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How to Shrink a Sweater

My favorite sweater is two sizes too big. I’ve been thinking about shrinking it. Being the right size would make it more flattering. But how do I get it to fit properly? Can I find out how to shrink a sweater?

Sweaters can be shrunk in the wash or through clothing alterations. Wool and cotton fibers are the easiest to shrink. Both can be washed in hot water and then dried in a dryer. Wool should be dried on low heat to prevent over shrinking. Synthetic fibers are shrink resistant and may be damaged by the shrinking process.

In this article, we’ll take a look at how to shrink a sweater. From the best fibers to shrink to tips on how to shrink your sweater safely. Read on to find out more.

How to Shrink Sweater

Why Would You Shrink a Sweater?

There are several reasons why you would want to shrink a sweater. The main one is because the sweater is too big for you.

It isn’t always easy to purchase a sweater that fits. Whether you’re buying new, or practicing sustainable fashion by shopping in a thrift store, getting a sweater to fit you from the get-go can be a challenge.

You may have seen a design or style that you fell in love with, but it’s only available in a larger size. So, you go with it as it’s a must-have item for your closet. Besides, oversized clothing is on-trend right now. Going large could be your fashion statement.

Sweaters are also one of those garments we like to wear with layers. If the sweater fits perfectly, there’s no room underneath for extra t-shirts or even thermal vests.

When looking for sweaters, most of us tend to go a little on the large size to allow extra clothing underneath, especially in cooler climates. None of us like to be chilly and it’s nice to add layers of shirts underneath a sweater for added warmth.

The problem with buying larger sweaters, there’s a fine line between fashionable oversized garments and clothing that’s simply too big. Extra-large sweaters can make you look like a child playing dress-up in their parent’s clothing. That’s not a good look on anyone over the age of 12!

Shrinking your sweater down a size or two helps create a more flattering look. With the silhouette closer to your own body size, your appearance will look more natural. Rather than being swamped by the sweater, you’ll look chic and stylish.

Another reason you may need to shrink your sweater is following a wash cycle. Wool sweaters, in particular, tend to stretch out of shape in the wash. When this happens, repairing the damage involves shrinking the sweater on purpose. Although it isn’t always possible to get back to its starting size, shrinking can help you return the sweater to as close to the original shape as possible.

Do Sweaters Shrink?

Yes, sweaters can shrink. Some can shrink more than others. The amount of shrinkage will depend on the fiber content of the sweater.

You’ll find natural fibers such as wool and cotton will shrink easily. These two fabrics are known to be prone to shrinking. Even when they’re not made into sweaters. Wool, in particular, has a low tolerance to heat. A hot water wash and a quick spin in a warm dryer will make your woolly sweater shrink before your eyes.

One of the disadvantages of wool is it can go from adult to child size in next to no time. You have to keep a close eye on wool if you want a specific amount of shrinkage. Or it will end up too small.

Fabrics containing synthetic fibers are harder to shrink. Synthetic content is normally shrink resistant. Synthetic material is sometimes added to natural fiber garments to prevent shrinkage. Having said that, although it might be a challenge to shrink a synthetic sweater, it isn’t impossible.

100% acrylic is an exception to this rule. Not only can acrylic stretch out of shape, but you can also use heat to shrink it back again. However, because it’s a synthetic material, you won’t get the same amount of shrinkage as you would from a natural fiber.

When shrinking your sweater, one thing to bear in mind is the fiber blend it contains. If you have a mix of both natural and synthetic fibers in your sweater, it might not shrink evenly.

While the natural content will shrink, the synthetic part is more likely to hold its shape, creating a wobbly, misshapen effect on your sweater. Worse still, you may end up with a ripple effect where the natural fibers have shrunk, but the synthetic ones have melted.

Another issue with synthetic fibers is they all tend to be heat intolerant to varying degrees. As heat is a key factor in getting sweaters to shrink, you could be at risk of ruining your garment if it contains any synthetic material.

How to Shrink a Sweater

There are a couple of ways to shrink a sweater. The method you choose will depend on the fiber content of the sweater you want to shrink.

You can even decide to shrink the whole sweater or just parts of it. Wool, for instance, sometimes only stretches at the neckline or hems. So you can elect to shrink those sections and leave the rest of the sweater alone.

Please note, selecting specific areas might not work with synthetics or cotton. This is because they have slightly different properties to wool and will react to shrinking differently.

Check out our step-by-step guide to shrinking a sweater to find the best method for your situation. To make it easier, we’ve split the guide into the different fibers your sweater might be made from.

You will need:

  • Your sweater
  • Washing machine or large pan of boiling water
  • Dryer
  • Laundry bag

Shrinking Cotton Sweaters

Cotton is probably the easiest fabric to shrink by far. So much so cotton garments are known to shrink when they are washed for the first time. Denim jeans are a great example of this. The good news for your sweater, being made from cotton will make shrinking it a piece of cake.

Step 1

Wash your cotton sweater on the hottest setting your washing machine has. Once the cycle has finished, put your sweater straight into the dryer.

Step 2

Choose a medium heat and tumble dry your sweater until it’s slightly damp. Then, with an iron set on the cotton setting, iron until completely dry. Reshape the garment as you work.

Shrinking Whole Wool Sweaters

There are two ways to shrink a wool sweater. When you need to shrink an entire sweater, you should use the first method listed below. For specific areas of the sweater, use the second.

In both cases, pay attention to the amount of time you treat your wool sweater. Too much heat for too long may cause too much shrinkage.

Step 1

Select a short wash cycle for your wool and dial up the heat to a high setting. Not too high, you don’t want to felt it! Transfer your sweater to the dryer as soon as the wash cycle has ended. This method is ideal for when you want to shrink the whole sweater.

Step 2

Dry on low heat. Keep checking your wool sweater every five minutes or so. You don’t want to leave it in the dryer too long. It could end up shrinking too much.

Step 3

As soon as you are happy with the shrinkage you have achieved, remove the sweater from the dryer.

Shrinking Part of a Wool Sweater

Follow these next steps if you only want to shrink sections of your wool sweater. This method works well on sweaters stretched out of shape in small areas. As long as the garment is predominately wool, it should work on wool blends too.

Step 1

Boil some water in a large pan. Use the water to dampen the areas you wish to shrink: cuffs, hems, or the neckline, for instance. You only need a small amount of water. The sweater should be damp, not soaked.

Step 2

Reshape the damp sweater sections if you need to. Then dry with a hairdryer set on the highest setting. Continue to dry the garment until all the moisture has been removed or you’re happy with the shrinkage.

Shrinking Acrylic Sweaters

Shrinking acrylic sweaters isn’t as straightforward as wool or cotton. While it can be done, you are twice as likely to damage your sweater rather than shrink it. You’ll also find that any shrinkage you get will be minimal.

Step 1

Place your acrylic sweater into a laundry bag. Bring a large pan of water to a boil and submerge the bag in it. Leave to simmer for about 35 minutes.

Step 2

Carefully remove the bag and roll it in a towel to remove surplus water. Be gentle. The acrylic will be incredibly delicate and easy to damage.

Step 3

Without removing the garment from the bag, place it in the dryer. Select the highest dryer setting and tumble dry the sweater for a minimum of 15 minutes. Remove the sweater from the dryer as soon as the time is up. Any shrinkage achieved will be the maximum the garment can do.

Shrinking Synthetic Sweaters

Synthetic fabrics can be tricky to shrink. Their properties make them shrink-resistant. It is possible but unlikely to be as successful as shrinking a natural fiber. Synthetic fabrics are more likely to shrink if they contain a high percentage of natural material like cotton.

You also have to watch the type of synthetic material you are working with. Some are more prone to heat damage.

Step 1

Check the care label of the sweater to see what the fiber content is. Any sweater with a high level of natural fiber is a good candidate for shrinking.

Step 2

Wash the sweater on the hottest setting on your washing machine. As soon as the cycle is over, put the sweater in the dryer. Dry on a low to medium heat setting to avoid melting the synthetic fibers.

Step 3

Dry for a maximum of 15 minutes. Any longer than that can damage the synthetic fibers. You can repeat the shrinking process if you are not happy with the results. But, be aware your risk of irreparable damage increases with each treatment.

Can You Shrink a Sweater Without Ruining It?

You can shrink sweaters without ruining them. However, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. The risk of damage depends on the fiber content of the sweater, the quality of the garment, and the way you shrink it. To keep your sweater damage free, you need to use caution.

Unfortunately, shrinking sweaters isn’t an exact science. In a lot of cases, shrinking a sweater is done by eye. This means you gauge the results by looking at it after you have attempted to shrink it. The heat setting you use and the timescale you follow can differ depending on the sweater. No two sweaters are the same when it comes to shrinking.

This can make it difficult to shrink a sweater without damaging the garment. Especially if it’s made from a delicate fabric or a material prone to heat damage. Fear not though, taking a few precautionary steps can help you avoid ruining your sweater.

The first thing you should do is be flexible with the outcome. Don’t worry too much about being perfect. You might not be able to achieve the level of shrinkage you wished for. Remember the old adage, less is more. As near as you can get is better than pushing your sweater too far.

Secondly, check your fiber content. Some sweaters will be easier to shrink without causing damage. If your sweater has a high level of synthetic material in it, consider other methods of reducing its size. Tailoring, for instance, can produce some stylish, close-fitting garments without damaging any fibers in the fabric.

A third element to consider before you attempt to shrink your sweater is what it looks like. Does it have embellishments or special finishes? You are more likely to ruin your sweater if it has any embroidery or applique attached to it. This is due to the fiber content of the embellishments. They may not shrink with the sweater.

Be particularly careful with wool sweaters. Wool tends to felt if it is washed in water that is too hot. Similarly, a warm dryer can also cause felting. When you’re dealing with wool, err on the side of caution and notch the heat down a little.

There is always a risk of ruining a sweater when you try to shrink it. Keep that fact in the back of your mind when you look at your sweater and think it’s too big. The painful truth is, you have to be prepared to lose the sweater.

How to Shrink a Sweater Without Washing It

Instead of washing and shrinking your sweater, there is a safer alternative. You can have the garment altered to reduce its size. This is known as tailoring. Taking your sweater to a professional tailor or seamstress will enable you to shrink your sweater without washing it.

The benefits of altering your sweater are numerous. Also known as “taking it in”, re-sewing the seams won’t damage the fibers contained in the fabric. Nor will it cause felting.

Scale differences between the garment and any embroidery or embellishments will be unaffected. There won’t be any unsightly shriveling if your sweater is synthetic either. That’s the good news with sewing, you can use this method on natural or synthetic fabrics.

You are completely in control of how much or how little the sweater is reduced by. It’s all down to your body measurements and how much you tell the sewist to take it in by. Better still, you can change the overall style of the sweater too. From a crew neck to a V neck, for instance.

If you’re handy with a sewing machine, you can carry out the alterations yourself. Follow our step-by-step guide to altering a sweater to be more close-fitting.

You will need:

  • Your sweater
  • Sewing machine
  • Fabric marker
  • Seam ripper
  • Your body measurements

Step 1

Decide how much you want to take in your sweater. You’ll be doing this by altering the garment at the side seams.

Step 2

Turn your sweater inside out and lay it flat on a table. Mark a line on your sweater where you want the new side seam to be. This should run from the armhole down to the hem.

If you want a more tight-fitting look, gently curve the line inwards slightly towards the middle of the garment, then back out again as you approach the hemline. Remember to allow at least half an inch for the seam allowance!

Step 3

Using a seam ripper, open the original seam. Readjust the garment so that the raw edges on both the front and back are level. Use the largest stitch setting on your sewing machine and temporarily sew the sweater back together. This is known as tacking or basting. Follow your marked line.

Step 4

Try the sweater on for size. If you are happy with the results, it’s time to sew the seam permanently. Using an overlock stitch, resew your temporary seam along the same line. Cut off any excess fabric. You can also use a serger for the permanent seam stitching step.

Can You Shrink Sweaters in a Dryer?

Yes, you can shrink sweaters in the dryer. Although the success of this method depends on the fiber content of your sweater.

The heat from a dryer can shrink some fabrics. Cotton and wool, for instance, are good candidates for shrinking in a dryer. Unfortunately, dryer heat can cause some fabrics to melt rather than shrink. You may find synthetic fibers will crinkle into unattractive ripples if you put them in a dryer.

When you shrink sweaters in a dryer, you need to pay close attention to the heat setting. You also need to keep a wary eye on the time your sweater is in there for. Too much heat for too long may result in too much shrinkage. It also increases your chances of ruining your sweater.

Can You Shrink a Polyester Sweater?

Yes, you can shrink polyester up to a point. It’s not going to be as easy as shrinking wool or cotton. You’re also less likely to get the amount of shrinkage you were hoping for.

Polyester is synthetic and, as such, is considered to be shrink resistant. 100% polyester is particularly troublesome to shrink because of its inbuilt ability to retain its shape and size.

A polyester blend containing a minimum of 50% natural material will shrink a lot easier. In the case of blends, it’s the natural fibers that shrink, pulling the polyester ones closer together. The higher the content of natural material, the more the sweater will shrink.

One thing you have to watch with any synthetic fabric, especially polyester, is that they really don’t like heat. Their nemesis is usually their biggest flaw. When you want to shrink polyester, it becomes your best friend.

Getting polyester to shrink requires a lot of heat. I mean a lot! You’re looking at heat as high as 178ºF! Polyester’s aversion to it makes the fibers shrink away from it. Technically, it’s more like melting away, but you get the picture. The trouble is, subjecting polyester to intense heat can damage the fibers rather than help them shrink.

Although it is possible to shrink polyester. It’s incredibly risky and you have an increased chance of ruining your sweater rather than shrinking it. Be prepared to lose your garment as shrinking it could mean you end up throwing it in the trash.

It might be safer to rock the oversize look and keep your sweater large. Stay cozy, on-trend, and make a fashion statement all at the same time!

Can You Unshrink a Sweater?

Yes, you can unshrink a sweater. It depends on the fabric content of your sweater though. Shrinking some sweaters can result in irreparable damage to the fibers. Even if the shrinking didn’t cause any damage, unshrinking the sweater might.

The success of unshrinking a sweater comes down to what your sweater is made from. A synthetic sweater is liable to remain in its new shrunken state. Simply because synthetic materials don’t change size that easily.

Cotton is another fiber that tends to shrink easily but doesn’t take to being stretched back to its original size that well. Take denim jeans, for instance. Once you’ve shrunk them, they are tight-fitting forever.

Wool is probably the only sweater fabric that you can unshrink. But, even so, the results aren’t guaranteed. Nor is it always possible to return the sweater to its original appearance. It’ll be close, but it’s going to look different. Check out our step-by-step guide to unshrinking a wool sweater.

You will need:

  • Fabric softener or conditioner
  • Warm water
  • Bucket or sink
  • Bath towels

Step 1

Add 1-2 tablespoons of fabric softener to a bucket or sink of warm water. You need enough water to submerge your sweater completely. Push your sweater under the water and leave it to soak for around 15 minutes.

Step 2

Lay a bath towel on a flat surface and place your wet sweater on top. Roll the sweater into the towel and gently press with your hands to expel the water. Remove as much excess water as you can.

Step 3

Unroll the sweater and remove the wet towel. Lay another dry towel on the flat surface and put the sweater on top. This time, stretch the sweater carefully. Ease it gently into the size and shape you are hoping to achieve.

Step 4

Leave the sweater on the towel and allow to air dry. Check on it every 30 minutes or so. If you need to, re-stretch and shape the sweater as it dries.


Depending on their fiber content, it is possible to shrink a sweater. You can either wash it in hot water or dry it on a high heat setting in your dryer. You can even use your iron if your sweater is made from cotton. Be careful when dealing with synthetic materials. These are less likely to shrink successfully.

Have you tried shrinking your sweater? Which method did you use? Let me know in the comments how you got on.