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How to Shrink a Polyester Jacket

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In an age of environmental awareness, sustainability, and accountability, we are all trying harder to up-cycle and repair clothes and shoes that we already have, rather than buying new ones. One sure way to get a second lease of life out of an old, saggy polyester jacket is to shrink it.

Short, cropped jackets are coming back into fashion at the moment, and shrinking can also help to make a loose jacket more fitted. Both of these modifications will show off your curves in a flattering light and give a new, modern feel to any polyester garment.

Best of all, there is no tricky stitching involved in this alteration technique, so you don’t need to be a sewing expert to achieve great results.

In this article, we talk you through all you need to know about shrinking polyester fabric, including what you’ll need, how to go about it, and how to care for your polyester garment after shrinking it.

variety quilting patterns of sleeve in the down jacket

What Is Polyester?

Polyester is a synthetic fiber made from petrochemicals. It’s used for everything from clothing to carpeting to upholstery.

It’s usually blended with cotton or wool fibers to make the weight of the fabric more comfortable. Polyester can be machine-washable, but you’ll need to use cold water and detergent that won’t leave any residue on your clothes.

When Was Polyester Invented?

The first polyester was invented by E. Ray Nance at DuPont back in 1937, and he called it “Nylon 66.” The name came from the fact that this new material was 66 percent nylon and 34 percent ethylene glycol monomer (which is what makes up the base of antifreeze).

DuPont patented their invention, and other companies quickly jumped into the market to sell polyester as a replacement for silk and wool.

100% polyacryl (acrylic). Fabric composition white clothes label on blue texture background.

What Are the Properties of Polyester Fabric?

Polyester has many benefits over natural fibers such as cotton and wool, not least because it doesn’t rot like those fibers do when they’re exposed to air. It’s also incredibly durable, which means that it lasts longer than other fabrics. 

However, it does require some special attention if you want it to last long term.

If you live in a dry climate, you should avoid washing your polyester garments in hot water, since it can cause them to lose elasticity and become stiffer.

Instead, wash your polyester items in cool water and hang them to dry.

Does Polyester Shrink?

Unlike natural fabrics such as silk and cotton, polyester is not easy to shrink. Polyester fibers have been designed to resist shrinkage, however, polyester does shrink when washed if you’re using a hot water wash cycle. 

If you want to avoid shrinking, try washing your polyester at 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) instead of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

You may also want to consider buying a dryer sheet to help prevent your polyester from shrinking as much.

Orange Outdoor Protective Clothing

What You Will Need to Shrink Polyester Clothes

As we mentioned previously, you don’t need any needles, threads, or sewing machines to alter your polyester garment. However, you will need:

  • A washing machine
  • A tumble dryer/drying line
  • An ironing board

Things to Consider Before You Start Shrinking

Before you begin your shrinking process you should first look at the care label of your polyester jacket and find out whether it is made from 100% polyester or from a polyester blend.

This is because 100% polyester is much more resistant to shrinking than a polyester blend will be, and it will alter what temperature setting you will need to run your washing machine on.

If your jacket is a polyester blend, you will need to look at what percentages the other fabrics are present in. Most blends will be around 50% polyester and 50% cotton/linen.

However, if there is a higher polyester content you will need to use a hotter washing machine cycle.

Lastly, you will need to consider how much shrinkage you are looking to achieve. If you only want to subtly shrink your item to help it regain shape, then you should use less extreme heat than if you want to dramatically alter the size of your garment.

How to Shrink a Polyester Jacket

There are four main methods of shrinking a polyester jacket. They are:

  1. Minimal shrinkage to lightly tighten the polyester fibers
  2. Moderate shrinkage to slightly alter the size of the garment (approximately 1 dress size)
  3. Maximum shrinkage to alter the garment by approximately 2 dress sizes
  4. Extra shrinkage to drastically alter the size of the garment
Close-up on yellow puffer jacket texture

Things to Do Before Shrinking Your Polyester Jacket

  • You’ll need to remove all buttons and zippers from your jacket so they don’t get damaged during the shrinking process. You can easily reattach these afterward with a needle and thread.
  • Remove all labels and tags from your jacket. They could cause damage to the material.
  • Remove stains and dirt from your jacket. We recommend using your usual washing powder and fabric conditioner in a normal wash cycle first to get your jacket in top condition before you commence shrinking.
  • Turn your jacket inside out. This will ensure that any dye in the fabric doesn’t transfer onto other garments.

Minimal Shrinkage

To subtly shrink your polyester jacket, you will need to set your washing machine to a warm water temperature of around 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

You can set the machine on a regular wash cycle and you do not need to add detergent as long as the jacket is already clean.

Once the cycle is complete, simply hang the jacket out on a washing line to air dry.

Moderate Shrinkage

To increase the level of polyester shrinkage, you simply need to adjust the heat setting on your washing machine. Your polyester clothes will shrink well on a medium heat or 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

Place the wet garment in the tumble dryer and run a hot drying cycle until completely dry.

Selective focus of water drops on bright blue fabric and black zipper

Maximum Shrinkage

To radically alter the size of your polyester jacket, you need to use a hot wash cycle on your washing machine. The best way to do this is to set the washing machine to its hottest water setting (60 degrees Celsius / 140 degrees Fahrenheit).

You can also use a hot iron to assist in the shrinking process. Simply place the dampened garment between two layers of paper towels and press down firmly for about 10 seconds with a dry iron. Repeat this process until the wet garment is completely dry.

Extra Shrinkage

If you want to dramatically alter your polyester jacket then you can use the boiling water method. Simply fill a bucket with boiling water and submerge your article of clothing for around 7 minutes.

Use tongs to lift the garment out of the water and drain in a colander until all the excess water has run off. Allow the garment to cool before wringing it out further over the sink. Then lay the garment flat and allow it to air dry.

Final Thoughts — Aftercare For Polyester Clothes

So there you have it, shrinking your polyester jacket is as simple as setting the washing cycle to your desired heat setting and ensuring that you dry it thoroughly with the appropriate levels of heat as well. 

Heat can cause stiffening and color fading in polyester clothes, and therefore we advise adding a tablespoon of white vinegar to your wash cycle to lock the color into the fabric.

We also recommend washing your polyester material with a fabric conditioner after shrinking to soften the starched areas.