How to shrink leather

by Albert Varkki updated 05-25-2023

shrinking leather

Perhaps you have a leather item that you want to shrink?

If so, the best thing to do is to soak your leather in water.

You can then dry your item with a hairdryer or in the sun.

The blend of heat and moisture can tighten up the leather fibers so it starts to shrink.

You can use these methods with items like jackets, shoes, gloves and belts made from leather.

Just remember that you could risk discoloring your products slightly.

One way to shrink a leather product is to soak it in tepid water and dry it with a heat source or under indirect sun.

The warm water will soften the fibers and return them to their original size but the quick-drying method will shrink them back.

A step-by-step process for shrinking leather

Wetting your leather

leather wallet in rain

If you’re able to submerge the leather, fill a bucket with very hot water.

If the item you’re shrinking can get fully wet without becoming damaged, you could place it in a bath.

  • Make sure your tap is at the hottest available setting and allow it to run until the water reaches its maximum temperature. You can also fill a bucket or a pot.
  • The items that you may wish to soak can include boots, leather clothes, gloves and accessories. If you’re unable to soak the leather product, you can fill a bottle with hot water and spray.
  • This may be the right option if your product has parts that you can’t get wet such as the soles on certain shoes.
  • Some buckles and snaps can rust if they become wet. You may need to protect these. If an item is too big to soak, such as your sofa’s leather covering or your car seats, you can spray it.
  • Make sure the leather parts you want to treat are saturated with hot water completely. If you’re using a tub or a bucket, place your item in the water before pushing it down until it's fully submerged.
  • If you’re treating your product with a spray bottle, lay your item flat then soak the whole surface. You can also turn it over and soak the other side too if necessary.
  • All of the leather needs to become evenly wet or you could create a color difference between the parts you’re soaking and the ones you’re leaving dry.
  • If you are spraying your leather, you could place your item on a plastic sheet to protect the surface beneath it.
  • Should you have access to a handheld steamer, this can be used to soak your leather item. This will blend the heat and moisture with ease. Just lay the item flat so it can air dry once you have finished.
  • Thick leather needs to be soaked for up to an hour to ensure it's fully wet.
  • Perhaps something you are soaking is made with particularly thick and hard leather such as a heavy vest or boots, you may wish to soak it for longer so the leather can be fully penetrated.
  • You may need to leave the leather in the water for up to an hour before you take it out.
  • Maybe your item is manufactured from thin leather? If so, you may only need to plunge it into water to soak it.

Drying your item

leather jacket in sun

If you’re in a hot environment, you can leave your leather in the sun.

Once the leather has been soaked, you can dry it with heat so the fibers stretch.

  • Lay your item flat in a sunny space such as a towel or on a patio table. Leave the item in the sun until it has dried out completely.
  • You mustn’t hang the leather. This is because the weight of the water might make the item stretch, not shrink. The leather shouldn’t be left in front of a high heat source such as a radiator as it could become brittle. It could even crack.
  • Look at the care label if you want to shrink a leather garment. You’ll be able to place the item in a dryer on high heat for around half an hour if it’s not made from nubuck or suede.
  • Do note that your leather could start to look distressed and puckered if you take this step.
  • You can also use a hairdryer on low speed to dry your leather indoors. The hairdryer should be set to its highest heat setting but the lowest speed. You then need to switch it on.
  • You’ll need to move the nozzle back and forth slowly and keep the end of the dryer around four inches from the leather’s surface.
  • Do this until the leather has dried. Don’t leave the nozzle in the same place too long as you could find yourself burning the leather.
  • You should carry on soaking and drying your leather up to three times if necessary. When your item has dried, make sure it has shrunk as much as you want it to.
  • If you want it to shrink further, you can begin the soaking process again. You can do this two more times.
  • Perhaps your leather still isn’t the required size after you’ve wet and dried it three times? If so, it may be best to simply buy a new item that is the right size.
  • You can soften the leather by conditioning it. Water and heat are both capable of drying out leather and making it incredibly brittle.
  • You can avoid this by adding a few drops of special leather conditioner to a clean cloth. You can then rub it into the surface of your leather. Add more conditioner to your cloth as required.
  • You should then continue massaging your conditioner into your item until it is coated fully. Leather conditioner is available from many reputable online and offline sources.

Why does leather stretch and shrink?

man holding piece of leather

Leather is a natural material which is obtained after raw animal hides are processed with natural or chemical extracts. This process takes place in processing units known as tanneries.

When leather is worn, the internal fibers often slide apart under pressure, stretching over time. Not all leather is the same.

Some leather products can stretch differently from others. High-quality leathers like full grain tend to stretch slowly, whilst low-quality leather stretches quickly. Leather types which stretch with ease are easy to shrink too.

How can I shrink a leather wallet?

If you love your leather wallet but it has started to stretch, don’t worry. Wallets are particularly easy to fix.

The first step that you need to take is to empty your wallet completely. You can then start soaking it in water. The water should be lukewarm. Avoid using any cleaning chemicals or detergents. Normal tap water should be fine. Just wait until the water has been absorbed properly.

Once your wallet is fully wet, you can start rinsing off the excess water. Don’t squeeze your wallet to remove the excess water. Simply hold the wallet in your hands and shake it gently to remove this water.

To dry your wallet, place it in indirect sunlight to prevent color loss. During winter, use a hairdryer on low heat from a distance to avoid overheating and causing cracks. After drying, apply a leather conditioner for a fresh shine and to eliminate odors. Then, return your items to the wallet.

For shrinking leather gloves, soak them in a lukewarm water and alcohol solution (1:1 ratio) to remove excess oil.

Avoid using cleaning chemicals or detergents. Shake gently to remove water and dry in sunlight or with a hairdryer on low heat, ensuring equal heating on all sides. Finally, spray with a leather conditioner to restore softness.

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How can I shrink leather gloves?

brown leather glove

To shrink leather gloves effectively, start by soaking them in a lukewarm water and alcohol solution with a 1:1 ratio.

Alcohol helps remove excess oil absorbed by the leather. Avoid using cleaning chemicals or detergents.

After thorough soaking, gently shake off any excess water. Dry the gloves in direct sunlight during summer or with a low setting on a hairdryer in winter, ensuring equal heat exposure on all sides. Once dry, apply a leather conditioner to restore their suppleness and softness.

How can I shrink my leather boots?

Shrinking leather shoes and boots poses a challenge, particularly when it comes to preserving the soles' efficiency. To address this, a spray bottle can be used to dampen the top layer without wetting the soles.

Afterwards, leaving the footwear in the sun or applying a low-speed hairdryer helps with the shrinking process.

For shoes with rubber soles, soaking them in lukewarm water is an option. Afterward, removing the footwear and placing them in a tilted standing position allows excess water to drain.

To dry them, either use a low-speed hairdryer or let them air dry in the sun. Avoid leaving shoes upside down to prevent unwanted creases and deformation.

Read our related articles:

How can I shrink my leather with vinegar?

As for shrinking leather with vinegar, it can be effective but carries a small risk of damaging the finish. Spraying vinegar on the outer layer or placing a vinegar-soaked fabric inside the shoes for a few hours can expedite the drying process when used in conjunction with a low-speed hairdryer.

How can I shrink a leather jacket?

If you want to shrink a leather jacket, you can soak it in lukewarm water. As leather garments tend to be made from softer leather, cold water won’t be as effective. You can remove excess water from the jacket by leaving it on a flat surface.

Avoid hanging the jacket as the garment could become too heavy and start to stretch from the hanging spots.

Wait until the excess water has gone but the garment is still wet. You can then use a hairdryer at a low speed setting to dry it out.

The jacket can also be kept in direct sun. remember to keep flipping the sides to get the best results. You can add a leather conditioner at the end.

How can I shrink a leather bracelet?

leather bracelet

If you want to shrink a leather bracelet, you will have to take care to protect any attachments like metal hooks. It’s best to remove these attachments if you can.

If not, you will need to wet the rest of the bracelet carefully and dry any metal parts that do get moist quickly to prevent corrosion.

Get a cup of water and fill it with tap water. You can keep it in an electric oven for up to 40 seconds so it’s lukewarm. Leave your bracelet inside your cup for a few minutes. Use fabric to quickly dry out any metal parts that might have got wet.

You can then leave your bracelet in sunlight or use a hairdryer to shrink it. After this, you can add some leather conditioner to add fresh shine to your bracelet.

How can I shrink a leather belt?

Leather belts can be harder to shrink especially if they are particularly thick. Another reason why leather belts are hard to shrink is that they normally have two layers of leather.

If you do need your belt to fit you, it may be best to simply create a new hole.

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Author: Albert Varkki
Albert Varkki is the co-founder of Von Baer. He understands leather products as a consumer, supplier, and a manufacturer, helping you with the inside knowledge you need, to choose the perfect leather product for you. Connect on Linkedin

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