How to Unshrink Clothes Without Ruining Them

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Discover how you can unshrink clothes using common household ingredients and a few minutes of your time.

Sad woman holds t-shirt that has been shrunk in the wash

Just about everyone has accidentally shrunk clothing at some point. Maybe your favorite wool sweater went through the washer and dryer, too. Or you laundered a favorite shirt on hot when the label says cold water only. And what about those jeans that come out feeling snug because you restarted the dryer three days in a row rather than fold anything? (No judgment here. I’ve done it, too.)

The good news is that you can usually unshrink clothing with a little time and effort. Check out the basic unshrinking tips below, then read on for specific fabrics that call for a little different treatment.

How to Unshrink Most Clothes

To unshrink natural fibers like cotton, linen, and washable silk, you need fabric softener, water, and towels, plus a couple of heavy household items to hold your clothing in place as it dries.

Steps to Unshrink Cotton Clothing

1. Fill a tub or sink with room temperature water and swirl in a capful of baby shampoo. Add the item you want to unshrink and let it soak for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

2. Slide your hands under the item to lift it, taking care not to stretch it out of shape. Gently press the fabric to squeeze out as much water as possible, but don’t wring it.

3. Lay it flat on a towel. Roll the towel lengthwise and press it on all sides to blot more water. Unroll it and lay it on a different flat towel.

4. Working one area at a time, use your hands to tug and smooth the item to its original shape. Once you’ve reshaped a section, weigh it down with a heavy jar or paperweight to hold it in place. (If you want, you can put a similar, unshrunken item of clothing on top of it to use as a guide.)

5. Let the item air dry, then it’s ready to wear.

Can I Use Baby Shampoo to Unshrink Clothes? Absolutely, and the directions don’t change. Why does baby shampoo work? Because clothes shrink when their fibers contract strongly, either due to washing or drying at hot temperatures. Baby shampoo, like fabric softener, helps the fibers relax so you can shape the item to its original size.

Can I Use Hair Conditioner to Unshrink Clothes? Yes, and the steps to unshrink your clothes don’t change.

Tips to Unshrink Clothes of Specific Fabrics

The method above will unshrink most clothes made of natural fibers. But here are a few more tips to unshrink specific fabrics.

How to Unshrink Rayon and Synthetic Fabrics

It’s easy to overstretch synthetics when they’re wet. To unshrink your polyester, rayon, or other synthetic fabric, find a similarly shaped item that hasn’t been shrunk. Then follow the basic method to unshrink clothes but use the second piece as a guide when you’re shaping it into place.

For example, here’s how you unshrink a shirt: when you get to the shaping step, stretch one arm from shoulder to cuff until the sleeve is the proper length. Add a weight to hold it in place. Repeat with the other arm. Then stretch from collar to hem until it’s the right length and finish by stretching the bottom hem to the right width.

How to Unshrink Denim Jeans and Denim Blends

The easiest way to unshrink jeans is to put them on and sit in a bathtub full of lukewarm water with a cap or two of hair conditioner added to the water. Pull them on as high as they go, soak for 5 minutes, and repeat until you can get them on all the way. (Take care not to slip in the tub.) Get out and blot your jeans with a towel, then do a few squats and walk for 10-15 minutes while the fibers relax into place. Remove your wet jeans and let them air dry, and they should fit perfectly again.

How to Unshrink Wool or Cashmere Sweaters

Unshrinking these fabrics takes more patience because heat toughens their fibers. So, you’ll want to use lukewarm water with the method above and start the reshaping process while they’re soaking in the warm water. If the fibers don’t relax easily after a 30-minute soak, add more fabric softener (or whatever substitute you’re using). Shape it again before you roll the item to blot it and repeat shaping after you unroll it, adding weights this time to keep it in place while it dries.

How to Stop Clothes from Shrinking

Do clothes shrink over time? Yes! You aren’t imagining things. Some fabrics, especially those made from natural fibers like cotton, will obviously shrink during the first couple of washes. But almost all clothing shrinks even more over time as washing and drying cause the fabric’s fibers to contract. You can use this method to unshrink clothes when that happens.

Can laundering clothes make them shrink? Yes, heat causes fabric fibers to shrink. So, the best way to keep clothes from shrinking is to wash them in cold water then line-dry or air-dry them. If you do use a dryer, choose a low heat setting and remove clothes while they’re still slightly damp, then let them finish air-drying. This extra step will keep the fibers from contracting and causing your clothes to shrink.

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