If you have ever gone to a concert or convention and discovered that the concession stand does not sell t-shirts in your size, you have probably wished you could make a cool tee just one size bigger! The good news is that you can transform most shirts to fit your body shape or to stretch up one size with careful stretching techniques. All you need to do is learn how to stretch out a shirt!
The most popular way to stretch out a cotton shirt is to soak it in a solution of cold water and a hair conditioner before stretching the fabric. Other successful techniques include:
- Using steam to stretch the fabric.
- Wearing a wet shirt to mold it to the shape of the body.
- Inserting a t-shirt stretcher to reshape the shirt.
Adding stretch panels to the side of a button-down shirt can also work.
In this article, you will learn what makes fabric shrink and stretch. You will discover 8 easy ways to stretch out a shrunken or too-small shirt. Finally, you will find out how to keep your tees from shrinking!
What Makes a Shirt Shrink or Stretch?
The most common reason a shirt shrinks is the heat and friction in a washing machine, while the easiest way to make it stretch is to apply tension while it is wet. Shirts made out of natural fabric like cotton often shrink and stretch most easily. Shirts made of synthetic, man-made materials like polyester tend to shrink less and take more work to stretch out.
This means the first step to consider when you want to stretch out a shirt is to check the manufacturer’s care tag. This will tell you the fabric composition of the garment. If it contains at least 50% cotton, you will find it pretty easy to stretch the shirt by up to one size.
But every type of fabric responds differently to stretching methods. For example, rayon fabric weakens when wet and can easily rip or tear if you try to stretch it out. Polyester can stretch a bit but requires extreme temperatures to change the shape of its fibers. You can find out more about how to stretch out shirts based on fabric type later in this article!
You will also want to determine the construction of the fabric before you try to stretch out your shirt. Clothes made out of knitted fabric, like t-shirts and hoodies, will stretch more easily than clothes made out of plain-weave fabric. To tell the difference, look closely at how the threads connect inside the cloth.
If you can see threads crossing over and under each other at right angles, and the cloth feels smooth and flat, your shirt features plain-weave fabric. Most button-downs use this type of material, and you can typically only stretch them a little bit.
But if you see tiny circles of threads interlocking with each other, you have a knit fabric and can much more easily stretch out the garment.
It is also true that clothing made out of knit fabric often shrinks more easily than plain-weave clothing.
So, why do clothes shrink? What looks like a piece of clothing shrinking often happens because the garment hits hot water and all the tension in its threads relaxes.
This happens because the process used to make the yarns puts a lot of pressure on the fibers, twisting and pulling them into a taunt line to form perfect threads. The heat and friction in the wash encourage all those stretched-out fibers to relax and coil into their original shape.
Since heat causes many types of fabric to shrink, it makes sense to use cold water when you want a shirt to stretch. The best way to get a shirt to stretch out is to apply tension, reshaping the fibers into their manufactured, elongated form so that the garment size will expand overall.
How To Stretch Out A Shirt: 8 Methods
You can stretch out a shirt in many different ways, including using a relaxing soak, reshaping the garment over a chair frame, or even using weights to apply tension to the garment. All stretching methods require both time and tension, pulling the fibers inside the cloth taunt and elongating them, adding a minute amount of additional space to the garment.
1. ConditionerThe easiest, most popular method for stretching out a shirt is to create a relaxing soak using cold water and conditioner. You can also use fabric softener or baby shampoo in the same quantity instead of hair conditioner.
- First, scrub out your bathtub or find a large rectangular bin you can use as a basin. You want your shirt to fit flat in the container if possible.
- Fill the container half full of room-temperature water. If it feels a little cool to the touch, that works. But you do not want to use warm water for this process.
- Measure about ¼ cup of conditioner into the water and stir till it dissolves fully.
- Submerge the shirt into the water and smooth it out flat on the floor of the basin.
- Leave it to soak for fifteen to thirty minutes. If you want to expand the size a lot, go for a longer soaking time. The conditioner will relax the fibers in the threads, making it easier to reshape the garment.
- Empty the basin and refill it with cool, clean water. Rinse the shirt until it no longer feels slick from the conditioner.
- Gently press out most of the water. You do not want to wring out the shirt, as this could stretch it in weird directions and leave you with a lopsided garment!
- Spread out the damp shirt on a clean bath towel.
- Finally, stretch the shirt in the direction you want to enlarge it. For example, if you want to make it wider, put your hands inside the side seams and pull in opposite directions. To make it longer, hold onto the shoulders and the hem and pull in opposite directions.
- To make sure the shirt keeps its new shape as it dries, use pins to hold it to the towel or place weights around the edges to hold it in place.
If you want to stretch out a t-shirt with a graphic design printed onto it, turn it inside out and iron the back of the design before you apply tension to the damp garment to stretch it out. Otherwise, you could end up with a stretched-out picture or logo on your shirt!
2. SteamerAnother easy way to stretch a shirt a little bit when you need to make it larger in a hurry is to use a garment steamer. This applies both heat and moisture, which could shrink the fibers by allowing them to relax unless you interrupt the process by quickly applying tension to the flexible fibers.
This method does not usually stretch out a shirt as much as the conditioner method, but you also do not have to wait for the garment to fully dry before you can wear it with the steamer technique.
- Put the shirt on a hanger and heat up the garment steamer.
- Run the steamer up and down over the key areas you want to enlarge. For example, if you need the waist to expand a bit, focus on that area, for example.
- Turn off the steamer and use your hands inside the shirt to pull in opposite directions, either side-to-side, to enlarge the width or up and down from shoulder seam to hem to make it longer.
- Put on the shirt right away to maintain its shape as it cools.
One of the most effective ways to enlarge any type of shirt is to wear it in the shower. The benefit of this technique is that it allows you to refit a garment to precisely your shape. The downside is that it does take a little while and you have to feel comfortable wearing a very wet garment.
- Put on your too-small shirt. It will probably feel tight and uncomfortable, to begin with, but do your best to tug it into shape or button or zip any closures anyway.
- Step into a warm shower and turn in a slow circle to fully soak the whole shirt.
- While standing under the running water, tug on the shirt in key areas, gently loosening it to fit you more comfortably.
- Turn off the water and use a clean towel to blot some moisture.
- The hard part of the process is that you need to let the shirt dry on you as you continue to wear it. This will allow the fabric to hold its new shape.
If you have a shirt that tends to shrink a bit every time you wash it, you can use a gentle dry stretch method to consistently pull it back into shape. This works best on minuscule shrinking and will not enlarge a shirt by a whole size like the conditioner soak. But it is a good habit to practice if you notice your tees getting smaller every time you wash them!
- After washing a shirt, put it on and give it a few minutes to conform to your shape.
- If portions of the garment still feel tighter or shorter than usual, apply tension by pulling down or out in those areas.
- Always pull from a hem or seam rather than pinching the middle of the shirt. Pinching and pulling could leave misshapen wrinkles in the fabric.
- Repeat this process several times throughout the day as you wear the shirt.
5. Weighted Dry
If you don’t have time to carefully stretch and reshape a too-small shirt as it dries, try using weights to do the work.
- First, run the shirt through a cold wash cycle or use the conditioner soak described earlier in this article.
- Next, set up your drying surface. To do this, lay out a large, clean towel. Then place a clean white shirt that fits you on top of the towel.
- Finally, arrange the damp shirt on top of the one that fits you. Work from side to side, and use weights to pin the damp shirt down in the same shape as the larger shirt that fits you.
- Leave the shirt to dry, pinned down in an enlarged shape.
6. Chair Stretch
Another easy way to stretch a shirt into a wider shape is to use the frame of a kitchen or dining room chair.
This method does not allow you to precisely shape a shirt to fit you unless you have a torso that measures the same as our kitchen chairs! But the chair does provide a handy frame for extending the width of t-shirt-style shirts. It also doesn’t take much time as you can easily leave the shirt to dry.
- Start by holding the tee under old water, running it through a cold water wash cycle, or using the conditioner soak method.
- Press the tee between two towels till it feels damp but not sopping wet if necessary (if you use your washer, you will not need to take this step).
- Slot the hem of the shirt over the frame of a chair. Tug downward slowly until the whole shirt fits over the back of the chair. Smooth out any big wrinkles.
- Point a fan at the chair to speed up the drying time.
- Leave the shirt to dry fully, which usually requires three to four hours.
7. T-Shirt StretcherOne of the easiest ways to reshape a shirt and stretch it into a larger size is to buy a set of shirt forms or expanders.
The good thing about this method is that you can buy the forms to fit a certain size. For example, suppose your shirt has a size of 2X and you want it to have a size of 3X. Buy the 3X size forms, and stretch the shirt over it to enlarge it!
If you want to make a shirt wider, you can also buy a pant waist stretcher tool, which allows easy adjustment for precise sizing.
8. With Sewing/Add Side Panels
Though not exactly a stretching method, one of the best ways to expand a shirt by an additional size is to alter it with sewing by adding side panels. If you do not have much sewing experience you may want to take your shirt to a professional tailor for this process.
While this method does often resize a shirt much more accurately than stretching it, it also requires more work.
- Start by using sharp sewing scissors to cut straight up both side seams. If the shirt has long sleeves, carefully cut around the circular seam holding the sleeve in place as well. If it has short t-shirt sleeves, cut down the underarm seam in the shirt, continuing your straight cut from the side seam.
- Next, cut out two pieces of fabric to add width to the shirt. You can select a matching fabric, but for a fun contrast, use a strip of printed or lacey material instead. To measure the rectangles, decide how much width you want to add to the shirt, divide it by two, and then add one inch for seam allowances. For example, if you want to add three inches of width to your shirt, you would divide 3 by 2 for 1.5 inches and then add one inch for a total width of 2.5 inches per strip.
- To find the length, measure from the hem to the armpit or the end of the hem of the short sleeve. Once again, you will add one inch to the length for hem allowance.
- For long sleeves, you will add a triangular insert to the underarm sleeve to fit the sleeve back into the shirt once you finish with the side inserts. The top of the triangle will have the same width as the rectangle you just measured, and the point will taper down to fit into the underarm seam of the sleeve.
- To attach your inserts, turn the shirt inside out and pin the inserts right side together up the length of the cut-open side seam. Use swing pins or clips to hold it in place, and either serge or straight stitch up the seam. Repeat this on the other side of the insert, closing up the side seam.
- For short sleeves, you will simply stitch up the extra length of the insert to close up the cut in the underarm of the sleeve. Then hem the raw edge of the insert so that it matches the length of the sleeve.
- For long sleeves, use the same method of pinning the right side of the insert on the right side of the cut in the sleeve, and use your triangle to fill in the gap of the underarm. Finally, set the sleeve back into the armhole of the shirt and stitch around the circular seam using a serger or a straight stitch on a sewing machine.
You can also super easily add length to many shirt styles by adding a decorative trim around the hem. This takes just a few minutes and can add one, two, or more inches to the bottom of the shirt.
How to Stretch:
Now that you know the most popular ways to stretch a shirt, check out these tips for stretching shirts made out of specific fabric types.
You can use any of the methods listed in this article to stretch out a cotton shirt up to a full size.
Cotton shirts stretch out more easily than any other type of material, especially if you have a t-shirt made of jersey knit. Any shirt that features fabric with looped rather than woven yarns in it will stretch more easily because the loops of threads can easily flex and expand.
The reason cotton stretches so easily is that cotton fibers have a corkscrew shape in their natural state. But during the manufacturing process, that shape gets stretched out into a straight line as the fibers twine together into yarns or threads. Over time or during exposure to heat and moisture, the fibers can relax back into their corkscrew shape, which shortens the threads inside the fabric and makes the garment smaller overall.
But because there is flexibility in that corkscrew shape, you can re-straighten the fibers and make the shirt larger again pretty easily!
Polyester shirts do not stretch out easily, but you can often enlarge them using boiling water. Polyester comes from a man-made manufacturing process that turns byproducts of petroleum into polymers, or plastic filaments, that gets melted and shaped into threads. As you can imagine, the fibers inside this plastic-based fabric have a rigid, durable shape that makes stretching them out quite difficult.
However, polyester does have heat sensitivity and becomes malleable at high temperatures.
- Find a pot that can hold your shirt and a lot of water. Fill it half full of water and heat it to boiling.
- Use salad tongs to lower the shirt into the water. Boil it for ten minutes.
- Use the tongs once more to transfer the wet garment to a clean sink. Let it cool down enough that you can touch it.
- Stretch the wet garment by pulling in opposite directions on the side seams or from shoulder to hem to make it longer.
- Press the shirt between your hands to remove a lot of the water and then spread it out on a clean towel to dry.
Dri Fit Shirt
You can stretch out a Dri-fit shirt using a special boiling water method. Dri-fit fabric features a special type of polyester called high-performance microfiber, which has uniquely spaced threads to allow for moisture wicking of sweat. Because the thread contains polyester fibers, this type of shirt will not respond well to traditional stretching methods.
Instead, try this technique:
- Find a large pot that can easily hold your shirt. Fill it halfway full of water and add two tablespoons of hair conditioner.
- Bring the water to a boil.
- Use tongs to lower the shirt into the water, and leave it to boil for ten minutes.
- Carefully transfer it to a clean sink.
- As soon as you can safely touch the hot fabric, stretch it out while it remains warm.
- Finally, rinse the shirt and then let it air dry.
You can stretch out a button-up shirt by using the conditioner soak method. But you will find it more difficult to stretch this type of shirt than a naturally stretchy t-shirt because most button-up shirts contain dense, plain-weave material with threads crossing each other at right angles. This structure does not provide much flexibility for stretching.
You can also try the shower method of putting on a slightly too-small button-up shirt, standing under a warm shower, and then carefully stretching the garment to fit you comfortably.
Can You Stretch a Shirt Up a Size?
You can stretch a shirt up a full size in some cases, but this does depend on the fiber content, the thread construction, and the wear and tear on the garment.
First, some types of fabric fibers can stretch more easily than others. Cotton fabric or cloth containing a high percentage of cotton will stretch quite easily. Polyester fabric will not stretch out easily, though you can sometimes expand a shirt by a full size if you use the boiling water method described in the previous section.
Shirts can also feature lots of different types of fabric construction, such as corduroy, satin, jersey knit, or plain weave. If your shirt uses a knitted structure like the kersey knit you find in t-shirts, it will stretch out more easily than a shirt that uses a dense, over-under weaving pattern.
Finally, whether or not a shirt will stretch a full size can also depend on the condition of the garment. If you have a tee that shrinks every time you wash it and you constantly stretch it back out, it will become worn out and just look saggy instead of stretching out into a new shape over time.
Can You Stretch a Tight T-shirt?
You can easily stretch a tight t-shirt using the hair conditioner soak method, the shower method, the steamer method, or the weighted dry method. In fact, t-shirts are the easiest kind of shirt to stretch!
To make your tee wider by a precise amount, you can also try inserting a pant-waist extender tool and leaving the damp shirt to dry on the extender.
Why Do T-Shirts Stretch Out
Ordinary wear and tear, as well as the agitation in a washing machine, can cause tees to stretch out over time. If you do not want your shirt to stretch out, try washing it with warm water and add a fabric softener that will increase the elasticity of the fibers and encourage them to resume their shape after washing.
You see this with t-shirts more often than other types of shirts because tees contain a special type of fabric called jersey knit, which uses thousands of tiny loops of thread all twisted together to form the cloth. Those loops can elongate and stretch out under constant pressure, like the twisting and tumbling inside a washer and dryer.
How to Prevent Shirt Shrinking
The best way to prevent a shirt from shrinking is to launder it in cold water and allow it to air dry instead of putting it in the dryer. Fabric shrinks because of exposure to heat and friction, so removing those elements from the equation will protect the natural shape of your clothes.
Of course, if your favorite tee does shrink in the wash, you know eight easy methods to resize it after reading this article!
The best way to stretch out a shirt is to soak it in a solution of water and hair conditioner and then apply tension on opposite sides of the garment to lengthen the fibers inside the material. Other efficient techniques include:
- Using a commercial extender.
- Wearing the shirt in a warm shower allows your body to reshape.
- Using weights to hold it into a larger shape as it dries.
For a permanent solution, you can even add new panels of fabric to the shirt with a sewing machine.
The best way to avoid shrinking your shirts in the first place is to wash them in a cold water cycle in the washing machine and avoid using the dryer.
Have you ever shrunk a favorite shirt? How did you stretch it back out? Leave a comment below to let us know!