Clothes Shrunk in the Wash? Here's How to Unshrink Them
Even if you carefully follow all the "rules" of doing laundry, clothes can shrink. A great deal of how clothes react during cleaning happens long before they belong to you. The type of fibers, weaving methods, and manufacturing techniques determine how well clothes perform after wearing and washing.
Every type of fiber reacts differently. Natural fibers (wool, cotton, bamboo) have more stretch than most man-made fibers (polyester, acrylic, nylon). Loose fabric weaves stretch more than tighter weaves; but loose weaves will also tighten up or shrink more when exposed to water, heat, and agitation.
Normal shrinkage of two to three percent is fairly common for many garments that have not been prewashed, but anything more than this invariably affects the fit. If your clothes have shrunk, read on for how to fix them.
Be prepared for the possibility that your efforts to unshrink clothes or stretch them to make them bigger will not succeed. Most garments will not withstand excessive stretching and seams will pop and fibers will break.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Large sink or plastic tub
- 1 to 2 Heavy, absorbent towels
- Large cork bulletin board
- Knitting blocking board
- Stainless steel T-shaped pins
- Ironing board
- Baby shampoo
- Liquid fabric softener
- Hair conditioner with no added dyes
How to Unshrink a Garment
This process will work better on knitted fabrics made from protein or hair fibers like wool, cashmere, or mohair than on synthetic fibers like acrylic or polyester. Natural hair fibers have more give and a better ability to stretch than manmade fibers, which are often heat-set to retain their shape. It won't hurt to try unshrinking a synthetic knitted fabric, but the results might be satisfactory. The process can be repeated if you see progress but the garment is still too small.
Create a Soaking Solution
- Fill a sink or plastic tub with enough cool water to completely submerge the garment.
- Add 2 tablespoons of baby shampoo, liquid fabric softener, or hair conditioner.
- Stir to disperse the shampoo.
Submerge the Garment
- Add the garment and gently swish it through the water solution to ensure all the fibers are thoroughly wet.
- Soak for at least 30 minutes or up to two hours to help soften and relax the fibers for reshaping.
Remove Garment from Solution
- Remove the garment from the soaking solution.
- Do not rinse.
- Gently squeeze out excess moisture without wringing or twisting the garment.
- Place the knitted item flat on a thick cotton towel and roll it up to absorb as much moisture as possible.
- Repeat with a second dry towel if the fabric still seems excessively wet.
Reshape and Block the Garment
- Place the garment on a sturdy cork bulletin board or blocking board.
- Gently begin stretching the garment back to its original shape and size.
- Use stainless-steel T-shaped pins that do not rust to pin the item in place every two inches or so as you move around the edges.
- You may need to unpin and readjust the shape several times as you work.
Allow to Air Dry
- Place the board in a warm spot away from direct heat or sunlight.
- Allow the garment to air-dry, checking on it every few hours to reshape as needed if the shape begins to distort.
- Drying can take up to two days.
Alternative Ideas for Unshrinking a Garment
- Air-dry a wet knitted garment upside down from a pants hanger so the weight stretches the fabric.
- Stuff the wet garment with clean white tissue paper to stretch it while it is air-drying.
- Wear the wet garment to help stretch out the damp fibers.
- For woven cotton or linen clothes, pressing with a hot iron will flatten the fibers that have tightened up and sometimes add a bit of room to the body or length to a sleeve. Most woven fabrics cannot be unshrunk.