I like my jeans to last a long time. I recently bought myself a new pair and I wanted to keep them looking and fitting nicely for years to come. When it came to washing them one day, a sudden downpour (which happens a lot here in the UK!) meant I couldn’t pop them outside to dry. So I had a problem, how to dry my jeans in the dryer without shrinking them? The last thing I wanted was to waste money on jeans that no longer fit. Unfortunately, the dryer often causes clothes to shrink, especially jeans.
I have found that the solution to the problem of jeans shrinking is to part dry them in the dryer and then let them finish drying naturally. Put them out to dry on a clothesline, or if it’s raining use a clothes airer inside. You could even wear them at that stage and have your body heat do the rest of the work. This way the denim doesn’t over-dry, the fibres don’t become taut and your jeans will still fit even after washing.
If it’s too late or your jeans have already shrunk, never fear because there is a clever way to stretch them back to their original shape – How To Unshrink Jeans With This Clever Hack.
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How to dry jeans in the dryer without shrinking
The number one way to stop jeans from shrinking is not to over-dry them. Once jeans get really dry the fibres tighten up and you might find they don’t fit so well. Some people like it when their jeans tighten up, but if you don’t feel comfortable you will want to avoid it.
1. Choose the lowest dryer setting
If your dryer has more than one heat setting, choose the lowest setting so that the denim doesn’t heat up too much and cause shrinking.
2. Dry until damp
For the best result, you will want to half-dry your jeans instead of fully dry them so that they are still a bit damp.
How long you dry your jeans depends on what else you have in the dryer and how effective it is at drying. I find that to completely dry a full load of about 10kg of washing I need to have the dryer running for 2-2½ hours. If I am half-drying a load then I will run it for one hour.
If I only have a pair of jeans in the dryer then I would run it for about 20 minutes. The best plan is to do some experimentation according to the dryer you have and the heat setting you use.
3. Finish off drying naturally
Hang your jeans on the line outside, in the airing cupboard or on a clothes airer until they are dry enough to wear.
A side benefit of drying clothes this way is that there is less ironing! Most of the creases come out in the dryer and if you can take them out quickly when clothes are still warm they stay uncreased.
If you dry them enough, you could even put them straight on and have your body heat finish them off.
How to dry jeans without a dryer
The best way to dry jeans without a dryer and not shrink them, is outside on a line. But, if that isn’t possible use an indoor clothes airer or if you have one, an airing cupboard. If you don’t have either of those, hang them high up where air can circulate around them. A good place is on a door frame.
Make sure you always hang jeans from the hemline so that the thickest part, the waist, can dry more quickly. The weight of the jean should help stretch out the leg length.
Fortunately, we have a water heater in our airing cupboard with some convenient warm pipes, so it is warm all year round. If you have one too you will know it’s a perfect place for drying clothes. As long as the clothes are not too wet to start with I find that everything dries overnight.
If you don’t have a dryer and don’t want to have wet clothes hanging around the house for too long, a good solution is to get a heated airer. Owners of heated airers have reported that they can dry clothes quickly without damaging the fibres.
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Why do jeans shrink?
Generally, jeans will shrink by up to 3-4%. A pair of jeans with a 30” leg would mean shrinking about 1” – 1 ¼” in the length. This will vary depending on the type of denim and the quality.
Denim is a closely woven fabric. When the fabric is washed and heated the fibres pull together more tightly and can shrink. Sometimes they will relax again when you wear the jeans, other times it will be permanent.
The amount that your jeans can potentially shrink depends on the material. Denim is traditionally made of 100% cotton, but often you will find additional types of fibre. For example, polyester is often added to denim to make it more stretchy.
Unfortunately polyester is liable to shrink, especially when it is heated and it is irreversible so it’s important to a) avoid the dryer and b) wash at cooler temperatures.
Good quality jeans will often be pre-shrunk. This means that the denim has been pre-washed before the jeans were made. When you come to wash them for the first time, they still fit you. If you are worried about shrinkage it can pay to choose a good quality pair of jeans. Levi jeans, for example, have said that they preshrink most of their jeans.
Another option is to buy a second-hand pair of jeans. That way if they fit you when you buy them, they are guaranteed to fit you after washing them. Plus, it’s a great way to save money if you are on a budget.
How to wash jeans without shrinking them
Always check the washing instructions for your jeans. Generally, whichever washing temperature is advised you can usually go lower, but not higher.
Washing in the machine
To prevent jeans from shrinkage always wash them with cold water. It’s the heat that causes the fabric to shrink. Cold water also helps to prevent colour fade.
If your washer doesn’t have a cold temperature cycle go for the lowest temperature possible.
If you are washing your jeans for the first time it is advisable to wash them on their own to prevent the colour from leeching onto the other clothing. Always wash similar colours together and keep whites separate.
Before you wash jeans turn them inside out and fasten them up. This can reduce fading and protects the rest of your wash from getting snagged by zips and buttons.
Another option would be to hand wash your jeans. If you don’t have a big enough sink, a good place to wash jeans is in the bathtub.
Don’t be tempted to let your jeans soak. The less time you have them immersed in water the better for reduced shrinkage and fading.
If you find you have stains on your jeans, don’t be tempted to scrub them off because by doing that you will create a faded spot. The best plan is to apply a small amount of washing liquid directly to the stain and then wash as normal.
Check the cycles you have available on your washing machine. Some front-loading machines have a ‘jeans’ cycle and some have a ‘refresh’ cycle. My old Hotpoint machine used to have a steam refresh cycle which is ideal for items that don’t need a full wash.
If your jeans just need a freshen up and you don’t have that option on your machine spray them with a mixture of vinegar or alcohol and water and let them air, preferably outside. You could also add a few drops of essential oil.
Dry cleaning is another option for you too. Jeans that don’t get wet when they are washed will retain their colour and fit much better. It is a more expensive option of course, but if you have an expensive pair of jeans that you want to keep looking good for a long time, it could be worth the investment.
Some folks recommend freezing jeans to get rid of bacteria and odors, but according to Smithsonian magazine, it is not worth the bother and says that while some germs will die many will survive, and it doesn’t take long for them to reproduce again.
We know that freezing yoghurt doesn’t kill the probiotics, so why should it kill the germs on jeans? If you freeze meat before you eat it, does that mean you can then safely eat it raw? I think not!
If your reason for freezing is to kill germs then you will probably be best off spraying them with vinegar. Not only will vinegar kill a lot of the bugs, but it will also deodorize, especially if you add some essential oil.
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How often should you wash jeans to prevent them from shrinking?
The more you wash jeans the more they will fade and shrink. You might prefer the faded jeans look, but if you want to keep the colour, avoid washing your jeans for as long as you can.
Jeans don’t need washing as regularly as the rest of your clothing. Always opt for a freshen-up method as mentioned above if you can, that way you preserve the colour and fit and your jeans will last a long time.
What to do if your jeans have already shrunk
If your jeans have already shrunk then you need to try and relax the fabric as much as possible and that will involve some stretching.
Here is a method to try:
- Lay your jeans out flat.
- Take a spray bottle of water and spray the areas that are a snug fit.
- Stretch out the snug areas as much as you can.
If the jeans are too short in the leg try stretching them lengthways and hanging on the line from the leg hem.
Going forward avoid using the dryer and try not to wash them too often. The freshen-up method would be the best for you in this case.