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How to Unshrink Sweaters and Save Your Favorite Clothes

updated Oct 27, 2022
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A bunch of light-colored sweaters draped over the top of a piece of furniture. White wall in background.
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It’s happened to all of us: the incredulous dread when you see the smidge of fabric of your favorite wool sweater or the cashmere cardigan you got for Christmas peeking, wet and bedraggled, through the tangle of wet clothes in the washer. Don’t pass it down to your 5-year-old niece just yet — there might be hope for unshrinking your sweater with a few simple household items.

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How To Unshrink A Sweater

Can I unshrink my sweater?

Before going through the entire roller coaster of emotions (the shrunken sweater, the spark of hope, the work of trying to unshrink it, the waiting, and then the disappointment of it not working), examine your sweater to see if there’s any actual possibility of unshrinking it.

If your sweater is wool, mohair, cashmere, or made of another type of natural yarn, check to see if it has felted. You cannot unshrink fully felted fabric. As The Empress of Dirt describes, you can tell if the wool has felted by examining whether you are able to see the individual fibers (not felted) and testing to see if there is any stretch left if you pull a small section in opposite directions (fully felted fabric won’t stretch).

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What do I need to unshrink my sweater?

Once you’ve determined that there’s a possibility of successfully unshrinking your sweater, it’s time to gather the tools you’ll need to do the job:

  • A corkboard or foam board (about as big as your sweater)
  • Liquid fabric softener, baby shampoo, or hair conditioner
  • A white, fluffy towel
  • A salad spinner (optional)
  • Stainless steel T-pins
  • A bucket or large sink for soaking

How do I unshrink my sweater?

Step 1: Fill the bucket with lukewarm water and add two tablespoons of fabric softener, baby shampoo, or hair conditioner. This will soften the fibers of your sweater, preparing them for stretching.

Step 2: Let your sweater soak in the water mixture for at least 20 minutes but up to two hours.

Step 3: Drain the liquid, but DO NOT rinse the sweater. Gently squeeze out extra moisture, but don’t wring.

Step 4: Lay the sweater flat on the towel, and roll the towel and sweater into a roll to get out even more moisture. You can also use a salad spinner either before or after this step to dry the sweater even further.

Step 5: Lay your sweater on top of the corkboard. Stretch it out as much as you can — gently — and pin it in place. Pay special attention so that you don’t rip any seams by pulling too tightly or in the wrong direction.

Step 6: Go back after about an hour, stretch your sweater a bit more, and re-pin. Repeat this several times or until you can’t stretch it anymore.

What kinds of clothes can I unshrink?

The process just described works best on any kind of natural fiber, including wool, cashmere, and cotton (provided it’s not felted). Blends and synthetic fibers will likely not respond as well to efforts to unshrink them.

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