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How to unshrink clothes

Our easy guide will salvage your favourite shrunken garments.


Reading Time: 7 minutes

By Cleanipedia Team

A stack of colourful folded clothing

We’ve all gone and done it – got the wash settings wrong or overdone the heat with the tumble dryer, with the result that our best clothes look like they belong in a dollhouse.

The good news is that while you can’t actually unshrink clothes, you can stretch them back into shape so they become wearable again. Follow our step-by-step guide on how to unshrink clothes or watch the video to see how you can rescue your favourite garments with a few easy measures.

(Note, if you have clothing with mixed fabrics (say a cotton/elastane or cotton/cashmere combo), check on the tag which material is dominant (the one with the higher percentage) and then follow the corresponding method.)

How to stretch your clothes back to size

This is the basic way to unshrink clothes that works well for cotton and similar fabrics (to avoid the problem in the first place, see here for our guide to stop cotton shrinking).

  1. Fill a bowl or sink with lukewarm water.

  2. Mix in a tablespoon of baby shampoo – hair conditioner also works well, but you want to make sure to use something that is meant to soften (so regular shampoo won’t work as well as it is designed to clean). Don’t use anything that you wouldn’t put on your own head or skin.

  3. Submerge the item in the bowl for 30 minutes.

  4. Don’t rinse; you want the conditioner to stay in the fabric in order to make it more pliable. Gently squeeze excess water out of the garment with your hands (don’t wring it), then use a towel to press it out further (you can even try rolling it in a towel to help remove moisture). Your clothes should be damp, not dripping.

  5. Gently stretch the piece of clothing in all directions. Peg it in place on a towel, or hold it down with paperweights, so that it stays in shape as it dries. Check back after an hour, while it’s still damp, and if you find it’s been shrinking as it dries, stretch it out again.

  6. Air dry the garment, keeping it totally flat (don’t let it overhang at the ends).

How to unshrink wool and cashmere

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There are a couple of modifications when dealing with woollens and cashmere – you’ll be mixing vinegar in the water instead of shampoo and using rolled towels to help get the shape of the garment back.

  1. Fill a bowl with lukewarm water.

  2. Mix in one tablespoon of vinegar (white wine vinegar is preferable as it is more gentle, but distilled will do in a pinch).

  3. Submerge the item in the bowl for 25 minutes.

  4. Completely flatten the garment, then stuff it with as many rolled towels as needed to bring it back to shape. You want to use towels to shape it as pulling and stretching will risk damaging the fabric. Top tip: when filled with towels, knocking it against a hard surface will help stretch the fabric out and remove any bumps (try to keep it as smooth as possible)..

  5. When finished, air dry, checking whether it is maintaining its form. You can very gently stretch the edges if you feel it needs help in reshaping. The key though is gentle handling as wool and cashmere contain delicate fibres. RBe patient, and repeat the process if you need to.

Woollens can be difficult to care for, so to find out how to wash a wool jumper properly check out our informative guide here.

How to unshrink denim

Close up for denim clothing

This is the fail-safe way to unshrink denim, but only if you’re feeling plucky. Slip into your over-tight jeans and then sit in a shallow bath of warm water, jeans and all, for 10 to 15 minutes. As the jeans soak and the fibres become more and more saturated, they will become easier to reshape.

Once out of the bath, you have to keep the jeans on for another hour or so, making sure you walk around and sit in them – basically, you are stretching them back into shape. Then allow to air dry, hanging them away from direct sunlight.

Is there another way to unshrink jeans?

If hanging around in wet jeans doesn’t sound particularly pleasant, then you can use the same basic method as in how to unshrink clothes above, paying particular care to how you pull them into shape. Hang them on the line to air dry.

If there is only one particular part that needs stretching out – say the waistband or thigh area – then you can spray that part with water, getting it nice and wet, and then try wearing them (it will be a little more comfortable than wearing the whole pair sopping wet!).

How to unshrink synthetic fabrics

A pile of colourful synthetic clothing

The likes of nylon, acrylic and polyester need a bit more care, though the process is similar to the others above.

  1. Fill a bowl or sink with lukewarm water.

  2. Mix in a tablespoon of baby shampoo or hair conditioner.

  3. Soak your garment for 15-20 minutes.

  4. To remove excess water press between two towels – make sure not to squeeze it dry (fabrics like Rayon are delicate and hate to be handled roughly).

  5. Lay flat and pull into shape, using pegs or paperweights as necessary to hold it into place.

How to unshrink clothes : Your questions answered

Jumper soaking in a bowl of soapy water

Can I unshrink wool socks?

If your favourite hiking socks have taken a turn for the smaller, they can be brought back to their original size by following the guidelines for wool above – just use about the half amount of vinegar.

How can I stretch a shirt that is too small?

Check the type of fabric your shirt is made from and then treat accordingly as per the instructions above.

Top tip: To help ensure you get the shirt back to the right size, measure it up against a similar shirt as you pull it into shape (you can also do this for T-shirts and other clothing that you want to be careful in not overstretching). 

How can I make sure the garment stretches to the right size?

As well as our tip above, you can also get your clothes back to the size you want by using a tape measure to get the dimensions right. Another method, requiring more commitment, is to wear the item while it is still damp until it has air dried.

Do I have to wash the conditioner out of the clothing?

Ideally, yes. Put the garment on a cold wash and keep it away from the dryer. However, the relatively small amounts used shouldn’t be a problem if you decide not.

Why do clothes shrink in the dryer?

Fibres such as cotton, linen and wool soak up a lot of water in the wash and swell up (this, by the way, is the reason they take longer to dry).

When they go into a tumble dryer, the heat causes the fibres to shrink up, eventually curling up so they become smaller than when they started out.

The fibres lock into place and are unable to spring back to their original size. The tumbling action can also cause clothes to shrink, as it makes the fibres tighten.

Check our guide for more on how tumble dryers shrink clothes and learn how to use a dryer properly.

Originally published