The flannel shirt is a source of comfort and reliability for many of us. It’s soft, durable, and looks good. And it's pretty easy to take care of–for the most part. Many people find themselves doing just one thing different in their washing routine only to find that their beloved security blanket of a flannel shirt has now shrunk to a size made for infants. In contrast, there may be situations when you no longer want that flannel to fit as loosely as it once did. Maybe you lost weight. Maybe you snagged it from your husbands closet and are ready to make it yours. Whatever the situation, you can shrink your flannel shirt, but you can also take steps to ensure that it doesn’t shrink.
You can take that flannel shirt down a size by shrinking it either in a pot of water or in the washing machine.
If you want to take a hands-on approach to shrink your flannel shirt, start by reading its care instructions to ensure that it can, indeed, be washed. Some (although not many) flannel shirts have to be dry-cleaned. If it can be washed, make sure it is made of natural fibers like wool or cotton, since synthetic fibers don’t shrink easily. Then take the following steps:
Step 1. Get a large pot (the largest you have), fill it with water and a cup of vinegar, and bring it to a boil. The vinegar helps retain the coloring of your flannel as it locks in the dye that the heat would otherwise allow to bleed out of it.
Step 2. Soak your flannel shirt in the water for five minutes at a rolling boil. Use a spoon to carefully poke at it in order to allow the water and vinegar combo to do its thing within the fibers of the shirt.
Step 3. Carefully remove your shirt with the spoon into a separate bowl. When it is cool enough to touch, carefully squeeze excess water out of the shirt until it is no longer soaking wet. Then, put it in the dryer on a medium setting for about 45 minutes to an hour.
If you’d rather set it and forget it, you can use your washing machine to shrink your flannel shirt
Step 1. Use your washing machine’s hottest setting and on the heavy wash cycle. Doing so will agitate the flannel shirt, which is what you want. Only wash one shirt at a time, since you don’t want the colors to bleed into each other.
Step 2. Add a cup of vinegar to the machine for the same reason mentioned above–to reduce color loss.
Step 3. Don’t let the shirt sit in the washing machine when it’s done. You’ll want to dry it immediately in the dryer as mentioned above. If the shirt hasn’t shrunk enough after done drying, repeat starting with step 1.
If you don’t want to shrink your flannel, whether it is your go-to flannel robe or trusty flannel pajamas, rest assured that you probably won’t. You typically have to actually try to shrink flannel. Just follow the instructions on the care label. In the absence of a care label, it is typically recommended to wash it in cold water, on your washing machine’s lowest setting. Also, you don’t want to over-dry your flannel shirt, as drying it weakens the fabric and may encourage shrinkage. Lastly, remove it from the dryer as soon as the machine is done drying so it doesn’t sit in there getting wrinkled.
Regardless of whether you’re trying to shrink your flannel or just make sure it keeps its quality, there are ways to ensure that it stays in tip-top shape, especially in the case of flannel sheets that you certainly don’t want to get scratchy or pilly. First, avoid detergents that are too strong or harsh, or those that have bleach additives. Whitening agents like bleach can not only remove the color from your flannel, but are also too harsh for the soft material. Also, don’t overload your machine with other clothes in addition to your flannel. Flannels are sensitive to agitation, which causes it to shrink or pill. You’ll also want to be careful what you wash your flannel with, as it can leave fibers on other items of clothing.