Clothes Shrunk in the Wash? Here’s How to Unshrink Them

Having your clothes shrink in the wash can be frustrating and costly. But before you toss your beloved shrunken sweater or shirt in the donation pile, try these methods to return them to their original size. With some time and effort, you can often unshrink clothing that has shrunk in the wash.

Why Do Clothes Shrink in the Wash?

There are a few key reasons why clothes may shrink when laundered:

1. Heat from Washing and Drying

Exposing clothing to high heat can cause the fibers to tighten and contract. If washed in hot water or put in the dryer on high heat, clothes are more likely to shrink. Delicate fabrics like wool and rayon are especially prone to heat-related shrinkage.

2. Agitation from Washing

The motion of a washing machine can felt (mat together) fibers and cause fabric to shrink. This is common with natural fibers like wool. The agitation twists and tangles the scales on wool fibers together, resulting in a thicker, smaller piece of fabric.

3. Not Following Care Instructions

If clothing care tags are ignored, shrinkage is more likely to occur. Washing an item in water that’s too hot or putting it in the dryer when air drying is recommended can definitely cause shrinkage.

So in summary, the intense motion, heat, and disregard for care instructions during laundering are the main culprits for shrunken clothes.

How to Unshrink Clothes: 8 Methods

If you have a favorite sweater or dress that’s now too small, try these tricks to relax and stretch the fibers:

1. Wash with Hot Water

This may sound counterintuitive, but re-washing an item in hot water can help relax the fibers and allow it to return to its original size. This works best for cotton and other plant-based fabrics.

How to do it:

  • Fill a sink or tub with very hot water, as hot as the garment can handle without damage.
  • Add a small amount of hair conditioner or fabric softener to act as a lubricant.
  • Agitate the clothing vigorously for several minutes to loosen and stretch the fibers.
  • Rinse in cool water.
  • Lay flat or hang to dry, smoothing and stretching the material as it dries.
  • Repeat the process if needed until the desired size is reached.

This hot water technique can make cotton shirts, pants, socks and other items unshrink slightly or fully. It works by breaking the hydrogen bonds in cotton formed during heat drying or agitation. Just be careful with embellishments that may be heat-sensitive.

2. Use a Steamer

Steaming is an easy, safe way to relax and stretch many types of shrunken clothes, especially woolens.

How to:

  • Hang or lay the garment flat.
  • Hold a steamer 1-2 inches above the material and slowly move across the surface, concentrating on areas that need stretching.
  • Use the steamer wand or attachment to penetrate inside sleeves, collars, hems and other parts that shrank.
  • Stretch and smooth the fabric while steaming.
  • Repeat until the garment reaches the preferred size. Allow to fully dry between steaming.

The combination of steam, stretching and moisture helps loosen the fibers. Be careful of water-spotting with silk or rayon blends though.

3. Try Hair Conditioner Soaks

Hair conditioner has properties that allow it to relax and expand many fabrics. Here’s how:

  • Fill a sink or basin with cool water. Squirt in a generous amount of hair conditioner – a heavy cream type works best.
  • Submerge the shrunken clothing fully in the conditioner mixture. Let soak for at least 20 minutes up to a few hours.
  • Agitate and massage the clothing every so often as it soaks.
  • Rinse thoroughly in cool water. Reshape and lay flat or hang to dry.

Depending on the severity of shrinkage, several soakings may be needed. The conditioning agents coat the fibers and allow them to expand and move more freely.

4. Baby Shampoo Soak

For washable woolens, a baby shampoo soak can work wonders.

  • Fill a tub or basin with lukewarm water. Add a small amount of pure, clear baby shampoo.
  • Submerge the shrunken wool item and let soak 20-30 minutes.
  • Drain the water and gently squeeze excess water from the garment. Do not wring or twist.
  • Lay the garment flat on a towel. Reshape and smooth the wool fabric to the desired dimensions.
  • Once dry, check if the original size is restored. Repeat as needed.

The soap helps lubricate wool’s delicate scales so they can slide back into position as the item dries. Be sure to use a gentle baby shampoo, not regular detergent.

5. Try an Epsom Salt Soak

Magnesium-rich Epsom salt helps relax fibers, making it ideal for shrinking issues.

  • Fill a tub with warm water and add 1-2 cups Epsom salt.
  • Add the shrunken garment and let soak for 30 minutes up to a few hours.
  • Massage and agitate the clothing to work the salt into the fibers.
  • Rinse thoroughly in cool water.
  • Dry flat or hanging, smoothing and stretching to desired size.

The magnesium ions interact with the fabric fibers and allow them to expand more easily. It works well for cotton, linen, lyocell and other materials.

6. Use a Clothing Stretcher

Special devices called sweater stretchers can mechanically stretch clothing back to size. They are shaped like torsos or frames that expand.

How to use:

  • Insert the garment over the stretcher and smooth the fabric evenly over the form.
  • Slowly start adjusting the stretcher larger, gently pulling the clothing outward.
  • Periodically mist the garment with water or steam while stretching for easier expansion.
  • Once fully expanded, leave the stretcher in place for at least 24 hours allowing the fibers to set.
  • Carefully remove the garment and see if the original dimensions are restored. Retry if needed.

This stretcher method works well for delicate cashmere, wool, cotton and other sweaters and knit tops that need reshaping. Avoid overstretching which can damage the fabric.

7. Use a Wet Blocking Method

For wool and other natural fiber garments, block straightening can reduce shrinkage. This involves wetting, reshaping and drying the item flat.

How to wet block:

  • Soak the garment in cool water with a bit of hair conditioner for at least 20 minutes.
  • Remove and gently squeeze excess moisture, but do not wring.
  • Lay the garment flat on a padded surface like towels or a bed.
  • Smooth and gently tug the pieces to the correct shape. Use rust-proof pins if needed to hold the shape.
  • Allow to fully air dry before removing pins and checking the size.
  • Steam or hand press if the texture needs smoothing after drying.

Repeat the soak-and-block method until the right measurements are reached. The key is gradual stretching as the garment dries.

8. Reshape While Damp

For knits and stretchy materials, reshaping while damp can coax the fibers back to size.

  • Hand wash or soak the shrunken item in cool water for about 20 minutes.
  • Remove and wrap in a towel, gently squeezing out moisture. Do not wring or twist.
  • Unwrap and lay the still-damp clothing on a flat surface. Start tugging and smoothing it to the proper shape and size. Use your hands to coax the fabric in all directions while damp.
  • Continue reshaping as the garment dries. It will hold the stretched position as the moisture evaporates.
  • Repeat the soaking and reshaping process if needed until the size is corrected.

This fabric manipulation while damp makes use of the malleability of knits and spandex blends to fully extend the fibers back to form.

Unshrinking Specific Materials

Certain fabrics respond best to specialized unshrinking methods:

Cotton – Hot water soaks work well to relax cotton fibers. Can also apply heat while damp to help cotton fibers regain loft and length.

Wool – Steaming, wet blocking and Epsom salt soaks are gentle on wool. Reshape while damp. Dry clean for severe shrinkage.

Cashmere – Use a stretcher or reshape while damp. Steam and Epsom soaks also effective. Handle delicately.

Rayon – Steaming helps relax rayon fibers. Hair conditioner soaks also work well. Handle carefully when wet.

Polyester – Can treat with heat while damp. Stretchers elongate fibers. Hardest type to unshrink.

Spandex blends – Reshape while damp for best results. Apply heated blow dryer while slowly stretching fabric.

Silk – Steaming and rewetting helps. Avoid over-handling silk when wet as it’s delicate.

So consider the garment’s fiber content and properties when choosing the safest, most effective unshrinking method. Blends and knits usually respond well to being stretched while damp. Delicates like cashmere require gentle handling.

Will Unshrinking Damage Clothes?

Using certain unshrinking techniques can potentially cause damage if done improperly:

  • Excessive heat when ironing or blow drying may scorch delicate fabrics.
  • Over-stretching can tear seams or overly distort shape.
  • Harsh agitation can felt wool fibers. Handle woolens with care when wet.
  • Wringing and twisting damp garments can damage texture and cause tearing. Roll items in a towel to absorb moisture instead.
  • Rubbing or kneading aggressively while damp creates friction that can pill knits. Handle with care.

To minimize damage when unshrinking:

  • Read fabric care labels and follow garment-specific instructions.
  • Wash delicates in mesh laundry bags.
  • Use lowest heat settings and air dry when possible.
  • Reshape knits without over-pulling to avoid runs or tears.
  • Smooth garments gently while damp – avoid harsh twisting motions.
  • Lay flat or hang to dry; avoid high heat drying that can re-shrink items.

With some common sense care, unshrinking techniques can successfully restore the original size of treasured clothes without causing harm.

When Is Unshrinking Impossible?

While many shrunken clothes can regain their former fit, there are times when unshrinking is unrealistic:

  • Severely felted wool that has heavily shrunk and thickened cannot be reversed. The fibers bond too densely.
  • Natural fabrics degraded by moths or mildew are unlikely to respond to unshrinking techniques.
  • Fabrics with lycra/spandex that has lost elasticity stay permanently tight. The stretched-out fibers won’t rebound.
  • Old, worn garments with damage or tears can easily develop holes during unshrinking manipulation.
  • Items accidentally put in the dryer on high heat are often too set and damaged to rescue.
  • Clothing pieces that have changed texture after washing may remain permanently stiff, rough or misshapen.
  • Some synthetic blends are manufactured to prevent shrinking. Trying to forcibly stretch them will damage their stability.
  • Embellished fabrics with rhinestones, beads or appliqués are too delicate for unshrinking methods.

While it’s sometimes possible to rescue badly shrunken clothes, pieces with severe felting, degradation, tears or permanent setting caused by intense heat will unfortunately stay shrunken. Know when to cut your losses and let go.

Maintaining Garments After Unshrinking

Once you’ve successfully unshrunk an item, take steps to keep it that way:

  • Follow all fabric care instructions to prevent re-shrinking – wash gently and air dry when possible.
  • For hand wash items, use cool water and mild detergent; roll in a towel and reshape while damp.
  • Invest in a mesh garment bag for delicate machine washing and drying.
  • Skip the dryer and lay flat or hang dry, reshaping knits and woolens as they dry.
  • Wash in cold water and hang dry wool, rayon, spandex blends, and delicates. The dryer generates too much heat.
  • Use fabric softener and dryer balls to reduce friction and heat during machine cycles.
  • Steam or hand press wool, silk, and cotton pieces after air drying to smooth texture and “reset” the fibers.

With some extra care when laundering, you can keep restored garments in their expanded, wearable state for many more uses.

When to Take Shrunken Clothes to a Professional

For severe shrinkage or special garments, seeking professional help may be warranted:

  • Expensive or designer items like cashmere sweaters are worth the cost of expert service.
  • Professionals have commercial equipment to safely steam and block delicate fabrics.
  • Tailors can carefully stretch and reconstruct torn seams or misshapen shoulders.
  • Dry cleaners employ chemical solvents that safely relax and elongate many fibers.
  • Experts handle heirloom textiles and vintage garments with appropriate care.
  • Professionals have the skills to gradually reshape clothes without over-manipulating delicate fabrics.

While many shrinkage issues can be DIY’d at home, severely shrunken investment pieces or special garments with damage may benefit from a professional’s expertise. Get personalized guidance to ensure important clothing gets successfully restored without incurring harm.

Caring for Your Clothes: Preventing Shrinkage

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to keeping clothes shrink-free:

Read care labels – follow all washing, drying and ironing instructions. Seek care advice for heirloom pieces.

Wash in cold water – use the coolest setting appropriate for the fabric to prevent heat damage.

Skip the dryer – line dry items prone to shrinkage like wool, cotton, rayon, and spandex blends.

Invest in a mesh wash bag for delicates and sweaters to prevent friction and agitation.

Use fabric softener – helps reduce friction and maintain elasticity during washes.

Buy pre-shrunk fabrics like preshrunk cotton and washable wool that resist shrinking.

Clean stains promptly – set-in stains require harsher wash treatments that can shrink fabrics.

Store properly – keep woolens folded neatly in cedar chests to prevent stretching out of shape over time.

Resize too-big pieces by taking them to a tailor for adjustments vs. attempting home shrinkage.

With some easy preventive care, you can keep your favorite garments fitting just right for many years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can all clothes be unshrunk?

No, some fabrics like heavily felted wool and degraded fabrics with spandex cannot be returned to their original size. But many natural and synthetic fabrics can be relaxed and expanded using certain techniques.

Does unshrinking weaken clothing?

It shouldn’t, if done properly. Gentle cool water soaks, low heat, and careful reshaping should not damage fiber strength. But harsh handling like wringing and overstretching can potentially weaken fabrics.

How much can clothes be unshrunk?

It depends on the fabric, weave, and degree of shrinkage. In many cases garments can be returned close to their original size if the fibers have not been severely damaged. For clothes with light to moderate shrinkage, stretching back to the previous dimensions is often possible.

Will clothes shrink again after being unshrunk?

They might, if not cared for properly after unshrinking. To prevent re-shrinking, follow all garment care instructions and handle delicates with extra care – hand wash, lay flat or hang to dry, and use cool water washes.

Is unshrinking clothing worth the time and effort?

For inexpensive everyday items, it may not be worth the hassle. But unshrinking can definitely pay off for specialty fabrics like cashmere, heirloom items, and high-quality investment pieces where buying a replacement would be costly.


Dealing with shrunken clothes can be a nuisance, but don’t rush to trash them. In many cases you can successfully relax and stretch fabrics back to their original size. With the proper unshrinking technique for the fabric, a little time and TLC can often resurrect cherished garments. Learn to identify fibers, follow care instructions, handle all clothes with care, and utilize methods like steam, soaks, and reshaping while damp to maximize results. With some patience and elbow grease, you can give your shrunken favorites new life.

Clothes Shrunk in the Wash? Here’s How to Unshrink Them


Having your clothes shrink unexpectedly in the wash can be incredibly frustrating. But before you throw out that shrunken sweater or give up on the shirt that is now two sizes too small, try using some of these handy tricks to return your clothes to their original size. In many cases, you can successfully unshrink clothing that has shrunk in the wash with a little time and effort.

Understanding why clothes shrink in the first place is key to figuring out the most effective way to unshrink them. There are a variety of methods you can try at home to relax fibers and return garments to their pre-shrunken dimensions. With some care and patience, you can often rescue shrunken favorites and save yourself the cost of buying replacements.

Reasons Clothes Shrink

There are three main culprits that cause clothes to shrink in the laundry:


Exposing clothing to high heat, whether from washing in hot water or drying on high heat, can cause fibers to tighten and contract. Delicate fabrics like wool and rayon are especially prone to heat-related