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Does Leather Shrink? – Factors and Things To Be Aware Of

It was a beautiful, cool day when leaving the house, so you put on your favorite leather jacket. Now that it’s raining, you might be worried the leather jacket will shrink. I will discuss some factors and things to be aware of regarding leather jackets shrinking and how to prevent it.

Leather shrinks if exposed to water and heat, and corrected grain leather is more susceptible to shrinking. Leather shrinks due to the material’s fibers contracting, and can be done for leather items that are too large. Water, gentle heat, and a leather conditioner can safely shrink leather.

Have you inherited a leather jacket that is just a little too big, and you’re looking for a way to shrink it? Did your favorite leather pants get wet, and do you want to know how to prevent them from shrinking? Let’s explore the factors determining whether leather shrinks and where to take caution.

Does Leather Shrink?

Leather shrinks if exposed to water and heat. Corrected grain leather is more likely to shrink than top or full grain leather due to the nature of the material, but all leather has the potential to shrink due to the material’s fibers contracting.

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • Reasons for Leather Shrinking
  • Does Leather Shrink Overview Table
  • Why Does Leather Shrink?
  • Does Leather Shrink When Wet?
  • Does Leather Shrink in the Heat?
  • Does Leather Shrink in the Cold?
  • How Much Does Leather Shrink?
  • Do Some Leather Shrink More Than Others?
  • Methods for Shrinking Leather
  • How To Shrink Leather Step by Step
  • How To Prevent Leather From Shrinking
  • Does Shrinking Ruin Leather
  • Can I Unshrink Leather?
  • Does Faux Leather Shrink?
  • My Personal Research Into Leather Shrinking
  • Helpful Insights Into Does Leather Shrink?
  • Key Takeaways
Soaking Wet Brown Leather Shoes - Does Leather Shrink - Liberty Leather Goods
Soaking Wet Brown Leather Shoes

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

One misconception about leather shrinking is that leather is inherently waterproof. This is untrue because leather is only water resistant, especially if untreated or unfinished, and too much water combined with heat can lead to leather shrinking.

Another myth about leather is that the tanning process prevents shrinking and stretching. This is also false because tanning preserves the leather and makes it more durable, but it has little effect on stretching but can prevent some degree of shrinkage.

Reasons for Leather Shrinking

There are several reasons for leather shrinking; some can be controlled, while others cannot. Let’s look at why leather shrinks:

  1. Leather type – corrected grain or fixed leather has artificial grain placed on the surface to make it look nicer. This type is less expensive but also less durable and less resistant to shrinking.
  2. Moisture – exposure to moisture, including rain, tap, ice, and sweat, can cause leather to shrink.
  3. Heat –  warmth from the sun, a hair dryer, or a clothes dryer causes leather fibers to dry out, contract, and shrink. 

Does Leather Shrink Overview Table

Leather typeHigher quality, including top- and full-grain leather, shrink less than genuine or faux leather.
Leather thicknessThe thicker the leather, the less shrinking that occurs.
WaterMore water exposure increases the risk of leather shrinking.
Heat High heat is more likely to shrink and damage leather than low heat.
Treated leatherUnfinished and vegetable tanned leathers are more likely to shrink than chrome tanned leather.
Does Leather Shrink Characteristics

Why Does Leather Shrink?

Leather shrinks for several different reasons. The most common reasons for leather shrinking are moisture and heat, especially when combined. Leather comprises thousands of tiny fibers that can shrink and swell. The tanning process helps to preserve these fibers and make the leather durable and resistant to these things, but that’s the key — it’s resistant, not indestructible. Leather shrinks due to: 

  1. Moisture
  2. Heat
  3. Stretch
  4. Wear

Does Leather Shrink When Wet?

When leather is exposed to moisture, especially when soaked, it can lead to shrinking. Moisture leads to the leather fibers contracting and shrinking. Proper drying is key when it comes to wet leather! Moisture can be from:

  1. Rain
  2. Snow
  3. Sweat 
  4. Ice

To learn more about how to care for wet leather properly, check out this helpful video from eHow at Home Channel.

Does Leather Shrink in the Heat?

When leather is exposed to heat, it can cause the fibers to shrink or stretch. The heat from the sun, a hair dryer, and a clothes dryer can cause leather to dry out, leading to the fibers contracting and shrinking.

Does Leather Shrink in the Cold?

Leather does not generally shrink in the cold. The way it is tanned and processed increases its durability and prevents shrinking and stretching to some degree. However, if water is introduced in the cold, this is the only time there is a risk for the leather shrinking as some mistakenly use heat to dry the leather out after being in the cold. Otherwise, one doesn’t need to worry about a leather jacket or gloves shrinking on a cold, dry day.

How Much Does Leather Shrink?

According to researchers Zhu, H. Liu, Tang, J. Liu, Zheng, Pei, and Zhong, testing shrinkage temperatures is something leather tanneries will do to test the tensile strength and ensure the leather tanning process is successful. The tanning process uses leather fillers to fill gaps in the material, and these fillers are not impervious to water or heat, especially over time.

Whether it’s successive exposures over time or a single dousing with heat applied, leather can shrink up to 20%. This is highly dependent upon the thickness and any protective coverings like waterproofers that may be present on the leather.

Do Some Leathers Shrink More Than Others?

Yes! Top grain and full grain leathers are the highest quality and most durable because they include the full thickness or the top half of the hide, which are the most resistant to moisture and shrinkage. Corrected grain and genuine leather are lower quality and less resistant to moisture and shrinkage.

Faux leather may be made with plastic in many cases, but it also is not waterproof or impervious to heat. In fact, faux leather will shrink more with heat than the other leather types because of the plastic used in making the material.

The higher the quality of leather, the less the risk of shrinkage.

Methods for Shrinking Leather

Few ways to shrink leather safely exist, and a couple of techniques will work but are not recommended. The safest method for shrinking leather is to dampen the leather item and then dry it thoroughly with a hair dryer on a low setting. A less safe method is to spritz the leather item with water and lay it out in the sunlight to dry.

Another technique, dampening the leather item and placing it in a clothes dryer on low or medium heat for 10–15 minutes, can also shrink leather, but the heat may cause damage. Washing leather items in a clothes washer or submerging them in water is also not recommended, as this can lead to water damage.

How To Shrink Leather Step by Step

If a leather piece needs shrinking, there is a right way to do this without harming the material. Here’s how to shrink leather step by step:

  1. Dampen the leather item with room temperature or warm water.
  2. Lay the leather item on a flat surface indoors and out of direct sunlight.
  3. Use a hair dryer on low heat at least 6 inches away from the leather to dry it thoroughly.
  4. Apply leather conditioner to prevent drying out and cracking of the leather once completely dry.

How To Prevent Leather From Shrinking

The first thing to prevent the leather from shrinking is to avoid exposing it to too much water. Use minimal water when washing, and don’t use heat to dry. Do not hang up wet leather items, as the weight of the moisture and material will lead to stretching. Use gentle warmth to dry leather, and always apply leather conditioner once the leather is completely dry.

Does Shrinking Ruin Leather

Shrinking doesn’t have to ruin leather. In some cases, leather shrinking is good because one has lost weight or a leather item was too big in the first place. Once the leather has shrunk, it can be stretched back to almost its original size and shape if done carefully. The most important thing is to keep the leather conditioned to prevent cracking and tearing.

Can I Unshrink Leather?

Unshrinking leather is tough and, in some cases, there’s no going back once the shrinkage has occurred. The fibers have contracted, the fillers have most likely dissolved, and the leather can become stiff and dry once it shrinks. One thing that can be done to unshrink leather is adding a little gentle heat and a leather conditioner to soften it. The best thing is prevention!

Does Faux Leather Shrink?

Yes, faux leather is notorious for shrinking and becoming distorted. Faux leather is not waterproof and, indeed, not resistant to heat. These factors, especially over time, will lead to the faux leather shrinking and losing shape.

My Personal Research Into Leather Shrinking

Leather shrinking isn’t always bad. From leggings and vests to shoes and jackets, sometimes it’s hard to find the right size, and you must go a little big. I asked my friends and family why they have or would want to shrink their leather items, and below are their responses.

Reason for Shrinking LeatherTimes Selected
I was given my father’s leather bomber jacket, which was a little too big.5%
I couldn’t find leather shoes in the right size, so I bought them a half size larger.15%
The online size chart wasn’t quite right.20%
I lost weight30%
The knees/elbows/shoulders got baggy with wear20%
I gave my leather boots to my daughter, and she’s slightly smaller10%
Why Real People Shrink Leather

Helpful Insights Into Does Leather Shrink?

Does genuine leather shrink?

Genuine leather shrinks if exposed to water and/or heat. The genuine leather fibers will shrink and tighten as it dries and is heated. This is partly because genuine or split leather is made from pieces of real and faux leather patched together to make a single sheet of material.

Does leather shrink if you wash it?

Leather is likely to shrink when washed if too much water is used and heat is applied. Soaking leather and drying it with heat will not only lead to shrinkage but also cause cracking and the potential for mold. Only a small amount of water should be used when washing leather by hand.

Does water shrink or expand leather?

Water by itself will cause the leather to shrink as it dries. However, if the leather gets wet and is then stretched by hand or another mechanical force, it can cause it to expand somewhat. Leather can be stretched and shrunk with water.

Does leather shrink permanently?

Leather does not always permanently shrink when exposed to water and/or heat, especially if it is a minor or brief exposure. Additional exposure to water and/or heat and mechanical force can stretch leather back to (almost) its original shape and size. Apply leather conditioner to keep the leather soft and supple.

How long does it take for leather to shrink?

Leather takes as little as 15 minutes to shrink. When a leather piece is too large, and some shrinking is desired, it can be placed in a dryer on low to medium heat for 10–15 minutes. Avoid too much moisture and heat, and keep it conditioned with a leather conditioner to prevent leather shrinkage.

Will cold shrink leather?

Cold will not shrink leather products. Leather is made to be durable, including jackets and gloves, which will not shrink if exposed to cold air. On the other hand, heat and moisture will shrink leather.

Key Takeaways

  1. Leather will shrink when exposed to water and heat.
  2. The higher the leather quality, the less the risk of shrinkage.
  3. Shrinking leather can be done for a better fit with a little water and low, gentle heat.

In Closing

Leather items are worth protecting from unwanted incidences of damage from water and heat. Sometimes shrinking leather is warranted for shoes, leggings, or jackets that are just a little too big. As long as the leather is protected from water and heat and conditioned correctly, these items will last a very long time and be worth the investment.

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