What to do if you’ve shrunk clothes – this two ingredient hack even works on wool

We’ve all been there – you do a load of laundry and realize afterward that your favorite sweater or pair of jeans don’t quite fit the same. The fabric has shrunk, leaving your clothes too tight and uncomfortable to wear. While it can be frustrating, there are solutions for how to unshrink clothes, even delicate materials like wool. With a little patience and the right techniques, you can often return your shrunken garments back to their original size. This article will explore an easy ingredient hack using just two common household items that can successfully unshrink many types of shrunken clothes. Keep reading to learn all about this simple fix to salvage your shrunken wardrobe.

How Clothes Shrink

Before jumping into solutions, it helps to understand what actually causes clothes to shrink in the first place. When fabrics like cotton, wool, and linen are exposed to high heat, the fibers relax and then tighten up as they cool. This causes the material to shrink and take on a smaller shape.

Agitation and water temperature are two key factors that determine shrinkage during laundering. The hotter the water and more intense the washing machine agitation, the more the fibers will tighten and shrink. Wool and silk are especially prone to heat-induced shrinkage.

Repeated wash and dry cycles will also cause gradual shrinking over time as the fibers are subjected to heat again and again. Using the wrong laundry settings for delicates can easily lead to disastrous shrinkage. Always refer to fabric care labels for garment-specific washing instructions.

While accidental shrinkage is the most common cause, some clothes are pre-shrunk as part of the manufacturing process. Pre-shrinking helps stabilize fabrics so they do not shrink excessively when washed.

So now that we know why shrink happens, how can we reverse it? Keep reading to learn tips and an unbelievable easy ingredient solution.

How to Unshrink Clothes in the Wash

If you’ve noticed clothes shrinking already, the first thing to do is adjust your laundry routine. Washing garments in cold water on a gentle cycle and air drying can help prevent additional shrinking. But to relax fibers that have already tightened from past washes, try these pre-treatment steps before your next load:

Presoak in Cool Water

Allowing clothes to soak in lukewarm or cool water can help loosen fibers before washing. Avoid hot water as this may make shrinkage worse. Let garments soak for at least 30 minutes for the best results. This helps relax fibers before agitation begins.

Use a Laundry Detergent for Delicates

Choose a gentle detergent made for delicates and avoid regular detergents that could be too harsh on already-shrunken fabrics. Look for a formula that is free of dyes, bleaches and optical brighteners which could damage fibers. Baby shampoo can also be used as a gentle wash alternative.

Skip the Dryer

Line dry shrunken items to prevent heat exposure. The motion of the dryer can also aggravate shrinkage issues. Let clothes air dry fully before wearing or putting them away. You can smooth and reshape garments as they dry to coax them back to the right proportions.

Making these easy washing adjustments can keep delicate fabrics from shrinking more. But to actually restore shrunken clothes back to their original size, extra steps are needed. The following unshrinking methods can help relax fibers enough to regain lost inches.

Unshrinking Method 1: Baby Shampoo Soak

For a mild unshrinking solution, try soaking garments in a diluted baby shampoo solution. Here’s how:

What You Need:

  • Baby shampoo
  • Large basin or sink
  • Lukewarm water


  1. Fill sink or basin with lukewarm water. Avoid hot water.
  2. Add a small amount of baby shampoo and swirl gently to dissolve. Use approximately 1 teaspoon per gallon of water.
  3. Submerge shrunken garment fully in solution. For best results, allow to soak 30 minutes up to a few hours.
  4. Rinse soaked garment under cool running water.
  5. Gently stretch and reshape the garment while still wet. Shape the fabric with your hands back to original dimensions.
  6. Lay flat to air dry fully. Keep shaping the garment as it dries.

The mild sudsing and conditioning properties in baby shampoo help relax fibers and loosen the material without harsh chemicals. This can successfully release shirts, sweaters, dresses and other delicate items that have shrunk.

For tighter-knit fabrics like wool, a longer soak time is recommended. Check the garment every 30 minutes, reshaping and stretching as needed while wet. The baby shampoo solution can work wonders to gently unshrink delicate woolens and cashmere back to wearable size.

Unshrinking Method 2: Hair Conditioner Soak

Similar to baby shampoo, hair conditioner is another mild product that can help loosen shrunken fabrics. The conditioning agents work to relax fibers and allow you to coax garments back to shape. Here’s the simple process:

What You Need:

  • Hair conditioner
  • Large basin or sink
  • Lukewarm water


  1. Fill sink or basin with lukewarm water. Avoid hot water.
  2. Squirt a generous amount of hair conditioner into the water, around 1⁄4 cup. Swirl to dissolve.
  3. Submerge the shrunken garment fully into the solution. Let soak 30 minutes up to a few hours.
  4. Rinse thoroughly under cool running water.
  5. Stretch and reshape garment while wet, pulling to the desired proportions.
  6. Lay flat and block to air dry fully. Continue gently pulling and shaping as it dries.

The conditioning ingredients in hair products allow stretched fibers to relax into the new, larger shape as they dry. This works well for knit fabrics like sweaters, dresses, socks and t-shirts. Focus on gradually coaxing the material wider or longer as you reshape.

For wool garments, let soak for at least 60 to 90 minutes and check often to continue stretching and reshaping the wet fabric. This conditioning soak helps wool fibers relax so clothing regains lost inches.

Unshrinking Method 3: Vinegar Soak

For heavy shrinkage, try a more intense vinegar soak. The acidic properties of vinegar work to break down and relax fibers so clothing can be stretched back to shape. Follow these steps:

What You Need:

  • White vinegar
  • Large basin or sink
  • Lukewarm water


  1. Fill basin or sink with lukewarm water. Use approximately 2 gallons.
  2. Add 2 cups white vinegar and stir to combine.
  3. Fully submerge shrunken garment in solution. Let soak for at least 30 minutes, up to a few hours.
  4. Rinse thoroughly with cool water.
  5. Stretch and reshape the wet garment, pulling to desired size.
  6. Roll item in a towel to remove excess moisture.
  7. Lay flat on an absorbent surface to air dry fully stretched and shaped.

Check knit materials every 30 minutes, continuing to gently pull and block back to size as vinegar works to relax the fibers. Acidic vinegar helps loosen the fibers’ grip for easier reshaping. Just take care not to agitate delicate fabrics too roughly to avoid damage.

This vigorous vinegar approach works well for tougher shrinkage issues, especially on sturdy materials like denim, linen, and cotton. The acetic acid in vinegar serves as a powerful shrink-reversing agent.

Unshrinking Method 4: Glycerin and Water Solution

For an intense fiber-relaxing soak, you can also mix glycerin with water. This forms a solution that penetrates fabric fibers and acts as a conditioning lubricant to release shrinkage. Follow these steps:

What You Need:

  • Glycerin
  • Large basin or sink
  • Lukewarm water


  1. Fill sink or basin with lukewarm water, around 2 gallons.
  2. Add 1⁄2 cup glycerin and stir thoroughly to dissolve.
  3. Fully submerge the shrunken clothing into the glycerin solution. Allow to soak for at least one hour.
  4. Rinse garment thoroughly under cool running water.
  5. Stretch and reshape the wet clothing with your hands, pulling to the correct proportions.
  6. Lay flat and block garment to air dry in reshaped form.

Glycerin is an intensely hydrating emollient that moisturizes fabric fibers and allows them to move more freely so clothing can be molded back to size. The longer the soak time, the more it is able to work into the garment fibers.

This glycerin method works on all types of fabrics but is especially helpful for dense, tighter knits like wool and cashmere that require deep conditioning. Be patient reshaping sweaters and delicate knits as they soak.

Unshrinking Method 5: Epsom Salt

The minerals in Epsom salt help swell and relax fiber molecules in shrunken fabrics. Follow these steps for an Epsom salt unshrinking bath:

What You Need:

  • Epsom salt
  • Large basin or sink
  • Lukewarm water


  1. Fill sink or basin with lukewarm water, around 2 gallons.
  2. Add 1⁄2 cup Epsom salt. Stir well until fully dissolved.
  3. Submerge the shrunken clothing fully. Let soak for at least an hour.
  4. After soaking, rinse garment thoroughly under cool water.
  5. Stretch and reshape the wet clothing to desired size.
  6. Lay flat and block to air dry in stretched form.

The magnesium in Epsom salt helps fabric fibers relax and loosen up. Gently pulling and blocking your garment as it soaks enables easier reshaping.

This mineral salt soak works very well on cotton and hemp garments that have shrunk. Be patient with wool items, checking and gently stretching periodically as the fibers swell and relax during the soak.

Unshrinking Method 6: Downy Wrinkle Releaser

Downy and other wrinkle release sprays contain conditioning agents that can help relax fibers in shrunken garments. Simply spray generously across the fabric, let sit 5 minutes, gently tug and stretch to size, then let air dry.

This quick spray-and-tug method may provide minor size recovery but works best on items with mild shrinkage. Focus on pulling the garment wider or longer as you reshape and let the Downy conditioning agents release contracted fibers.

Follow up with an ingredient soak method for clothes with more stubborn shrink issues. But for a fast fix on mildly shrunken seams or hems, Downy Wrinkle Releaser can help provide some size recovery when used properly.

Unshrinking Method 7: the Surprising 2 Ingredient Hack

The simple hack? Just an ice cube and hair conditioner! Here is how this unusual but highly effective shrink-busting method works:

What You Need:

  • Hair conditioner
  • Ice cubes
  • Shallow pan or dish
  • Gloves for stretching (optional)


  1. Fill a shallow pan or dish with enough cool water to submerge the shrunken garment. Avoid using hot water.
  2. Add 3 to 5 ice cubes to the water. The colder temperature helps boost fiber relaxation.
  3. Squirt a generous amount of hair conditioner into the icy water, around 1⁄4 cup.
  4. Submerge the shrunken clothing fully in the icy conditioner bath. Let soak 10 to 20 minutes. The dual chilling and conditioning provides a fiber-relaxing effect.
  5. Remove clothing and gently stretch and pull garment under cool running water. Use gloves for better grip if needed. Coax the fabric to original dimensions.
  6. Reshape garment on a flat surface. Gently pull seamlines taut and block sleeves and hemlines back to proper proportions as it air dries.

This frosty conditioning combo helps shrink-proof fabrics so they can be molded back to size. The chilly temperature combined with lubricating conditioner allows fibers to be gently stretched and then set into the re-expanded shape.

Follow up with additional gentle tugs and reshaping if needed as the garment fully air dries. The icy temperature maximizes results so fibers “freeze” into the enlarged size and shape.

The simple synergy of icy water and conditioning formula is magic for shrinking disasters. It can often salvage wool, cashmere, cotton, hemp and other delicates that have tightened up.

Unshrinking Method 8: Steaming

As a final re-shaping step, steaming is an excellent way to coax fibers into staying their newer, bigger dimensions after soaking and stretching.

Follow these tips for steaming:

  • Use a garment or hand steamer to penetrate fibers with relaxing moisture as you reshape garments.
  • Avoid actually pressing down with the steamer as this can re-shrink areas. Just lightly hover and steam over surfaces.
  • Gently tug and smooth fabric into place as you steam. The heat will help set fibers into the stretched shape and size.
  • Take care not to actually press creases at seams or to overly flatten areas. Use light steaming motions.
  • Hang or lay garment to complete air drying after steaming.

Be patient and work in sections to steam-shape hemlines, sleeves, and other tight spots. The combination of heat and moisture relaxes fibers so clothing takes to the new stretched proportions.

Caring for Clothes to Prevent Re-Shrinking

To get the most mileage after unshrinking garments, it helps to adjust regular laundering to avoid repeating the issue. Here are some care tips:

Wash in Cooler Water

Use the coolest temperature possible for delicate items – even cold water can relax fibers over time. Save hot washes only for very soiled sturdy fabrics.

Skip the Dryer

Line dry or flat dry clothing instead of machine drying. This prevents heat exposure that can re-tighten fibers.

Reshape While Damp

Gently smooth and shape garments as they air dry. Pull lightly on areas like sleeves, collars, and hems to keep dimensions intact.

Invest in a Mesh Wash Bag

A mesh bag allows water flow but helps prevent agitation damage. Use for delicate sweaters, lingerie and shaped fabrics prone to shrinking.

Look for “Anti-Shrink” Items

See if you can find anti-shrink versions of favorite items. Pre-treated cotton and wool clothing is engineered to resist shrinkage.

With some adjustment to laundry routine plus these unshrinking tricks, even beloved “dry clean only” knitwear can often be salvaged after accidental shrinking in the wash. While it can take some patience, in most cases you can coax garments back to wearable proportions.

Common Questions about Unshrinking Clothes

Still have some questions about restoring shrunken fabrics? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

What is the easiest way to unshrink a shirt or sweater?

For mildly shrunken cotton or wool knits, try the simple ice cube and conditioner method. Just 5 to 10 minutes in the icy bath lets fibers relax so clothing can be stretched back to size before air drying.

Does vinegar really help unshrink clothes?

Yes! The acetic acid in vinegar works well to break down fiber bonds, especially in sturdy fabrics like denim or linen. A vinegar soak of 30 minutes up to a few hours can often relax fibers enough to be stretched back to original dimensions.

Can you unshrink 100% cotton?

Cotton can be tricky to unshrink since it does not stretch readily like wool or other knits. But with patience, cotton garments can be returned to wearable shape using a glycerin soak or vinegar solution, followed by slow steady stretching as it dries.

What is the best way to unshrink wool?

Wool responds very well to conditioning methods. Try a baby shampoo soak or hair conditioner bath for at least 60 to 90 minutes. Check often, gently stretching and reshaping the wool as it continues to soak. Let air dry fully stretched.

Will clothes shrink again after unshrinking?

They might, if not cared for properly! Be sure to wash garments in cool water and reshape while still damp. Air or flat drying is best. Store unshrunken clothes folded, not hung. And avoid putting wet items in the dryer, which can re-shrink fibers.


Dealing with suddenly shrunken clothes can be upsetting. But in most cases, shrinkage damage can be reversed with patience and the right conditioning techniques. Avoid over-washing on hot or adding garments to the dryer after unshrinking for best results. With the simple solutions outlined here, you can relax and reshape even delicate wool and cotton back to a wearable size again.

Follow the easy handy ingredient hacks using household staples like conditioner, glycerin, and vinegar to penetrate fibers and loosen their grip. Then gradually work garments back to their original proportions as you stretch and block the relaxed fabrics. In extreme cases, you may not achieve the full sizing, but even a little stretching goes a long way toward making shrunken clothes comfortably wearable again.

With the information in this article, you now have plenty of options to unwind shrinkage disasters. Just be gentle, take your time, and keep coaxing fabrics inch by inch. Before you know it, your shrunken sweater, jeans or delicate dress will once again fit and look great on you.