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How To Shrink Leather – Options Based on Leather Type

Leather is a durable and resistant material, but it can stretch over time and with use. What can we do with a pair of leather boots or a jacket that are too big now? In this article, I will describe how to shrink leather with options based on leather type.

How to shrink leather is using various methods to make leather smaller without damaging the material. Leather can be shrunk with water and air drying or using a hair or clothes dryer. Use a spray bottle for targeted shrinking and soaking for general shrinking. Apply leather conditioner once dry.

Do you have a leather jacket stretched out from years of wear and want a more fitted look? This can be accomplished relatively quickly with water, gentle heat, and patience.

What Is Shrinking Leather?

Shrinking leather is a process that involves exposing the material to water and heat. This causes the leather fibers to contract, which leads to shrinkage. There are a few methods that can be used to do this, and the utmost care must be taken to prevent the leather from drying out and cracking. There are also options to consider regarding different types of leather to prevent damage.

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • Reasons You Might Choose To Shrink Leather
  • Variations or Styles of How To Shrink Leather
  • How To Shrink Leather Overview Table
  • Skill Level of Shrinking Leather
  • Tools and Supplies Needed To Shrink Leather
  • How To Shrink Leather Step by Step
  • How to Get Better at Shrinking Leather
  • My Personal Research on How To Shrink Leather
  • Helpful Insights on How To Shrink Leather
  • Key Takeaways
Air Drying Leather Shoes - How To Shrink Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Air Drying Leather Shoes

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

One common misconception about leather is that heat and moisture always cause it to shrink. This is not entirely true because leather is made to be durable and resistant to moisture and shrinking, so certain steps must be taken, especially with high-quality leather, to make them shrink. 

Some people claim that shrinking leather can easily be done by throwing it in the washing machine and then the dryer. While this may be partially true with some clothing items, it can cause more damage than shrinkage if not done carefully.

Reasons You Might Choose To Shrink Leather

Shrinking leather is usually done with clothing or shoes that do not fit properly. But why does this happen? Here are some common reasons for shrinking leather:

  1. The larger size was the only one available
  2. Foreign sizing
  3. Stretching over time and with wear
  4. Weight loss
  5. Targeted shrinking for an improved fit
  6. Hand-me-downs

Variations or Styles of How To Shrink Leather

Shrinking leather is not difficult, and there are several safe ways to do it without damaging the material. Here are the most common variations of how to shrink leather after spritzing with or soaking in water:

  1. Air drying with or without direct sunlight
  2. Clothes dryer
  3. Hair dryer

Always use low to medium heat when using a hair or clothes dryer to shrink leather.

How To Shrink Leather Overview Table

Area of PreparationDetails
TechniqueHow To Shrink Leather
Overall Level of Skill (1–5)3
Time to Complete (minutes/hours)10 minutes to 8 hours
Workspace NeededMinimal
Skills NeededBasic leather care, operation of hair or clothes dryer
Tools and Supplies NeededLarge bucket or sink, water, spray bottle, clothes dryer, hair dryer, clothes hangers, soft cloths, leather conditioner
Key Helpful TipUse low to medium heat with hair or clothes dryers; always apply leather conditioner after the leather is completely cool and dry.
How To Shrink Leather Characteristics

Skill Level of Shrinking Leather

Shrinking leather requires just a little skill, including knowing the basic care of leather. Know what type of leather needs shrinking, as some types require specific methods. High heat and water can damage leather, so the right settings and techniques should be used for the best outcome. 

Observe the appearance and feel of the leather throughout the process to prevent drying out and cracking. Also, be sure to use warm to hot (not boiling) water and a low or medium heat level on the clothes or hair dryer if these methods are chosen.

Tools and Supplies Needed To Shrink Leather

Everything one needs to shrink leather is already in most homes, so gather up and prepare the following:

  1. Warm or hot water (not boiling)
  2. Spray bottle
  3. Large bucket or sink
  4. Clothes hangers
  5. Hair dryer
  6. Clothes dryer
  7. Soft cloths
  8. Leather conditioner

How To Shrink Leather Step by Step

Leather is known for its durability and resistance to shrinkage, which makes shrinking leather a little bit of a challenge. However, if you need to shrink leather for a certain reason like to make a leather item fit better, follow these steps:

  1. Fill a spray bottle with warm to hot water.
  2. Spray the parts of the leather that need shrinking with water.
  3. Place the leather item in a sunny window to air dry.
  4. Use a hair dryer on low to medium heat held 6 inches from the leather for more shrinking.
  5. Allow the leather item to cool and dry completely.
  6. Check the fit to see if additional shrinking is needed and repeat the process as needed.
  7. Apply leather conditioner with a soft cloth.

Watch this helpful video from Best For My Feet as they demonstrate different methods to shrink leather work boots.

How To Get Better Shrinking Leather

Leather is made to be flexible and durable, and according to researchers Maina, Ollengo, and Nthiga, the processing it goes through adds to the tensile strength, which creates resistance to stretching. Therefore, it sometimes takes more than one process to shrink leather.

The most important thing is knowing what type of leather needs shrinking. Specialty leather like suede and nubuck should not be submerged in water or have heat applied, so use water sparingly and air dry to shrink these two.

Faux leathers are often made with polyurethane (PU) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which does not mesh well with heat, so opt for warm water and air dry in direct sunlight. For other leathers, practice makes perfect. Try targeted shrinking as well as all-over shrinking, and try the different drying methods as well. 

My Personal Research on How To Shrink Leather

Many people have leather items in their closets that are worn frequently and eventually stretch out. How do people shrink them to get them to fit better again? I asked friends and family how they have shrunk their leather items, and here is a table representing the percentages of their responses.

Leather Shrinking MethodTimes Selected
Soak and air dry25%
Soak and hair dryer12%
Spritz and clothes iron19%
Spritz and hair dryer25%
Soak and clothes dryer19%
How People Shrink Leather

Helpful Insights On How To Shrink Leather

How do you shrink leather quickly?

The quickest way to shrink leather is to soak or spray it with warm water and dry it with a hair dryer. Use the low to medium heat setting on the hair dryer and hold it about 6 inches from the dampened area. This is best for targeted area shrinking and only takes 10–20 minutes. 

Does leather shrink in the dryer?

Leather does shrink in the dryer, especially if it is moistened first. Use low to medium heat settings on the dryer and check the leather item every 10 minutes to ensure it does not dry out too much or crack. Take it out once the shrinking is complete, allow it to cool, then apply leather conditioner.

What can I spray on leather to shrink it?

Water is best to spray on leather if one wants to shrink it. Using a spray bottle can help shrink targeted areas of leather pants or shoes when the fit is good. 

Does leather shrink in boiling water?

Boiling water does not shrink leather, but its high heat can cause damage. Use warm to hot water to spray or submerge the leather item to prevent damage. The drying process is what causes leather to shrink, not the temperature of the water.

How long does it take to soak leather in water to shrink?

It only takes 5–10 minutes of soaking in water to start the shrinking process of leather. The water should be warm to hot but not boiling. Then hang the leather up near a sunny window, place it in the clothes dryer on low to medium heat for up to 30 minutes, or use a hair dryer on low to medium heat held 5 inches away to dry it.

Key Takeaways

  1. Leather can be shrunk with water and low heat.
  2. Use low to medium heat when using a hair dryer or clothes dryer to shrink leather.
  3. Always apply leather conditioner once the leather has dried and cooled.

In Closing

Shrinking leather items may seem daunting to some, given the potential for damage, but it is not that bad as long as it is done carefully. Leather items are an investment and should fit comfortably, and with time and wear, they will naturally stretch. Just follow these tips to get the targeted or all-over shrinking needed for that original fit, and those leather items will last a long time.

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