Have you ever tried to put a pair of freshly washed jeans and discovered that they shrunk in the wash, and now it feels like only your toes will fit into the pant legs? Many kinds of fabric tend to shrink in the wash, especially natural materials like cotton and wool. Fortunately, you can learn how to unshrink clothes in a few simple steps!
The best way to unshrink many types of clothing is to soak it in warm water with a relaxing agent such as baby shampoo. Wool clothing unshrinks more easily when treated with vinegar. Clothes made of cottons, such as jeans or t-shirts, may respond better to physical stretching.
In this article, you will learn what makes clothes shrink. You will discover seven methods for unshrinking your clothes. Finally, you will find tips on how to unshrink specific types of fabric like rayon and wool.
- Can You Unshrink Clothes?
- How to Unshrink Clothes: 7 Methods
- Why Are My Clothes Shrinking?
- Can You Unshrink a Sweater?
- How to Fix Shrunken Clothes Quickly
- How to Unshrink:
- Is There a Way to Unshrink Clothes if They Shrunk in the Dryer?
Can You Unshrink Clothes?
You can almost always unshrink clothes by using techniques to relax the fibers inside the cloth. This means that at least 75% of the time, shrunken clothes are not permanent!
While you can reverse the shrinking of clothes, you need to learn a few key rules first.
The most important rule to keep in mind while unshrinking your clothes is that you need to select a method based on the type of fabric fibers in your clothes. Plant-based, animal, and synthetic fabric fibers all shrink in different ways, and you have to use different methods to unshrink them as well!
For example, cotton shrinks and unshrinks very easily if you apply heat and moisture correctly. But wool shrinks into felted lumps and unshrinking requires special treatment with vinegar. Synthetic, man-made cloth like polyester has great resistance to shrinking, but if it does shrink, you will have a tricky time stretching it back into shape!
You can find the fabric composition of a garment listed on the tag stitched to the inside of the clothing. Look to the lower side seam or back of the collar in a shirt and the back of the waistband in pants or shorts.
Second, you may have to stretch to get the garment back into its original shape. Keep in mind that most ready-wear clothes have pretty good “dimensional stability,” meaning that they should not generally shrink or become misshapen if you follow the care instructions on the label inside the clothing. But if something goes wrong and your clothes come out of the wash two sizes too small, you will likely need to physically stretch them back into the right shape as part of the unshrinking process.
Finally, you do need to keep a realistic mindset. You can almost always unshrink clothes that shrunk one or two sizes, but if your favorite shirt somehow shrank into toddler size, you may have to give up on it.
You may also want to remember that clothes shrink because of heat, moisture, and friction. This means that you can almost always avoid shrinking clothes, to begin with, if you use cold water in your washing machine, pay attention to the care label inside your garments, and use a tumble dry setting in your dryer!
How to Unshrink Clothes: 7 Methods
You can unshrink your clothes using a combination of relaxing and stretching methods. Each of these techniques works better on certain types of cloth, though. For example, the vinegar method will not work well on cotton but works great on wool.
1. Washing Machine
If you accidentally shrunk a bunch of clothes at once, one of the most efficient ways to unshrink them is to set up a soak in your washing machine.
- Most washing machines have an option to select just a soak and a spin to remove much of the water. Program in this cycle.
- If you have a slide or slot in your machine for adding bleach, use this to add either ⅓ cup of fabric softener or a generous dollop of baby shampoo.
- If you do not have that slide, wait till the machine fills with water, and then add the product.
- Finally, add your clothes. Let them go through the soak and spin.
- Next, take the damp clothes out of the washer and carry them to a nice flat surface where you can spread a bath towel.
- Working with each garment, carefully stretch it out into its original shape. Let them dry spread out on a clean surface to retain the new shape.
2. Fabric SoftenerSoaking clothes in a solution of warm water and fabric softener can help relax and unshrink many plant-based fabrics. Sometimes this method works on synthetics as well, though you may need to put more effort into the physical stretching of the garment in that case.
- Fill up a bucket or a clean kitchen sink with lukewarm water. Measure in ⅓ cup of fabric softener, and swirl it around till it dissolves.
- Gently lower the shrunken garment into this bath. Poke it down into the water so that it submerges completely.
- Let the garment soak for at least half an hour, but not more than an hour.
- As you take the garment out of the bath, try to squeeze out some of the water without wringing the fabric.
- Spread it out on a clean bath towel while still wet.
- If you have another similar garment that has not shrunk, you can spread this on top of the garment to give you an idea of how much you need to stretch it out. If not, do your best to guess!
- To stretch out the wet garment, hold opposite sides of it and tug gently. For example, hold the collar and hem f a shirt, and tug gently. Or hold both side seams of a dress, and pull gently but firmly.
- Once you feel that you have stretched the garment back to its original size, place heavy glass or porcelain objects around its edges to keep it stretched out as it dries.
- After a few hours, place the garment on another dry towel to let it finish drying.
3. Baby ShampooLike fabric softener, baby shampoo can help relax fabric fibers and allow you to stretch shrunken clothes back into shape. This method works best on natural plant-based fabric like cotton, linen, or even some silks. You can also sometimes use it on rayon or polyester, but it will take more effort. You can substitute hair conditioner for baby shampoo if you have that on hand as well.
- Start by filling a clean bucket or basic about two/thirds full of warm water. Add a generous capful of baby shampoo or about three tablespoons.
- Lower the shrunken garment into this solution and let it soak for 15 to 30 minutes. If it has shrunk many sizes, you may want to let it sit for as long as an hour.
- Lift the wet garment out of the soak and roll it up in a clean towel cake-roll style to squeeze out some of the water.
- Next, smooth it flat on another clean towel and stretch it back into shape! It may help to have a similar garment handy for reference, so you do not accidentally stretch the garment too much.
- Place small weights such as heavy glasses or ceramic bowls around the edges of the shrunken garment to keep it pinned down.
- Finally, let it air-dry on the towel to retain its new shape.
One of the best ways to unshrink shrunken wool clothes like sweaters and socks is to give them a white vinegar soak. Wool fabric comes from animal fibers, so you need to treat it differently from cotton or plant-based fibers.
You can also use powdered borax instead of vinegar, but if you try this, you will need to super carefully rinse out every last speck of it before you can wear the garment again, so vinegar is by far the safer choice!
- Start by filling a clean bucket with one gallon of distilled white vinegar and two gallons of cold water.
- Lower the wool garment into the water.
- Let it soak for about twenty minutes.
- Don’t try to squish water out of the garment as you lift it out of the bucket. Instead, catch it in a large fluffy towel and press it between the folds of the towel to absorb some of the water.
- Next, spread it out on top of another clean towel on a flat surface.
- Begin gently stretching the garment back into shape. Make sure you think about all its dimensions. For example, stretch out the hem to make it longer and stretch out the sleeves. On a pair of leggings or pants, stretch them length-wise but side-to-side at the waistband and down the legs.
- Finally, let the garment air-dry. For pants and socks, you can hang them up to facilitate quicker drying. Sweaters should dry spread out flat on a clean towel.
5. Some types of clothing like jeans and leggings will easily stretch back into shape if you put them on wet. This works best when your clothing shrunk just a size or two. It also takes a lot of time as you will need to wear your damp clothing until it dries.
- If you can squeeze into the shrunken garment, the easiest method is to put it on and climb into a warm shower.
- Let the shower thoroughly soak the clothes.
- Towle off as best you can and then wait for the clothes to dry.
- If the garment is too tight to easily put on dry, try soaking it in a bucket of warm water for 30 minutes.
- Squeeze out some water and roll up the wet garment inside a towel to remove excess moisture.
- Finally, climb into your bathtub and put on the wet garment!
6. Stretching with Pegs
The best way to stretch out a sweater that has shrunk is to use a crotchet/knitting blocking mat and pegs. This allows you to reshape the sweater to exactly the right dimensions. It also holds the garment in place as it dries, so it does not reshrink! You can find affordable sets at craft stores or even on Amazon.
- First, you want the sweater damp but not sopping wet. You can spritz it with a bottle of water or even soak it in a bucket of water and then roll it up in a towel to press out the moisture.
- Next, smooth out the sweater on your blocking mat. Use your hands to pat and shape it until it has its original shape, even if it is still too small.
- Then, using the guides on the mat to help you, use pins at the outer edge of the sweater to stretch it out and pin it into place.
- If you want to get extremely precise about it, you can place a sweater that still fits you on the mat and use another set of pins to mark the outline of that sweater. Then remove the sweater and leave the pins in place. This way, you can stretch the shrunken sweater out to meet that line of pins, and you will know you have gotten it back to the right size!
- Finally, let it dry all the way while pinned to the mat.
For cotton knits or cotton fabric that contains elastic fibers to make it stretchy, you can often use a handheld steamer or an iron with a steamer function to unshrink clothes. This method will not work on wool, though it may work with less dramatic results on polyester.
- Start by spreading out the shrunken garment on an ironing board for a steam iron. Set your iron to its steam setting and make sure it holds enough water.
- For a handheld steamer, hang up the garment and fill your steamer with water.
- For both devices, hover the tool near the garment but do not touch the fabric. Let the steam sink into the garment one inch at a time.
- When you have thoroughly steamed the whole garment, turn off the iron or steamer and use your hands to stretch the garment back into shape before it has time to cool down. The fabric should feel warm and a tiny bit damp to the touch. If it dries out too much, apply steam again and continue stretching.
Using a steamer or steam iron will give you really quick results. You do not have to wait for a sopping-wet garment to dry out if you try this method!
Why Are My Clothes Shrinking?
Clothes shrink because of heat, moisture, and/or friction. Since you often find all three of those elements in a regular washing and drying routine, you can quickly understand why your clothes shrink in the wash!
Heat and the friction of clothes tumbling around the basin of the washing machine or drum of the dryer can cause the tiny fibers inside the cloth to tighten. When all the fibers tighten or contract just a fraction, the garment overall will get smaller.
For most clothes, simply using a cold water wash instead of using hot water will prevent shrinking. You may also want to avoid using a heavy-duty wash that uses more agitation in the water than a normal wash cycle.
Another pro tip to avoid shrinking anything delicate like a sweater is to hang it up or spread it out to air dry. This way, you do not have to worry about all the heat and friction in the dryer! If your dryer has an air dry or a dry tumble option, you may be able to use that.
Cotton and polyester both shrink because of heat and friction, though polyester does not shrink easily as cotton does.
Wool shrinks in a slightly different way. It has tiny hooks all over its fibers that will latch onto each other, creating a felted surface on the fabric that can shrink quite massively!
This means that some clothes, like any containing wool fibers, should not go in the water. Animal-based fibers like wool and silk should not go in the washing machine. Always refer to the care tag inside the garment when in doubt!
Can You Unshrink a Sweater?
You can almost always unshrink a sweater, even if it has morphed into a much smaller shape! Sweaters stretch back out easily because they contain fabric with knitted or crotched loops instead of the over-under weave of some types of cloth.
The best way to do this is to use a pin or peg system in the same way as knitters set the shape of a finished project.
Knitters and crocheters call this blocking. You can find cheap foam mats and use any type of sewing pins for this process. You can get pricey wooden blocking boards if you want to get serious about unshrinking sweaters! Some experts suggest that you could save a lot of money by upcycling an interlocking foam floor mat into a blocking mat–you may want to go this route if you need it for one-time use.
One final tip for unshrinking a sweater is to never put sweaters in the dryer when you launder them. Instead, spread out a sweater on a sweater drying rack like this one or a clean bath towel. You do not want to hang a wet sweater on a hanger, as this will cause it to stretch out.
How to Fix Shrunken Clothes Quickly
The quickest method for fixing shrunken clothes is to use a handheld steamer or steam iron and physically stretch the damp garment into shape. This works best on cotton knits, though, and will provide only limited success on synthetics.
Most unshrinking methods take several hours because you need to soak the garment and then allow it to air dry. You never want to put a garment back into the dryer once you have unshrunk it!
How to Unshrink:
Now that you know the most effective methods for unshrinking clothes check out these tips on how to handle specific types of fabrics.
Cotton is one of the easiest types of fabric to unshrink. Of course, the reverse is also true- you can easily shrink cotton! This is because cotton absorbs moisture rapidly and has a sensitivity to heat, making its fibers either contract or relax.
You can unshrink cotton using any of the methods described in this article. The easiest way to unshrink cotton is to soak it in water with a relaxing agent such as baby shampoo and gently stretch the garment by hand.
Rayon is uniquely classified as part natural and part synthetic and can easily shrink or stretch while wet. The good news is that you can soak a rayon garment in warm water and gently pull it back into shape with no trouble. The bad news is that the fabric weakens when it gets wet, so you could easily tear the garment doing this process.
Polyester clothes do not shrink easily, but in some cases, extreme heat, like an overly hot cycle in a dryer, might cause a little bit of shrinking. You will find it more difficult to unshrink polyester than cotton, but you can often succeed by using the fabric softener method and applying more force as you physically stretch out the garment.
Unshrinking knit clothes such as t-shirts, leggings, or hoodies will work more easily than trying to unshrink clothes made of polyester satin, gingham, or flannel.
The best way to unshrink wool clothes is to use vinegar or borax soak and gently stretch the garment by hand. Wool shrinks super easily and should never go in the dryer. You should not try the steamer or iron method on wool, either, as this could make the shrinking worse!
For wool sweaters, try the blocking and pegs method described earlier in this article.
Denim contains nearly 100% cotton fibers, meaning that you can often unshrink it by using any soaking and relaxing techniques described in this article.
One of the best ways to unshrunk jeans is to give them a quick soak in warm water, climb into your bathtub, and pull on the wet jeans! They will conform to your shape, stretching into their original structure and size. Of course, you do have to patiently wait for the jeans to dry before you can take them back off.
Another thing to remember with denim clothes is that they typically will always shrink slightly in the wash. This is why the waistband of your jeans often feels tight when you first put on the jeans! But in many cases, simply wearing the garment will loosen the fibers and ease the jeans or jacket back into their original size.
Is There a Way to Unshrink Clothes if They Shrunk in the Dryer?
You can unshrink clothes that have shrunk in the dryer in most cases. The easiest method is to use a relaxing soak and then stretch the garment back into shape by hand. If you need to unshrink a garment in a hurry, try the iron or steamer method described earlier in this article instead.
Most of the time, the high heat and intense friction of the tumbling dryer drum is what causes clothing to shrink. It’s always a good idea to read the care tag inside your clothes and find out if you can safely put them in the dryer or not. If not, find a spot where you can hang them up to air dry, and avoid shrinking them in the first place!
You can unshrink clothes after a laundry accident by using appropriate amounts of moisture, relaxing agents, and physical stretching. The quickest way to unshrink clothes is to use a steam iron or handheld steamer. The most precise way to unshrink clothes is to use a blocking mat and pins to stretch a garment back into its correct proportions.
In general, the easiest type of clothes to unshrink contain knit fabric. This includes sweaters, t-shirts, and hoodies! Cotton also stretches out quite easily, but polyester and wool will present more of a challenge and require special treatment.