Can Leggings Shrink?


If you have a favorite pair of leggings, you probably want to hang onto them for as long as you possibly can. This means caring for them properly.

Are your leggings likely to shrink in the laundry? It really all depends on how you take care of them. But leggings are way more likely to stretch than to shrink. 

Leggings Are More Likely to Stretch Than Shrink

Leggings have a lot of elastication. This is so they can have that ‘second skin’ appearance. But any elasticated item of clothing will stretch over time.

In part this is caused by general wear. You’ll probably notice that leggings are smaller on the hanger than they are on you. This is because you’re already stretching them to wear them.

Like all elastics (even elastic bands), over time the stretch will give out and items will relax in their stretched shape instead of contracting back to their original shape. This is generally unavoidable; underwear, bras, swimsuits - all your clothes with a lot of elastic get looser over time because of this.

That’s why it’s generally not a terrible idea to buy these items a little on the tight side to begin with, so you get longer out of them (the same applies to denim that contains stretch).

The bagginess is most likely to show around the bottom and knees at first, in part because of the amount of stretch and motion these areas undergo. But over time, they’ll become loose all over.

As mentioned, this is pretty unavoidable in the long run — just part of the lifespan of these types of garments. How long you get will depend on:

  1. How often you wear the leggings 
  2. The care you take of them between wears

In general though, stretch is much more likely than shrinkage when it comes to leggings.

Why Would Leggings Shrink?

That said, leggings can shrink too. This would most likely happen because of how you washed and dried them.

Leggings are not just made of lycra; they also contain cotton and other fabrics (spandex and polyester, cotton, nylon to name a few). So sometimes while the elastic can become looser, other materials in the legging composition can be susceptible to shrinkage.

Here are some reasons why that might happen:

You Washed Them in Hot Water

Generally, you’re advised to wash leggings in cold or cool water cycles (or to hand wash). Washing leggings in hot water can cause shrinkage in the fabric as high heat can cause shrinkage.

It’s natural to want to give leggings (and other items worn close to the skin) a thorough clean, especially if you’ve worked up a sweat in them at the gym. However, hot water is too harsh for leggings and other synthetics. And while you may think hot water is tougher on dirt, it can actually set stains.

Instead, treat these items as delicates and keep them in a cool cycle with similar weight items (or toss them in a mesh bag).

Warm water can cause shrinkage too, it will just take longer than searing hot to do the same damage. But over time, they can do the same amount of damage to clothes.

You Put Them in the Dryer

The gist of it is heat can cause shrinkage, so the dryer can also be a detriment to your clothes and cause shrinkage. Generally, leggings come with instructions to “lay flat to dry” so you’re not supposed to put them in the dryer at all.

However, sometimes when you’re transferring laundry from the machine to the dryer you can miss some items that don’t belong in the dryer. If this happens by accident, you may notice your leggings have shrunk a little. With wear, they should return to their original size, but do try to avoid repeating the mistake too many times or you might do serious damage.

Why You Should Avoid Doing Things to Shrink Leggings

So imagine this scenario: Your absolute favorite pair of leggings is starting to get a little loose. This could be for a few reasons:

  • They’re just aging and starting to lose their elasticity
  • You’ve lost some weight or changed shape
  • You bought a size too big but you still love them

You might be tempted to try to deliberately shrink leggings by putting them through an extra long hot wash and then tossing them in the dryer. If the choice is between tossing and trying to shrink leggings, by all means try it. 

But beware: The steps to shrink leggings can cause other forms of damage too.

1. Elastic Breaks Under Heat

Heat can cause fabrics to shrink, but it can also cause elastic to snap. This applies to heat from the washing machine and the dryer too. Ever noticed little broken pieces of elastic on the surface of a garment? This ‘elastic stubble’ appears when elastic snaps, and it only means your item will become even looser.

2. Leggings Lose Their Opaqueness

If your leggings shrink and you stretch them again when you wear them, they may start to become transparent. Leggings should NEVER be see-through; they should be completely opaque. But old leggings can start to become opaque when they haven’t been properly cared for, or when they’ve been worn threadbare.

3. They May Not Shrink in Ways You Like

It’s unlikely that your leggings are equally loose all over. Maybe they’re loose around the butt or knees, but fit perfectly on the waist…

If you're shrinking leggings through a hot washing machine cycle, or a dryer cycle, you’re not able to target specific areas of the garment. You might find the waist you didn’t want to change shrinks too much. Meanwhile, the baggy ass and knees might still be baggy.

Point is: You’ll be lucky if you get the specific kind of shrinkage you want. Odds are you’ll end up with something just as ill-fitting, but in new ways.

4. The Shrinkage is Just Temporary

Even if you manage to shrink your leggings in the washing machine or dryer and get the desired outcome, it won’t last. As mentioned at the beginning, leggings become looser and looser with age, so any shrinkage you manage to achieve will be a temporary gain.

5. The Damage Will Get Worse Every Time

You may not think you’ve damaged your leggings with one hot water washing machine and dryer cycle. But, as mentioned, you could also cause damage. Because any shrinkage will be temporary, you’ll probably repeat the hot water and dryer cycle. And although you might get away with one time, repeating this behaviour will definitely start to show.

But What If You *Really* Want to Shrink Leggings!?

If you have read all of this and still want to give shrinking your leggings a try, you’ll find several sets of DIY instructions online. After all, if the option is toss-or-keep, you may feel like you have nothing to lose in trying to shrink leggings.

Generally, all methods for shrinking leggings boil down to using heat in one form or another (washer, dryer, iron).

You’ll generally find the various methods work better on cotton (or mostly cotton) leggings than on compression (polyester and spandex) leggings. You can find this on the fabric care label (usually located at the waist of a garment, but sometimes on a leg seam too).

Honestly: Just Bite the Bullet & Invest in a New Pair of Leggings

Really, if your leggings are starting to bag out, you should take it as a sign that it’s time to invest in new leggings.

At the very most, you might eke a few additional wears out of the leggings with these DIY shrinking hacks, but they also carry the risk that your leggings start to become transparent. This is simply not worth the risk as far as we’re concerned!!

Much as we all want to avoid creating unnecessary waste, the truth is that certain items of clothing do not last forever. Leggings, tights, bras and underwear need to be replaced more or less on an annual basis. Of course, this depends on how often you wear them and how many you have in rotation.

The point is, you should not expect leggings to last forever. And when it’s time to replace, it’s time. If you want to give them a second life, I keep old leggings around for painting and gardening etc. That way, you can feel like you’re truly getting every last iota of value out of them.

How You Should *Really* Care for Your Leggings

When you do decide it’s time to invest in new leggings, check out these guidelines for how leggings should fit. And when you do find that new, perfect pair, take care of them.

Here are some pointers:

Wash Them As Frequently as Underwear 

Leggings are worn right next to the skin (and the groin) so they absorb EVERYTHING. What’s more, workout or gym leggings are designed specifically to be moisture wicking. Those damp, sweaty fabrics are a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and odor, which can quickly turn yucky.

There are no hard rules about how many wears you should get out of your leggings. But I usually think about it the same way I think about my bras: If I work up a sweat, 1 wear and it gets washed. If I’m pretty sedentary, 3 wears is fine

Also, don’t let a stale sweaty garment just sit in your laundry hamper or workout bag for a week or bacteria can breed and odor can worsen (even a quick hand-wash can be a great solution).

A Cool Washing Machine Cycle Is Best

Hot washing machine cycles are great for tough fabrics that can really take it, and need a very thorough clean. But most garments with stretch need a gentler touch. 

This is because elastics can break under high washing machine temperatures — and leggings have A LOT of stretch. As well, it could just overall make your beloved leggings look a little grubby. So stick with the cold wash cycle for your leggings and other items with a lot of stretch (like sports bras and wireless bras).

Protect Them From Getting Tangled in the Machine

You don’t want your leggings to get stretched in the machine. So try to wash leggings with items of a similar weight (t-shirts, underwear etc.) If you do wash them with larger or heavier items (bedding, towels, sweaters), consider popping them in a mesh bag so they don’t get knotted up with these items.

Choose a Gentle Detergent

Because leggings are skin tight, harsh cleaners can leave residue that really irritates the skin. I tend to treat leggings like lingerie and use a more delicate detergent with them. Don’t use too much, either. It’s always tempting to think adding more will make things cleaner. But adding more just means more residue.

Skip Fabric Softeners

Fabric softeners will leave a very noticeable residue on the top of your leggings. Not nice. This residue can also dull and discolor your leggings. If you use softener in your laundry, make sure you separate the items you want to use softener on from your synthetics before you pop them in the machine.

Lay Leggings Flat to Dry

When clothing is wet, it weighs more. That means hanging leggings when they’re wet can stretch them out more. Instead, lay leggings flat to dry. You’ll be surprised how quickly leggings dry! 

Avoid the Dryer

Drying machines are an absolute no-no. Instead opt for an air dry.Why? Because the heat of dryers can be detrimental to the elastic in your leggings. And once the elastic is gone, your leggings are finished.

Care Instructions for Knix Leggings

If you’re lucky enough to own Knix leggings here are our official guidelines for washing Knix leggings:

  • Machine wash cold
  • Do not bleach
  • Do not iron
  • Do not dry clean
  • Lay flat to dry