In the world of ready-made clothing, I sometimes have a hard time buying shirts and pants that fit my body type without expensive tailoring. The good news is, I have learned how to stretch clothes to ease them into the right shape for me! These tips also come in handy if I shrink a favorite shirt or sweater in the wash and need to stretch it back into its proper size.
The best way to stretch clothes is to soak the garment using a fabric softener or hair conditioner and then stretch the loosened fibers into shape. Tools like waistband extenders can also easily stretch clothes. Certain types of cloth also respond well to steaming or the use of blocking or weights to stretch out key areas of the garment.
In this article, you’ll find seven effective ways to stretch out and resize your clothing. You’ll also learn the best ways to stretch different fabric types, such as cotton and polyester. Finally, you’ll discover tips for how to avoid shrinking your clothes!
Can You Make Clothes Bigger?
Most of the time you can easily expand a garment by one or two sizes, depending on its construction and the type of material it is made of.
But wouldn’t it be easier to just buy a piece of clothing in the right size to begin with?
Not necessarily. Often when you go shopping to buy off-the-rack clothes in places like T.J. Maxx or Target, what you get is a sort of “one size fits all” in each size.
You may think of yourself as a size 12, but if you lined up a row of size 12 people, each one of you would possess unique body characteristics, and none of you would fit perfectly in the average piece of size 12 clothing!
This is why knowing how to resize clothes using simple stretching methods can help you achieve a fitted, or even tailored, look!
Of course, you may also need to learn some of these tips to rescue laundry accidents. It’s a rare person who hasn’t occasionally shrunk a sweater in the wash by accident! The good news is, you can pretty easily unshrink sweaters or t-shirts that shrank a bit in the wash.
In general, heat causes most kinds of fabric to shrink over time. Hot water in the washing machine or an over-hot dryer can make your clothes shrink in the wash.
This happens because the process used to weave textiles usually applies a lot of strain to the fibers, stretching them tightly as they get twisted into yarns and then woven or knitted into cloth. When those taunt fibers experience heat, they relax back into their original, shorter shape!
Keep in mind, though, that clothes may also stretch over time. Sometimes this happens as you wear something frequently–think of your favorite henley that goes baggy in the elbows over the years! This can also happen if you hang up a very wet item to dry, as the weight of the water will stretch out sweaters or knit garments.
How to Stretch Clothes: Seven Methods
The easiest way to stretch clothes is to soak them in a special solution such as water and conditioner. This will relax the fibers, allowing you to expand the clothing into a slightly larger size. You can reasonably expect to stretch most clothes by at least one full size.
That said, even the best stretching technique has some limitations. You shouldn’t plan to expand a garment by any more than two sizes at the most.
If you have a sewing machine and feel confident in your abilities, you can also learn tailoring techniques to resize clothing permanently. However, a bit of intentional stretching often takes less time and effort and offers you an easy way to make clothes bigger without sewing!
Check out these seven different stretching methods and then decide which one will work best for you!
You will find each of these methods easier with a little setup before you get started.
First, read the manufacturer’s label inside your shirt or other clothes. This will tell you two important things: what kind of cloth your garment is made of and what kind of care it can withstand.
Some of the techniques described here work best on particular kinds of fabric, such as knits. Knowing if your shirt is made of cotton knit or woven wool will help you choose the best stretching method.
You also want to know if you can safely expose your shirt, dress, or sweater to water. Make sure the label doesn’t read “dry clean only!”
Next, make sure you have a clean bathtub or sink for the soaking methods.
You should also go through the steps in each technique to make sure you have all the necessary tools on hand.
Finally, use this tip to help unshrink clothing to the correct size and shape! Roll out a large section of parchment paper and tape its corners to a table or your floor. Next, find something similar to the too-small clothing but in the correct size and shape.
For example, if you need to unshrink a shirt, find a shirt in a similar style that fits you correctly. Lay this correctly fitting shirt down on the parchment paper, and trace its outline with a pencil. This way, you can spread out the too-small shirt to match the pencil outline!
A note of caution, wrapping paper, tracing paper, and normal printing paper will dissolve when wet. Also, you don’t want to use any type of ink for this process, as it could stain your clothing.
This will act as your template so that you can stretch a shirt back into just the right shape!
Hair Conditioner or Fabric SoftenerSince you probably have a favorite hair conditioner sitting in your shower or a nicely scented fabric softener waiting in your laundry room, this method offers a quick and easy everyday fix!
This method works very well on knits. You can also try it on most kinds of cotton. It also works on polyester, though you will need to use warm water with synthetics, and you may have to employ muscle to stretch this kind of cloth.
To resize a shirt or other clothes:
- Depending on the size of your shirt, fill a sink, bathtub, or bucket with warm water.
- Add a couple of tablespoons to a quarter cup of conditioner or fabric softener, and swish it around till it dissolves.
- Gently submerge your shirt in this solution.
- Soak a shirt made of thin cloth for 10 minutes and a thicker knit for up to 30 minutes.
- Take the plug out of the tub or drain the water out of the sink.
- Gently press some of the moisture out of the shirt, and then roll it up in a towel to remove more water. You want the shirt damp, not soaking wet!
- Spread out the damp shirt flat on top of your parchment-paper template. Use a slow smoothing motion to stretch the shirt out until its edges match the template shape.
- Use smooth, heavy objects to hold down the edges as you stretch the shirt. Clean mugs, canned food, or the kind of candles that come in glass cups work well.
- Finally, let everything sit for at least 24 hours. You want to let the fibers dry in their relaxed, unshrunken shape to make the stretching permanent.
Baby ShampooBaby shampoo contains milder agents than regular shampoo, and the lack of harsh chemicals makes it a perfect choice for many kinds of material. This method works on most knits, woven kinds of cotton, or cotton blends. You can also try this on animal fibers like wool.
- Fill a sink, basin, or bathtub with warm water.
- Measure in one or two capfuls of baby shampoo, depending on the size of your garment.
- Submerge the shrunk clothing in this solution and let it soak for 10 minutes.
- After the soak, submerge your hands in the water and massage the fabric gently. Think of it like kneading wet, heavy bread dough! You want to make sure the baby shampoo gets into the fibers to work its magic and relax them.
- Lift the clothing out of the solution and press some of the excess water out. Lay a bath towel on a flat surface and roll up the piece of clothing to remove more water.
- Finally, arrange the shirt or dress flat on your parchment paper template and gently tug it back into shape.
- Use weights to hold the edge down.
- Let the garment air dry till no moisture remains.
If you use this technique on a wool shirt or sweater, you might have to spend more time kneading and gently pulling on it while in the soak. These fibers take longer to relax and unshrink.
Vinegar and Baking SodaUsing a baking soda soak and then a vinegar rinse can also relax the fibers in your clothing. This process involves a few more steps, but it uses cheap household products you probably have in your pantry!
That said, the baking soda and vinegar technique works best on cloth made of natural fibers, such as cotton. It won’t work on synthetics like polyester or rayon.
- Measure two tablespoons of baking soda into 8 cups of hot water. Stir this for a few minutes until the baking soda dissolves and you can’t see it anymore.
- Submerge your garment in this solution and knead it gently to make sure it gets good exposure to the baking soda.
- Lift the wet garment out and press out the excess water out without wringing it out. (Don’t drain the water, as you will need it again in a minute!)
- Use your hands to tug on opposite sides of the garment. For example, hold the collar and the hem of a shirt, and pull gently.
- Then place the garment back in the baking soda mix, and let it soak for an hour.
- Next, combine four cups of warm water with one cup of distilled white vinegar.
- Add the vinegar mix to the baking soda soak. You should see this mixture foam up as the baking soda and vinegar react together.
- Finally, lay the garment flat and allow it to air dry.
You will need to launder your garment as you usually do after this process to remove the vinegar smell.
SteamerYou can use steam from a handheld steamer or the steam setting on your iron to easily unshrink wool sweaters or to make tiny adjustments in some cotton and knit fabrics. You may like to have this method as an emergency resource while you travel!
That said, it won’t work as comprehensively as the baby shampoo soak to reshape most garments like shirts or dresses.
- First, hang up your wool sweater somewhere with plenty of space to work, like on a shower curtain rod.
- Allow your steamer to heat up till steam emerges from its nozzle (or set your iron to its steam setting).
- Keep the nozzle at least two inches away from the fabric’s surface, but move very slowly over every inch of the garment to allow the steam to work into the fibers.
- Gently pull the garment in all directions while it is warm and slightly damp from the steam.
- Repeat this process as necessary until your sweater regains its original shape!
- Finally, let the sweater air dry. Then try it on to see if you successfully reshaped it to its original size!
Stretching ToolIf you find that all of your jeans seem too small these days, you may want to try this easy solution for the waistband of most pants!
You can purchase a special tool called a waistband extender quite cheaply on Amazon. You can also make your own using a ratcheting bar clamp, but honestly, the ones for sale online don’t cost much and might save you lots of money down the road!
- First, you will need to use a spray bottle to thoroughly spray the waistband area of your jeans, dress pants, or skirt. Or you can dip the waistband into a bowl of water for a minute. It doesn’t matter if you use warm or cold water here, as the key is just to dampen the waistband thoroughly.
- Next, insert the waistband extender and screw the extender section of it out to the desired length. This should stretch the waistband tightly as you go. For jeans, this might take some elbow grease!
- Finally, allow the jeans or skirt to air dry overnight or until entirely dry.
- Unscrew the extender and try on your jeans to see if the waistand fits!
This method works as an extension of any of the soaking methods, such as the baby shampoo or baking soda and vinegar method.
Simply perform all the steps for the soak as described in this article.
Then either spread out a bath towel and use small weights to hold down the edges of your shirt in the desired shape or hang up the garment while wet to allow the weight of the water to pull it into a longer shape.
This works well if you need to lengthen pants, a skirt, or a dress!
You may also need to use this method on a synthetic such as polyester, which doesn’t easily stretch.
Some professional dry cleaners use a variation on the soak-and-lay-out technique called blocking to create crisp, professional lines while reshaping a garment. As a fun fact, knitters also use this technique to finish a knitted item!
This process works best on wool sweaters or knit shirts. You will need special tools such as a blocking mat that shows measurements, which allows you to resize your sweaters or shirts precisely.
- Soak the garment for 15 minutes.
- You do not want to wring out wool or knit items, as this could warp the fabric! Instead, squeeze the moisture out by pressing the cloth between your hands. Then roll the item inside a bath towel to remove excess water.
- Insert blocking wires along the seams of any crisp edges.
- Lay your wool or knit garment flat on a blocking mat.
- Insert blocking pins about one inch apart along the inside of the wire, pushing them gently into the mat beneath the garment. You should have pins holding down the entire outside edge of the garment when you finish.
- For less sharp or curved edges like a collar, leave the wire out and just use pins placed closely together to hold the fabric to the mat.
- Allow the sweater or knit shirt to dry completely on the blocking mat.
As a final note on this method, you can also skip the soak and use a steamer to help you stretch the knit cloth as you work.
How to Stretch Out a Hoodie
The easiest way to stretch out a shrunken hoodie is to use the conditioner soak described in this article.
Remember to squeeze water out of the hoodie after the soak. Don’t wring it out, as this could twist the hoodie into an odd shape!
Cotton can suffer more than many other fabrics in the washer and dryer, which means that your cotton hoodies may shrink by a couple of sizes in the laundry.
The good news is that you can apply the conditioner soak to pretty easily expand a hoodie up to 3 inches!
Simply follow the steps for the soaking process, and then lay the hoodie on a bath towel on top of a flat surface.
Spread it out, so it lies smoothly on the towel.
Then take hold of opposite sides of the area you want to stretch out. For example, if the chest area is too tight, hold the armpit area on the left and right sides of the hoodie, and pull firmly!
For best results, use weights to hold the hoodie flat while it dries completely.
How to Stretch a Dress to Make it Longer
You can easily stretch a dress to make it longer using any of the seven methods described in this article. Making sleeves or the hem longer actually takes very little work because you don’t have to worry about reshaping fitted areas of your garment, such as the waist and bust.
You do want to measure everything before you begin to make sure you know how much to stretch the skirt of the dress. Generally, you shouldn’t expect to make a dress longer by more than a couple of inches.
If you want to make the sleeves longer, keep a tape measure handy, so you can measure the length as you work. You don’t want to end up with cuffs flopping down over your hands because you overstretched the fabric!
How to Stretch a Jacket
Depending on what kind of cloth your jacket is made of, you can often employ a cold water soak followed by the weighted stretching method to enlarge the jacket by a size or two.
Denim jackets work well with this method. Any jacket made of cotton or a cotton blend should stretch quite easily.
If you have a leather, velvet, or wool jacket. You will have more difficulty reshaping it.
You may want to leave jackets and coats to the professionals. These clothes usually feature the most complex structures requiring lots of work to reshape without accidentally twisting or warping the material.
Professionals can measure everything to a “T” and use blocking mats and other tools to carefully reshape each area of these complex items.
Plus, many jackets and coats these days feature special waterproof or synthetic material that does not stretch as easily.
How to Stretch Fabric
Understanding the characteristics of a few popular types of materials will help you know how to stretch fabric. For example, cotton responds well to water and stretches easily. Synthetics like polyester usually require heat to stretch.
Polyester fibers do not stretch at all, but the construction of most polyester material creates some give that you can use to stretch clothes. Polyester knits especially have a nice stretchiness.
An easy way to reshape a polyester shirt, dress, or sweater is to soak it in hot water. Then squeeze out most of the moisture, and put it on while still damp. Wear it until it dries completely, and ideally, it will reshape to fit you!
You can also use the blocking or weights methods described earlier. Just use warm or hot water to soak the polyester item first.
On the other hand, Cotton has super-absorbent fibers that shrink or expand easily in response to heat and moisture. The downside of this is that cotton can easily shrink in the wash. The upside is that you can easily stretch it back into shape!
Cloth made of animal fibers such as silk or wool requires special treatment. You can reshape wool using the blocking method. Silk will not stretch easily.
Remember that you should always check the manufacturer’s label inside your clothes to determine what kind of cloth you’re working with before you try a stretching method!
Tips to Avoid Shrinking Clothes
Naturally, the absolute best way to unshrink your clothes is to avoid shrinking them in the first place! Save yourself a lot of time and hassle by following these tips as you care for your clothes.
- Use cold water in your washing machine. This tip can save you money, too!
- If you have the time and patience, hand wash delicate items like a dress shirt or skirt.
- If you can’t handwash, use the “delicates” setting on your washing machine for fragile items like a vintage t-shirt or lingerie.
- For synthetics, use the permanent press setting on your washer and dryer.
- Hang up cotton items to air dry whenever possible.
- If it says dry clean, take it to the dry cleaners! Wool and cashmere especially require special handling.
Most of the time, you can stretch your clothes out by one or two sizes. You can employ easy at-home methods like soaking in fabric softener or advanced methods like using a blocking mat and measuring every centimeter of your shirt or dress with precision as you pin it into place.
In general, soaking your clothes and then using careful pressure such as pulling in opposite directions or using weights will relax and reshape the threads inside the cloth. Different kinds of cloth react differently, though, so check to see if what your clothes are made of before you start!
Have you ever accidentally shrunk a shirt in the wash? How did you rescue it? Leave a comment below to let us know!