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Can You Unshrink Clothes? (simple steps for success)

I gave all my boys pyjamas for Christmas this year. Unfortunately, they all shrunk and now the pyjama bottoms only reach mid-shin. It’s a shame because I spent quite a long time online picking out styles that I thought would be both fun to wear and comfortable.

So I am reluctant to send them back. I would much rather attempt to stretch them back to size.

I wash all my laundry in cold water with an Ecoegg. I don’t think it was the washing phase that shrunk them. I suspect it was the tumble dryer that did all the shrinking. I usually like to line dry my laundry but the weather has been so cold and wet lately it is impossible to do that.

So my question today is, can you unshrink clothes? Will I have to resort to sending back the pyjamas that my boys love just because they no longer fit?

I’ve done my research and run my own tests, and I have concluded that the answer is yes, you can unshrink clothes! If you don’t have time to read to the end of this post, here is the quick solution.

Clothes that have shrunk in the washing machine or the tumble dryer can be relaxed and stretched out to their original size by soaking them in water mixed with baby shampoo, hair conditioner or fabric softener. After soaking, wring out and then start to stretch the material until you reach the desired size. Lay the item out flat on a dry towel and then leave it to dry naturally.

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Why do clothes shrink?

Whether an item of clothing is liable to shrink or not depends on what it is made of and the quality of the fabric.

Wool tends to ‘felt’ when it is washed at the wrong temperature or it is agitated too much in the washing machine. That is why there is often a special hand wash cycle for woollens.

The fibres present in cotton, linen and synthetics can ‘relax’ when they get wet causing shrinkage when they dry.

Other ways that clothing can shrink is by excessive movement in a washing drum or due to the heat in a tumble dryer. The tension within the fibres is loosened and the original shape is lost.

Fortunately, there are ways to unshrink clothes that have changed shape through washing and/or drying.

Let’s look at what can be done.

How to unshrink clothes after drying using fabric softener, hair conditioner or baby shampoo

If your clothing has already dried and you have found that it has shrunk in size, all is not lost.

Whether you used a tumble dryer or your clothing dried naturally it does not matter. All you need to unshrink your clothing is one of three items, either fabric conditioner, hair conditioner, or baby shampoo.

I have found that baby shampoo works great for unshrinking clothing, but if you don’t have that available you can use fabric softener or hair conditioner instead.

Let’s start with some general directions for unshrinking your clothing. For specific directions for the type of clothing and fabric read further down in this post.

In my example, I will be unshrinking the pyjamas that I bought for my son for Christmas. Here is my son wearing his new pyjamas. They are now about 4inches too short in the leg length after only one wash!

Pyjama bottoms before unshrinking
Pyjama bottoms before unshrinking

Step 1 – Measure

Get out your tape measure and measure the areas that you want to be stretched. In my case, I need the legs of the pyjamas lengthened. Currently, they stand at 26inches so they will need to stretch to 30inches.

Pyjamas with a tape measure
Pyjamas with a tape measure

Step 2 – Soak the clothing

Garment soaking in water and baby shampoo
Garment soaking in water and baby shampoo
  1. Fill a sink or bath with warm water.
  2. Add a couple of tablespoons of fabric softener, hair conditioner or baby shampoo to the water.
  3. Let the garment sit in the solution for thirty minutes. You may wish to agitate during that time but it isn’t necessary.

Step 3 – Remove excess water

Pyjamas rolled up in a towel
Pyjamas rolled up in a towel
  1. Remove the clothing from the water (don’t rinse).
  2. Wring the item out with your hands.
  3. Lay the item on a large clean bath towel and roll it up to absorb excess water. Repeat with another dry towel.

Step 4 – Stretch into shape

  1. Lay the item out on another large dry bath towel.
  2. Begin gently stretching the item on all sides until you reach the desired size. Be careful not to overstretch the item especially if the garment is made from wool or polyester.

I was actually pretty amazed that I managed to stretch the leg of these pyjamas a full four inches!

Pyjamas after unshrinking
Pyjamas after unshrinking

Step 5 – Leave to dry naturally

Pin the edges of the garment to the towel or put a heavy item on it. I find some tinned food cans do a great job. This stops the garment from shrinking back as it dries.

The result

Here is my son wearing the unshrunk pyjama bottoms. He was very pleased that they now fit properly!

Pyjama bottoms after unshrinking
Pyjama bottoms after unshrinking

Related reading:

How To Wash Clothes Without Soap

How to unshrink linen and cotton

Cotton and linen clothing can be unshrunk using baby shampoo or hair conditioner. My personal favourite is baby shampoo because I love the smell!

Jeans often have a synthetic type of fibre mixed in so that they stretch to fit, which means they require different treatment from garments made with 100% cotton.

If you have jeans to unshrink, check out this post – How To Unshrink Jeans.

Directions for unshrinking linen and cotton:

  1. Fill a sink or bath with warm water.
  2. Add a couple of tablespoons of baby shampoo or hair conditioner to the water.
  3. Let the garment sit in the water for thirty minutes.
  4. Wring the item out.
  5. Roll the item up in a large clean towel and repeat with another dry towel.
  6. Lay the item out.
  7. Begin gently stretching the item on all sides until you reach the desired size.
  8. Pin the edges of the garment to the towel or put a heavy item on it. This stops the garment from shrinking back as it dries.
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How to unshrink polyester

polyester sweater
Polyester sweaters

Polyester is a synthetic fibre made from polymers derived from coal or petroleum. Despite its non-organic composition, it is quite delicate. You can easily overstretch a polyester jumper and it will lose its original structure.

Directions for unshrinking polyester:

  1. Fill a sink with warm water.
  2. Add a tablespoon of baby shampoo to the water.
  3. Add the item.
  4. Let the garment sit for twenty minutes.
  5. While still wet begin to very gently stretch the item. Make sure you avoid stretching too much in one area.
  6. Lay the item out on a flat surface. Pin down the edges or put on a heavy object so that the garment does not shrink back as it dries.

How to prevent your polyester sweater from shrinking

The number one thing you can do to stop your polyester sweater from shrinking is to avoid using the tumble dryer. Fortunately, this type of fibre tends to dry very quickly, so a dryer isn’t usually needed anyway. If you are going to use a dryer, select the low heat or no heat setting. For air drying, the best drying position is flat so that the garment doesn’t stretch in the wrong places.

How to unshrink wool

woollen sweaters and balls of wool
Woollen sweaters and balls of wool

Clothing made from animal fibres such as wool tends to ‘felt’ when washed at warmer temperatures. Felting happens when the fibres clump together and it makes the item shrink in size, often to the point of being useless.

However, there are ways to bring your woollen garment back to a usable state.

How to unshrink a wool jumper:

  1. Fill your sink, bath or bucket with slightly warm water.
  2. Add two tablespoons of distilled white vinegar to the wash.
  3. Add the woollen items.
  4. Allow the item to sit in the water for thirty minutes.
  5. After thirty minutes take out the clothing and gently squeeze out the water.
  6. Stuff the item with clean dry towels. Then begin to reshape the item into the desired shape taking care not to overstretch it.
  7. Leave the item to dry for a little while.
  8. Remove the towels and continue drying flat until fully dry.

How to prevent woollen clothing from shrinking

The labels on woollen clothing usually advise you to hand wash or use the hand wash cycle on your washing machine.

For washing woollen items, choose a gentle soap specifically made for hand washing. My favourite is Woolite. My mum used it years ago for hand washing clothing and I still use it today because it is so gentle and effective.

The great thing about Woolite is that you can also use it in your washing machine.

When I wash my wool jumpers in the machine I like to choose a cold wash temperature. At the end of the cycle, I lay the item out flat to dry so that it retains its shape and doesn’t stretch in unwanted places. When I do this my woollen jumpers never shrink, so I must be doing something right!

How to unshrink baby clothes

If you are wondering, can you unshrink baby clothes? The answer is yes. You can unshrink them in the same way that you would unshrink adult clothes.

Fill a sink up with warm water and add a tablespoon of baby shampoo. Leave the clothes to soak for half an hour, then wring out the excess water and start stretching out the fabric gently evenly all around the garment. Dry flat and put some heavy objects on the edges to stop the fabric from shrinking back as it dries.

Going forward, try to avoid using the tumble dryer and wash at a lower temperature.

If you are seeing that stains don’t come out so well at low temperatures, here’s a tip I find works well:

For better stain removal at lower temperatures, reduce the amount of clothing in your wash and switch to a longer, more intensive cycle.

How to prevent clothes from shrinking

There are several things that I like to do to stop items from shrinking in the washing machine and tumble dryer.

1. Always check the label

Check the label and always use the advised cycle and temperature. This is especially important for items that need to be hand washed like woollens. You can still use your washing machine for hand washing. Just make sure you select the hand wash/woollens cycle.

2. Avoid using the tumble dryer

Tumble dryers are the worst for shrinking clothing! Air drying is much better for avoiding shrinkage. If you have to use a tumble dryer, make sure that you don’t overdry. The more heat you apply the more likely it is that shrinkage can occur.

If you can put your clothes outside to dry, hang your jeans from the bottom rather than the waist. That way they dry quicker and the weight helps to lengthen the legs.

3. Use a cold washing temperature

If in doubt always select cold. That way your clothing has the best chance of survival in the wash.

Almost all my washing is now done in cold water. The only washing load I need some heat for are the microfiber cloths and tea towels. Everything else washes on cold just fine.

If you have issues with staining reduce the amount of washing in the drum and switch to a more intensive cycle.

4. Freshen up instead

If your clothes don’t get particularly dirty, consider freshening them up instead. Fibres that don’t get completely wet don’t swell up so much which means they won’t contract as much as they dry causing shrinkage.

Jeans are a good candidate for freshening up instead of a full wash because it prevents the jeans from fading and the chance of shrinkage is much less.

To freshen up clothing:

  1. Make up a spray bottle of distilled white vinegar and a few drops of your favourite essential oil.
  2. Spray the item.
  3. Let it dry naturally or put it in the tumble dryer for a few minutes.

The vinegar has a deodorizing effect, but don’t worry, the vinegar smell should dissipate fairly quickly.

If your washing machine has a ‘steam refresh’ option use that instead.

If your jeans have already shrunk, here is my handy guide on how to unshrink your jeans.

Related reading:

Frequently asked questions

Can you unshrink a linen shirt?

Linen, along with cotton silk and wool are natural fabrics that usually respond well to unshrinking. After soaking in some warm water and a tablespoon of baby shampoo or hair conditioner for thirty minutes, gently wring out the item. A great way to remove excess water is to roll the item up in a towel. When you have removed the excess water start gently pulling the item into shape. When you have the item at the size you want, dry it flat and put some heavy objects on it to stop it shrinking back as it dries.

Does fleece shrink?

I don’t find that fleece shrinks. It can lose its softness over time but it doesn’t tend to shrink. Fleece is best dried naturally. The dryer can damage the fibres and eventually cause them to lose softness.

Is it possible to unshrink clothes?

Yes, it is! Different types of material work the best. Generally, cotton is easily relaxed and stretched. Relaxing is best done after soaking it in baby shampoo or hair conditioner for a minimum of thirty minutes. Then gently wring out the item and begin stretching it carefully and evenly in all directions.

Should I throw away my shrunken clothes?

Depending on what they are made of you should be able to salvage your shrunken clothing and avoid the bin. Soak a shrunken item in some diluted baby shampoo for half an hour. Wring out the excess water and then lay the item out on a large towel. Begin gently pulling the item in different directions making sure to retain the shape. Avoid pulling the material in one direction for too long. It is best to gradually work your way around the garment so that the material can be relaxed and pulled out evenly.

This article and its contents are owned by sparklingpenny.com and was first published on 17 January 2022.
Do you struggle to keep your home hair and odor-free with a dog in the house?
Find out how to achieve a hair-free and fragrant home 24/7 even when you have a smelly dog that drops hair constantly. All you need is a few minutes a day!

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Penny | SparklingPenny

Hi, I'm Penny. A busy mum of two boys and one dog, with the aim to enjoy life to the full.