If you’re like me, you’ve probably bought garments that are too big. I usually try to shrink them down a size or two. The thing is, my latest purchase is acrylic. Synthetic fabrics don’t normally shrink. So can I make my top smaller? Does acrylic shrink?
Acrylic is a man-made fiber made from a petrochemical called acrylonitrile. As it’s synthetic, it can’t shrink in the same way as a natural fiber, like wool or cotton. Heat is the best way to shrink acrylic. But, as acrylic is a plastic, too much heat will lead to the fabric melting.
So does acrylic shrink? Can you shrink it without ruining your garment? In this article, we’ll look at the methods to use and the results you can hope for. Read on to find out more about shrinking acrylic clothing.
What Is Acrylic?
Acrylic is a synthetic material derived from a petrochemical called acrylonitrile. When heat and pressure are added to the acrylonitrile, a plastic solution is produced. This solution is then pushed through different sizes of spinnerets to form various thicknesses of fiber.
The fiber is washed, dried, and spun into thread, ready for turning into the fabric. Acrylic fibers are often blended with natural fibers to help boost their durability. The resulting material can be used to create a comfortable, warm fabric very similar to wool. Acrylic garments are so close in appearance to wool; they can often be mistaken for the natural product.
Due to its ability to mimic wool, uses for acrylic include items associated with wool, like sweaters and socks. There’s more to acrylic than a pair of socks, though. Unlike its natural cousin, acrylic can also be used for sportswear.
Does 100% Acrylic Shrink?
Yes, 100% acrylic can shrink. Like most synthetic fabrics, acrylic is heat intolerant. This fact can be used to reduce the size of 100% acrylic garments. Introducing your garment to a moderate amount of heat can cause it to shrink.
Although it will shrink, acrylic is a manmade fiber, so it won’t have the same level of shrinkage as a natural fiber like cotton. There is a limit on how far you can reduce its size before causing damage to the clothing.
One thing to keep in mind with acrylic, the material is essentially plastic. It won’t survive a hot tumble in your dryer. Or a quick dip in your hot tub. Too much heat could lead to a hot mess. Rather than shrink, your acrylic garment will melt.
Worse still, a high heat setting on your washing machine could cause your 100% acrylic garment to stretch out of shape. Instead of shrinking your sweater to fit, it could end up uneven and two sizes too big.
How Much Will Acrylic Shrink?
Probably not as much as you need it to. Acrylic fabric is a synthetic material made from the same substance as plastic. It’s designed not to shrink. Although you can make it shrink by using heat, too much heat will cause damage.
One of the overwhelming advantages of a man-made fiber is the wash-and-go nature of the fabric. You don’t have to wait hours for it to dry as you do with natural fiber. Nor do you have to use a special setting on your washing machine to avoid shrinkage. You simply select a cold wash and let the machine do its thing.
Because it’s synthetic, it can be tricky to get acrylic to shrink. It can be even harder to get it to shrink the right amount. There are no guidelines or handy formulas to help you work out how much heat you need for a specific level of shrinkage. You have to give it your best guess.
You’re probably only looking at a shrinkage level equal to one size. And even that’s not guaranteed. Shrinking acrylic garments can be akin to a lucky dip. You can never be sure what you’re going to get until you open the package.
If you need an exact amount of shrinkage, you may be better off purchasing another garment. One that is closer to the size you need.
Does Acrylic Shrink in the Wash?
Acrylic can shrink in the wash if the temperature of the water is too hot. Although shrinkage will be minimal, the amount can still make your garment too small to wear. Not only that, but the fabric can be damaged by excessive heat, causing it to melt or pull out of shape.
Hot water is not a friend of any synthetic material and acrylic is no exception. Even when blended with a natural fiber, acrylic’s aversion to heat will dominate the garment, leading to irreparable damage. You may even find the natural fiber content will increase the amount of shrinkage.
It’s a good idea to always check the care label in the garment before washing. The manufacturer will list the best temperature setting to ensure your clothing retains its looks and structure. If the care label is missing, sticking to a cold or lukewarm wash will help protect your acrylic from damage.
Does Acrylic Shrink in the Dryer?
You can cause your acrylic garment to shrink if you use a dryer. The main reason for this is having the dryer on too high a setting. The heat from dryers is as damaging to acrylic as a hot wash on your washing machine.
Even a slightly cooler drying setting can cause an acrylic garment to shrink if it is in there for too long. Any kind of heat from a dryer can cause shrinkage in a synthetic fabric like acrylic. Dryers can also cause the fabric to melt or stretch out of shape.
Always check the care instructions inside your acrylic garments before putting them in the dryer. You’ll find manufacturers recommend a cool setting for as short a timespan as possible.
Better still, avoid the dryer altogether and air dry the clothing for best results. You need to make sure you dry them away from direct sunlight, but air drying is the safest option for acrylic.
How to Shrink Acrylic Clothing
If you are determined to shrink your acrylic clothing, there is a way to do it. Unfortunately, you need to be extra careful as it’s not an exact science. Shrinking your acrylic clothing on purpose could end in disaster. Rather than reducing the size of the garment, you could end up destroying it.
You will need:
- A large pot for boiling water
- Lingerie bag or stocking
- Tongs or rubber gloves
Boil a pot of water on your stove. The pot needs to be big enough to submerge the garment.
Carefully place your garment in a net bag. Either a lingerie bag or stocking will work for this. The bag will keep the garment from getting battered inside the pot. Put the bag in the pot and allow to simmer for around 35-40 minutes.
Using tongs or rubber gloves, remove the bag and gently roll it in a towel to soak up any excess water. Don’t apply any pressure as this could damage the clothing inside the bag. Using a lingerie bag should help reduce the chance of wrinkles.
Put the bag in the dryer and set it to the highest heat setting. Leave the dryer to run for the full cycle. Remove the clothing from the bag once the cycle has complete.
Please note, the actual shrinkage amount you can achieve is likely to be minimal. You may also find one side shrinks more than the other. If you are unhappy with the amount your garment has shrunk, don’t try to do these steps again. Attempting to do this process more than once could end up melting your garment or stretching it out of shape.
Alternatives to Shrinking Acrylic Clothing
There are easier ways to reduce the size of acrylic clothing without reverting to shrinking. Both are a lot safer and will give better results.
The first thing you should consider is having the garment tailored. Take it to a professional tailor or seamstress and ask them to alter the clothing to fit you. They can do this by taking it in at the seams or adding darts and other sewing techniques.
This method will enable you to achieve a flattering fit without damaging the fibers of the material. Sewing new seams won’t melt the material, and you won’t end up with one side longer than the other.
Another great way to ensure a perfect fit is to purchase smaller clothing. One of the advantages of mass-produced fashion is it comes in different sizes. Try the garment on before you buy it to make sure it will fit you the way you want it to.
If you have bought the wrong size, take it back and swap it for the right one. Most retailers will allow you to do this as long as you still have the receipt. Some stores will also need the tags to be attached and the item to be in an unused condition.
How to Wash Acrylic Sweaters, So They Don’t Shrink
To make sure you don’t accidentally shrink your acrylic sweater, you should always follow the care instructions. You’ll find them on a label inside the garment.
A word of caution, not all acrylic clothing is washable. Some sweaters are dry clean only. Washing them could lead to permanent damage, so always check the label before getting your acrylic sweater anywhere near water.
If the label is missing, the key to washing acrylic is avoiding the heat. Acrylic clothes should be washed on a cool or lukewarm setting. Dry them on low heat in your dryer or allow them to air dry. If you are drying them outside, make sure to keep the garments out of the sun.
Although synthetic fabrics can withstand regular washing, they can pill if washed too much. Acrylic is particularly prone to pilling, which can shorten the useful lifespan of the garment. To prevent pilling damage, don’t overwash your sweater. It’s fine to wear the garment four or five times before throwing it in the laundry.
How to Shrink Acrylic Yarn
You can shrink acrylic yarn using the same method as acrylic clothing. The only difference is, it’s best to knit the yarn into something first, rather than trying to shrink it while still on the skein or ball.
As with all acrylics, washing the knitted yarn in hot water and drying on high heat will cause the material to shrink. However, be careful of the amount of heat you inflict on the yarn. Too much will cause it to melt.
The disadvantage of shrinking acrylic yarn is also the same as acrylic clothing. You may find it shrinks unevenly. Worse, it may simply stretch or pull out of shape. Acrylic doesn’t like shrinking and can behave badly, giving you an unwearable item.
If you find you have knitted something with acrylic yarn and it’s too big, you could try alternative methods to reduce its size. You can add an elasticated hatband to help pull the base of a knitted hat in to hug your head a little tighter.
Knitted acrylic sweaters can be taken in at the seams. If the sleeves are too long, an easy solution would be to roll them up or convert the cuffs into fashionable turn-ups.
How to Unshrink Acrylic
It’s all too easy to put an acrylic sweater into a hot wash by mistake. They can get caught up in other clothing and by the time you realize your error, the wash has ended.
There is a way to unshrink your acrylic sweater. Due to the nature of acrylic and its inability to stretch as much as a natural fiber, you may not be able to get it back to its original size. However, to save your favorite sweater from becoming a hand-me-down to a toddler, it’s worth a try.
You will need:
- Cork bulletin board
- Pushpins or map pins
- Fabric softener
Take the shrunken sweater out of the washing machine. Do not dry it. Especially not in the dryer. As heat is the way acrylic is formed, a dryer will set your sweater into its new size. Instead, put the wet sweater to one side while you fill a large tub with cool water. Add 2 tablespoons of fabric softener.
Submerge the sweater in the mixture and swirl it around. Make sure it’s completely covered by the water and all the fibers are totally soaked. Leave it in the tub for between 30 minutes to 2 hours. The softener will relax the fibers to allow reshaping.
Remove the sweater and gently squeeze out the excess water. Don’t wring or twist the garment as this could damage the sweater. Roll the sweater into a towel to absorb the moisture. Repeat with a dry towel as many times as necessary. You want to remove all or as much of the excess water as possible.
Lay your sweater down flat on the cork bulletin board. Using the pins, gently stretch the sweater back into shape and size. Pin the sweater every 2 inches. Adjust the pins as you go to make sure the shape is even all the way around.
Leaving the sweater pinned to the board, place it in a warm place to dry. Don’t put it in direct sunlight or anywhere near heat. You want the sweater to dry naturally. Check it every couple of hours and reshape and pin as necessary. This is a waiting game as the sweater may take a few days to dry.
If you find the sweater hasn’t made it back to its original size, you can try again from step 1. Adding more fabric softener may help the fibers relax more, allowing you to stretch the sweater even further.
An important point to mention, the more times you try this method, the more chance there is of overstretching. As with shrinking acrylic, there are no guarantees trying to unshrink it will give you the results you are looking for.
Acrylic fabric isn’t designed to shrink. But, it can if it’s exposed to too much heat. It can also melt or stretch. Although it is possible to re-stretch your garment, it’s not guaranteed to work. Similarly, if you want to shrink your clothing on purpose, be aware you may not get the expected result.
Let me know in the comments if you liked the article. Have you ever tried shrinking acrylic? Have you accidentally shrunk your acrylic clothing and tried reshaping it? How did you get on?