How to Shrink Cargo Pants? 3 Easy Methods

As someone who has struggled with ill-fitting cargo pants for years, I was thrilled when I finally figured out how to shrink them properly.

Having cargo pants that are too big can make you look sloppy and feel uncomfortable. Fortunately, with some simple tricks, you can shrink your oversized cargo pants and achieve the perfect fit.

When I first started trying to shrink my cargo pants, I simply threw them in the wash on the hottest setting and tossed them in the dryer on high. But this led to uneven shrinking and some major damage.

Through trial and error, I’ve discovered the proper techniques for shrinking cargo pants evenly and effectively.

Do Cargo Pants Shrink?

Before jumping into the shrinking process, it’s good to understand whether cargo pants will shrink at all. The short answer is yes – cargo pants will shrink when exposed to heat and agitation. Most cargo pants are made from cotton or cotton-blend fabrics. These materials contain fibers that will unwind and shrink up when washed in hot water and dried at high temperatures.

The amount of shrinkage depends on the exact fabric blend. Pants made from 100% cotton tend to shrink the most. Cotton-polyester or cotton-nylon blends will shrink less. But in most cases, you can expect to shrink cotton and cotton-blend cargo pants up to 10% of their original size.

Tips for Shrinking Cargo Pants Successfully

If you want your cargo pants to shrink evenly and not become misshapen, here are some useful tips:

  • Check the care label – Follow any special washing instructions so you don’t damage the pants.
  • Wash in hot water – Use the hottest water setting allowed for the fabric. This allows maximum shrinkage.
  • Skip the fabric softener – Fabric softeners will coat the fibers and prevent them from shrinking.
  • Air dry halfway – Hang dry the pants until they are 50-60% dry before putting in the dryer. This prevents uneven shrinking.
  • Tumble dry on high – High heat in the dryer will shrink the pants more than air drying alone.
  • Repeat if needed – Do multiple hot wash and high heat dry cycles until the pants shrink to the desired size.
  • Wash before wearing – Wash the shrunken pants in cold water before wearing to “set” the size.

By keeping these tips in mind, you’ll be able to shrink cargo pants successfully every time.

Step-By-Step Shrinking Methods

Now that you know the basics, let’s look at the step-by-step processes for shrinking cargo pants using some different techniques.

Method 1: Washing Machine and Dryer

Washing Machine and Dryer

This is the easiest and most effective method if you want maximum shrinkage.

Supplies needed:

  • Washing machine
  • Clothes dryer


  1. Check the care label and turn the pants inside out.
  2. Wash pants in the washing machine on the hottest water setting. Use laundry detergent but no fabric softener.
  3. After washing, remove the pants and hang them to air dry for 30-60 minutes. This helps prevent uneven shrinking.
  4. Toss the partially dried pants in the dryer and tumble dry on the highest heat setting for 45-60 minutes.
  5. Remove from dryer and try on pants to see if they’ve shrunk enough. Repeat steps 2-4 as needed until desired fit is reached.
  6. Wash your cargo pants one last time in cold water before wearing to “set” the size.

Method 2: Boiling Water

Boiling the pants in hot water
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Boiling the pants in hot water is a quick way to shrink them without a washing machine.

Supplies needed:

  • Large pot
  • Stove
  • Tongs


  1. Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a rapid boil on the stove.
  2. Using tongs, completely submerge the pants in the boiling water.
  3. Boil for at least 15 minutes, longer for maximum shrinkage.
  4. Remove pants from the pot and lay flat to air dry.
  5. Once partly dry, pop in the dryer on high heat for 30-45 minutes.
  6. Check for proper fit and repeat boiling if needed.
  7. Wash in cold water before wearing.

This method shrinks cotton fabric quickly, but avoid it for cotton-polyester blends.

Method 3: Steaming

You can shrink cargo pants with a garment steamer to target and control the shrinking.

Supplies needed:

  • Garment steamer
  • Ironing board or other flat surface


  1. Fill the garment steamer reservoir with distilled water and turn it on to heat up.
  2. Lay the pants flat on the ironing board. Hover the steamer head over sections you want to shrink, like the waist or leg openings.
  3. Steam continuously over the same area for 1-2 minutes, keeping the head 2 inches above the fabric.
  4. Allow area to dry completely. Repeat if additional shrinking is needed.
  5. Machine wash pants in cold water prior to wearing.

This method takes longer but lets you precisely control where the pants shrink. It works best for spot shrinking and minor overall shrinking.

Common Questions

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about shrinking cargo pants:

How much will cargo pants shrink?

Most 100% cotton cargo pants will shrink up to 8-10% of their original size. Cotton-polyester blends will shrink around 5%.

Can you put cargo pants in the dryer?

Yes, you can and should put cotton and cotton-blend cargo pants in the dryer on high heat to maximize shrinking. Just be sure to air dry them halfway first.

Should cargo pants be baggy?

While cargo pants are designed to be roomy for function, they shouldn’t be overly baggy. Look for a relaxed but tailored fit and then shrink as needed to get rid of excess bagginess.

How to stretch cargo pants after shrinking?

If you accidentally shrink your cargo pants too much, you can stretch them back out. Put them on and do knee bends and squats to stretch out the leg fabric. For the waist, put on a wide belt and wear it tightly for a few hours.

Shrink Cargo Pants with Confidence

Now that you know how to properly shrink cargo pants at home, you can dial in the perfect fit. No more putting up with baggy, oversized cargo pants! Just be sure to use hot water washes and high heat drying, check the pants periodically, and wash in cold water once shrunken. With the right techniques, you’ll have stylish, properly fitting cargo pants in no time.

What methods have you tried for shrinking cargo pants? Share your tips and tricks in the comments!

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