This Is How You Can Shrink a Sweater, According to Laundry Pros

published Aug 29, 2023
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Brightly coloured random wool sweaters hung up in a closet
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Have you ever had a sweater that you absolutely loved, but after a while, it just started to sag or loosen? It’s a common problem, says Rick Rome, CEO and founder of WashClub, an on-demand laundry and dry-cleaning service.

Quick Overview

How to Shrink a Sweater

Shrinking a sweater is possible with heat and water, as long as you follow the right steps for each fabric type, which will all react differently. Read on for a guide on the best way to shrink a sweater — including directions for wool, cotton, acrylic, cashmere, and polyester sweaters.

“There are a couple of reasons someone might want to shrink a sweater — the biggest being shape and fit,” Rome says. “Over time, sweaters — especially those made of wool, cotton, or cashmere — can stretch out and lose their shape, but shrinking the sweater can help restore its original fit.”

But how exactly do you shrink a sweater that’s lost its style — especially when everything these days is made of so many different fabrics? Here’s what you need to do, broken down by each type of material.

How to Shrink a Sweater

Typically, you’ll use heat and water to shrink a sweater. But keep in mind that every type of fabric reacts differently, and some might not shrink at all no matter what you try. If you can, test the shrinking method on a small part of the sweater first.

“Different fabrics and weaves react differently, and it’s good to have an understanding of how the particular sweater you’re working on will respond,” says Ivor Boyd, managing director of Logans Fashions, Northern Ireland’s oldest department store.

He also suggests checking the care label of your garment before beginning, so you don’t accidentally destroy the fabric.

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How to Shrink a Wool Sweater

As many people who had laundry mishaps in college know, wool sweaters are among the easiest things to shrink. Sometimes all it takes is one regular cycle and then poof — a doll sweater. Because the fabric is so sensitive to heat, you’ll want to use warm water to wash it and medium heat to dry it.

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How to Shrink a Cotton Sweater

Cotton can handle higher temperatures than wool, so heat that sweater. Use a short cycle with high heat and then put it in to dry with high heat as well. If you need to shrink it more, repeat the process. Keep in mind, though, that too much heat can shrink a cotton sweater too much, so just be cautious.

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How to Shrink an Acrylic Sweater

Acrylic sweaters will shrink, but it might not happen uniformly. Wash it in warm water and then dry it on medium heat. Have a look when it’s finished and repeat the process as needed. With acrylics especially, you may just need to buy a new sweater, as the shrinkage might not be even.

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How to Shrink a Cashmere Sweater

Cashmere is a pretty delicate fabric and requires careful handling. So you’ll want to take extra care when trying to shrink it, Rome and Boyd say. First, skip the washing machine — you’ll want to do this one by hand. Soak it inside-out for about 15 minutes in a tub or sink with warm water and either a gentle detergent or some baby shampoo. If the water is too hot, it can damage the sweater, so be sure it’s not burning your hand. After the soaking, gently shake it up. Afterward, you’ve got a couple of options. Rome suggests putting the sweater on a towel to absorb excess water and then popping it into the dryer on medium heat until it’s dry. Boyd says to rinse it with cold water and lay it flat to dry.

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How to Shrink a Polyester Sweater

Sadly, Boyd and Rome both note that polyester sweaters are unlikely to shrink because it’s a synthetic material. You can try the steps to shrink wool — washing it in hot water and drying it on the hottest setting — but you might not see any results at all.

Remember, shrinking a sweater can be difficult. If you feel like you may need some extra help, it’s worth considering taking it to a local dry cleaner to see what they can do. They may even be able to tailor it back into shape.