Does Leather Shrink? – Causes, Effects, and Prevention Strategies

A common concern for leather enthusiasts and owners is – does leather shrink?

Yes, leather can shrink under certain conditions.

However, unlike fabrics such as cotton or wool, the shrinkage of leather is not as pronounced or common.

Leather shrinkage occurs due to changes in moisture content and exposure to heat.

When leather becomes wet and then dries too quickly or is subjected to high temperatures, it can shrink and become distorted.

This blog explores the factors that contribute to leather shrinkage, how to prevent it, and what to do if your leather items shrink.

Does Leather Shrink Infographic

What Causes the Leather to Shrink?

Leather shrinkage can be influenced by several factors, both during the tanning process and after the leather has been finished. Here are some key factors that contribute to leather shrinkage:

  1. Moisture Content: Moisture is perhaps the most significant factor influencing leather shrinkage. When leather absorbs water or becomes damp, its fibers swell. If the leather dries too quickly or unevenly, these swollen fibers can contract, leading to shrinkage.
  2. Temperature and Humidity: Environmental conditions, particularly temperature and humidity, can significantly impact leather shrinkage. High temperatures accelerate the drying process and can cause the leather to lose moisture rapidly, leading to shrinkage.
  3. Type of Leather: Different types of leather exhibit varying degrees of susceptibility to shrinkage. For example, full-grain leather, which retains the outer surface of the hide, tends to be more resistant to shrinkage than split leather or suede, which have a more porous structure.
  4. Tanning Process: The tanning process used to treat the leather can impact its shrinkage. For example, chrome-tanned leather tends to shrink less than vegetable-tanned leather because of the chemical treatments involved.
  5. Age of the Leather: The age and condition of the leather also play a role in its susceptibility to shrinkage. Over time, leather naturally loses moisture and elasticity, becoming more prone to shrinkage and cracking.
  6. Mechanical Stress: Excessive stretching, folding, or creasing of leather can cause the fibers to become distorted and lead to shrinkage.
  7. Quality of the Leather: The quality of the leather itself can also play a role in its shrinkage properties. Lower-quality leather may be more prone to shrinkage as it may not have been processed or treated as effectively as higher-quality leather.

Source: Jeremiah Craig YT Channel

Does Shrinking Ruin Leather?

Shrinking can adversely affect leather, but whether or not it ruins the leather depends on the extent of the shrinkage and the specific characteristics of the leather. Here’s a closer look at how shrinking affects leather:

When leather shrinks, it often distorts in shape. This distortion can cause leather products such as shoes, jackets, or bags to become misshapen and uncomfortable to wear or use.

Shrinking can lead to the drying out of leather, especially if the process involves rapid moisture loss. Dry, shrunken leather is more prone to cracking and developing surface blemishes.

In some cases, shrinking may result in leather products becoming too tight or constrictive. This is particularly problematic for shoes or gloves, where a snug but comfortable fit is essential for usability and comfort.

Leather that has shrunk significantly may lose some of its durability and strength.

Can I Unshrink Leather?

Leather is a natural material that changes when it shrinks, and these changes are difficult to undo. However, there are some methods you can try to stretch leather back to its original size to some extent:

  1. Humidity and Steam: One method to try is to expose the shrunken leather to steam or high humidity. The moisture can help relax the fibers of the leather, allowing it to stretch slightly. You can hang the leather item in a bathroom under a hot shower or use a steamer to apply steam directly to the leather.
  2. Leather Conditioner: Applying a leather conditioner or a leather stretching solution can help soften the leather fibers and make them more pliable, which may aid in stretching the leather back to its original size.
  3. Heat and Pressure: Another method involves using heat and pressure. Place the leather piece between two damp towels and use a clothes iron on a low setting to apply gentle heat and pressure to the leather. Be cautious not to overheat the leather or damage it in the process.
  4. Professional Assistance: If DIY methods are unsuccessful or if you’re dealing with valuable or delicate leather items, consider seeking professional assistance from a leather repair specialist or a cobbler.
  5. Wet Stretching: In some cases, wet stretching can be effective for reshaping shrunken leather. Dampen the leather with water and gently stretch and manipulate it into the desired shape.

Types of Leather and Shrinkage

Type of Leather Shrinkage Tendency
Chrome-Tanned Leather Shrinks less than vegetable-tanned leather (2% to 5%)
Vegetable-Tanned Leather It tends to shrink more than chrome-tanned leather (5% to 8% or more)
Full-Grain Leather Shrinks less due to dense and durable structure
Split Leather More prone to shrinkage than full-grain leather

How to Prevent the Leather From Shrinking?

Preventing leather from shrinking requires proactive care and maintenance to protect it from excessive moisture, heat, and other factors that can cause shrinkage. Here are some effective strategies to help prevent leather from shrinking:

1. Proper Storage

Store leather items in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and heat sources.

Avoid storing leather in plastic bags or airtight containers, as this can trap moisture and promote mold growth.

2. Regular Cleaning and Conditioning

Clean and condition leather regularly to keep it moisturized and supple.

Use a gentle leather cleaner to remove dirt and grime, followed by a high-quality leather conditioner to replenish moisture and maintain the leather’s flexibility. 

3. Avoid Excessive Moisture

Keep leather items away from water and moisture as much as possible.

If the leather becomes wet, gently blot the excess moisture with a clean, dry cloth and allow it to air dry naturally at room temperature.

4. Use Leather Protectants

Consider applying a leather protectant or water-repellent spray to provide an additional barrier against moisture and stains.

Be sure to choose a product suitable for the type of leather you’re treating and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application.

5. Handle with Care

Avoid subjecting leather items to excessive stress, stretching, or folding, as this can weaken the fibers and increase the risk of shrinkage over time.

When wearing or handling leather products, be mindful of how you use and store them to minimize unnecessary wear and tear.

6. Monitor Environmental Conditions

Keep an eye on the temperature and humidity levels in the environment where your leather items are stored or used.

Extreme temperature and humidity can accelerate moisture loss from leather and increase the risk of shrinkage. 

Source: QNA by Nolan Moore YT Channel


While leather can shrink under certain conditions, understanding the factors contributing to shrinkage and adopting proper care practices can help preserve the integrity of leather items.

The resilience and versatility of leather make it a cherished material that transcends time and trends.

So, the next time you wear your favorite leather piece, rest assured that with care, it can withstand the test of time, unaffected by the mysteries of shrinkage.

Resources Consulted

James Chiles

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