still wet.
  5. Rinse the jeans with cold water and gently squeeze out the excess water.
  6. Lay the jeans on a towel, roll them up to remove additional moisture, and then hang them to air dry.

Method 4: Ironing Method

Ironing to unshrink denim

While it’s true that heat can initially cause cotton in denim to shrink, the key to using heat to unshrink denim successfully lies in the controlled application of heat along with stretching.

When you expose shrunken denim to heat, such as from an iron on a low-heat setting, the cotton fibers temporarily relax and become more pliable. This relaxation allows you to manipulate the fabric and stretch it back to its original shape.

With proper temperature control and monitoring, you can apply just enough heat to make the denim flexible without causing it to shrink further.

The heat alone won’t unshrink the denim; it works in conjunction with stretching. As the fibers relax due to the heat, you can gently stretch and reshape the fabric to its desired size. This stretching process is essential to counteract the initial shrinkage.

When using an iron with a damp cloth, the moisture from the cloth can further aid in relaxing the fibers without causing damage. The damp cloth acts as a protective barrier, ensuring that the fabric doesn’t get exposed to excessive heat directly.


  • Set the iron to the lowest heat setting necessary to achieve the desired effect.
  • Keep a close eye on the denim while ironing to prevent overheating or scorching.
  • Use a damp, not soaked, cloth: Ensure the cloth is damp, not dripping wet, to avoid water stains.

Materials Needed:

  • Iron
  • Ironing board or flat surface
  • Damp cloth

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Start by setting your iron to the lowest heat setting, preferably the one designed for delicate fabrics like silk or wool. Denim is sensitive to high heat, so it’s essential to be cautious.
  2. Lay your shrunken denim item on an ironing board or a flat surface.
  3. Dampen a clean cloth (a hand towel or washcloth works well) with lukewarm water. Wring out any excess water, leaving the cloth damp but not dripping wet.
  4. Place the damp cloth over the shrunken area of the denim. This cloth acts as a barrier between the iron and the fabric, preventing direct heat exposure.
  5. Gently press the iron onto the damp cloth and move it in a circular motion for about 10-15 seconds. Do not leave the iron in one place for too long, as excessive heat can damage the denim.
  6. Lift the iron and the damp cloth, and immediately stretch and reshape the denim in the direction you want it to expand. Be gentle but firm in your pulling and stretching, focusing on the shrunken areas.
  7. Repeat steps 4 to 6, gradually increasing the tension and stretching as you go along. Continue this process until you achieve the desired fit.
  8. Once you’ve stretched and reshaped the denim to your satisfaction, allow it to air dry naturally. Avoid wearing the jeans until they are completely dry to maintain the stretched shape.

Method 5: Wearing Jeans in Lukewarm Water

Cotton, the primary material in denim, has natural properties that make it absorbent. When the jeans are soaked in lukewarm water, the cotton fibers absorb moisture, becoming more pliable.

Lukewarm water is used because it’s warm enough to help relax the cotton fibers but not hot enough to risk further shrinkage or damage.

Wearing the shrunken jeans while they are in contact with the lukewarm water allows the denim to conform to your body shape. Your body’s heat contributes to the warming of the fabric, making it even more flexible.

The water and body heat together encourage the cotton fibers to relax and expand, counteracting the initial shrinkage.

While sitting in the bathtub, you have the opportunity to gently move and stretch your legs and hips, particularly in the areas where the jeans have shrunk. This gentle stretching helps the fabric regain its original shape.

The combination of moisture, heat, and stretching allows the cotton fibers to stretch without excessive force, making the denim more comfortable and wearable.

  1. Fill the Bathtub: Begin by filling a bathtub with lukewarm water. Ensure that the water level is enough to submerge the shrunken jeans completely.
  2. Put on the Jeans: While the jeans are dry or slightly damp, put them on. Wearing them ensures that the denim conforms to your body shape.
  3. Sit in the Bathtub: Sit in the lukewarm water while wearing the jeans for about 15-30 minutes. This allows the denim to absorb moisture and become more flexible.
  4. Move and Stretch: While in the water, gently move and stretch your legs, hips, and any other areas where the jeans have shrunk. This helps the fabric to stretch and reshape.
  5. Remove and Air Dry: After soaking, remove the jeans and gently squeeze out excess water. Lay them on a towel and roll them up to remove additional moisture. Finally, hang the jeans to air dry, reshaping them as they dry.

It’s important to note that this method may require patience. The denim may not return to its original size entirely after one session.

Multiple sessions or combining this method with others may be necessary for more significant improvements.

Method 6: Just wear them

A woman wears jeans with cowboy boots

Wearing shrunken denim can help to a certain extent in unshrinking them, especially if they have a slight shrinkage issue.

When you wear shrunken denim, your body heat and movements can cause the fabric to stretch and loosen up slightly over time. Here’s how wearing them can help:

  1. Body Heat and Moisture: Your body’s natural warmth and moisture can soften the denim fibers, making them more pliable. This can assist in relaxing the fabric and allowing it to expand gradually.
  2. Natural Stretching: As you move and bend while wearing the denim, the fabric undergoes gentle stretching, which can help it return to a more comfortable fit.

It’s essential to be patient when using this method, as it may take some time and repeated wearing to see noticeable improvements.

If you’re looking for a faster solution, consider one of the other methods we discussed, as they can provide more immediate results in unshrinking your denim.

Last Words

In the world of Western fashion, denim is a cherished staple. Accidental shrinkage can be frustrating, but there are effective methods to unshrink denim.

Whether you opt for vinegar soaks, hair dryers, baby shampoo, or ironing, these techniques can restore comfort and wearability to your favorite denim pieces.

With patience and care, you can continue to enjoy your classic Western denim in all its glory.