Skip to Content

How to Stretch a Sweater

Sweaters keep up cozy and warm, but they can also be difficult to care for. It’s not uncommon for a sweater to shrink when you wash it, especially if you use the wrong settings. If your favorite sweater shrunk or just fits a bit tighter than it used to, you may be wondering if you can stretch it back to its normal size?

Most sweaters made from natural fibers can be stretched by first softening the fibers, then stretching the sweater by hand or pinning it down and letting it dry. Sweaters made from synthetic fibers will be more difficult to stretch and usually won’t retain the stretched shape.

In this article, I’ll explain how to stretch sweaters made from different types of fibers. I’ll also explain how to stretch sweater sleeves. And I’ll also explain how to wash sweaters to keep them from shrinking again once you’ve stretched them back to their normal size.

How to Stretch a Sweater

Can You Stretch a Sweater?

You can stretch sweaters, but how easy and how much they will stretch and whether or not they’ll retain that stretch may not be the same for every sweater. How easy a sweater will be to stretch depends on what the sweater is made of.

Sweaters made from natural fibers such as cotton, wool, and cashmere are more prone to shrinking, but they will also be easier to stretch and are more likely to retain their shape once you’ve stretched them. Sweaters made from synthetic fibers such as acrylic or polyester will stretch some, but they may not retain their shape after they are stretched.

Do Sweaters Stretch When You Wash Them?

Sweaters may stretch some when you wash them, but there are caveats to washing your sweaters to stretch them. It’s often recommended to hand-wash sweaters because many of them are made from more delicate natural fibers.

The washing machine is more likely to shrink or damage sweaters, but it can stretch them, depending on how they are washed. You should not rely on the washing machine to stretch a sweater because you can’t control where the sweater stretches at.

The sweater may not stretch where you need it to, or it may stretch unevenly. And again, if you’re washing the sweater to try to stretch it, you could shrink it or damage the sweater instead due to the washing machine’s agitation or it getting caught on something.

Do Sweaters Stretch With Wear?

Almost all sweaters will stretch over time with wear, especially knitted sweaters and sweaters made from wool or cashmere. With that being said, your sweaters may stretch over time, but they may stretch more in certain areas, such as the sleeves or around the collar, and not the sweater as a whole.

Sweaters can also stretch if you don’t store them correctly when they aren’t being worn. Hanging up your sweater can cause it to stretch downward and at the shoulders, but again, this may not be where you want to stretch and you would need to reshape the sweater back to its original shape.

How to Stretch a Sweater: Wool, Acrylic, Cashmere, Cotton

Do Sweaters Stretch With Wear

If you need to stretch a sweater back to its original size, there are a couple of ways to do so in which you can be assured that the sweater is stretched where you want it to be stretched. Stretching a sweater works best if it is made from wool, cashmere, cotton, or sweaters made from acrylic or polyester can be stretched a little bit. Just don’t expect them to hold that shape forever.

1. Soften the Fibers

Regardless of what the sweater is made of, you’ll first need to soften the fibers of the sweater. Softening them will relax them and make them easier to stretch. To soften them, you will need a hair conditioner or baby shampoo and a large tub to hold the sweater.

First, fill a tub or sink with warm water and add 2 tablespoons of conditioner or baby shampoo. Stir the water around so that the conditioner or baby shampoo is evenly distributed. Then, place your sweater in the water and let it soak for around 20 minutes.

After soaking, you do not want to rinse the sweater out. You’ll want to leave the conditioner or shampoo on the fibers so that they stay soft and relaxed. Instead, you’ll just want to remove the sweater from the water and gently squeeze out the excess water. Do not wring out the sweater, especially if it is made from wool or cashmere. You’ll risk damaging the fibers.

2. Stretching By Hand

If the sweater you’re trying to stretch is made from cotton, then the best way to stretch it is by hand. Cotton won’t shrink as much as other natural fibers, so stretching it by hand can usually give you just the amount of stretch you need.

After softening the fibers, you’ll want to lay the sweater flat on a towel and place another towel on top of it. Gently press on the towel to squeeze out as much of the remaining water as possible. Then, pull the sweater in the areas you need to stretch.

Hold the sweater up to you periodically if you need to check how much it has stretched. Once you’ve stretched it to the right size, put some books or another type of weight on the stretched areas. Leave the sweater laying flat to dry for about 24 hours and the sweater should hold its new shape.

3. Pinning It Down

For sweaters prone to shrinking a lot, such as wool or cashmere, or sweaters made from materials that don’t like to stretch, such as acrylic or polyester, pinning the sweater down is the best way to stretch it. After softening the fibers, lay the sweater flat on a towel and roll the towel up with the sweater inside of it. Press on the towel to squeeze out excess water, then unroll the towel.

Wool and Cashmere

If the sweater is made from wool or cashmere, you may need to stretch it a lot depending on how much it stretched, but you don’t want to pull it too hard to stretch it because the fibers are more delicate.

The best way to stretch wool and cashmere sweaters is to lay them out on a corkboard or another surface that you can stick a pin in. Once the sweater is flat, gently pull the areas you want to be stretched, then use pins to hold the stretched sweater in place. Leave the sweater pinned in place for about an hour, then check to see if it holds the shape or needs to be stretched more. If it does, repeat the process until it is the right size.

Acrylic and Polyester

If the sweater is made from acrylic or polyester, it shouldn’t shrink too much and you may only need to stretch it if it fits a bit too tightly. However, these materials are also difficult to stretch because they are designed not to.

You can try to stretch sweaters made from acrylic and polyester by stretching them gently and then pinning them down. However, it’s very likely that they’ll just return to the original, smaller size when you unpin them.

Instead, try pinning the sweater down and using a handheld steamer to apply heat and steam to the sweater. Or, use the steam function on your iron to iron over the sweater. However, if you use your iron, you’ll want to place an ironing cloth over the sweater first to avoid putting heat directly onto the sweater.

Heat is the best way to give synthetic fibers such as acrylic and polyester a more permanent stretch. However, these fibers are essentially made from plastic and they can melt if too much heat is applied. In trying to stretch these materials permanently, you may risk damaging them.

How to Stretch Sweater Sleeves

If you want to stretch just the sleeves of a sweater, then the best way is to fill a spray bottle with warm water and spray only the sleeves until they are damp. Then, place heavy objects on the body of the sweater or pin them to hold it in place.

Next, pull only on the sleeves of the sweater in the areas that you want to be stretched. If you want the sleeves to be longer, pull down near the opening at the bottom of the sleeve. If you want the sleeves to be wider or not as tight, then pull outwards on the edges of the sleeves.

Once the sleeves have been stretched, pin them in place to hold the shape. Let the sleeves dry and repeat the process as necessary.

How to Wash Sweaters to Prevent Shrinking

How to Wash Sweaters

Once you’ve stretched your sweaters to the size you want them, you’ll want to make sure that you wash them correctly to prevent them from shrinking. Some sweaters have to be hand-washed, but many of them can be machine-washed as long as you use the right settings.

The first thing you’ll want to do is check the care tag to see if the sweater should be hand-washed or machine-washed. I’ll explain how to do both so that you can keep your sweaters in the right size and shape.


The first thing you’ll want to do is pretreat any stains on the sweater before washing it. Use a stain remover that is safe for whatever type of fiber the sweater is made of. After pre-treating, fill a tub or sink with cold water. Add ½ teaspoon gentle or wool detergent to the water and mix it around so that it is evenly distributed.

Place the sweater in the water and let it soak for about 5. Then, gently squeeze and swirl the sweater around to ensure that the whole thing gets washed. Drain the water and refill with cold, clean water. Rinse the sweater until it is free of detergent, which may take several rinses.

Drain the water and gently squeeze the sweater to remove excess. Then, roll the sweater up in a towel and press on it to remove more of the water until the sweater is damp. Place the sweater on a dry towel and reshape it to its original shape, if necessary. Finally, lay the sweater flat to dry for about 24 hours.


Sweaters that can be machine-washed are often less delicate, but you still need to take precautions to avoid shrinking or losing their shape. If necessary, pretreat any stains on the sweater before washing it in the washing machine.

You’ll also want to place the sweater in a mesh laundry bag before washing it if you’re washing it in the washing machine. This will help to reduce pilling and snags. Set the water temperature to cold to prevent shrinking.

Use a gentle or wool detergent and use the gentle cycle for washing sweaters. Remove the sweater before the spin cycle starts and roll up the sweater in a towel to remove excess water instead. Reshape the sweater if necessary, then lay it flat to dry for 24 hours. Do not hang the sweater to dry or put it in the dryer, as this can cause stretching or shrinking.


Sweaters are prone to shrink, but in most cases, they can be stretched back out to close to their original size. Or, if the sweater is just a bit too tight, you may be able to stretch it to make it a little bit bigger. Some sweaters will stretch more than others, but in general, you can stretch them rather easily just by getting them wet and pulling the areas that you want to stretch.