How to Unshrink Sweaters and Save Your Favorite Clothes

updated Dec 19, 2023
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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.

Quick Overview

How to Unshrink a Sweater

To unshrink a sweater, create a mixture of water and fabric softener, baby shampoo, or hair conditioner in a bucket to soak your sweater in for at least 20 minutes. Drain the liquid, then lay the sweater on a towel and roll together to gently get out any moisture. Stretch out the sweater carefully over a corkboard and pin it. Let it rest for an hour, then unpin, re-stretch, and pin again. Repeat as needed until it is stretched out.

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.

Any sweaters made of natural fibers such as wool, mohair, or cashmere will need to be checked for felting. “When the fibers are subjected to a mixture of moisture, heat, and agitation, the scales lock together like Velcro,” shares Pamela Keeling Schultz of Fiber Sprite. You can see how much a sweater has felted by seeing how easily the fibers stretch apart. If there’s still some stretch, you can try unshrinking your sweater. Schultz likes to use Unicorn Fibre Rinse instead of conditioner or fabric softener in the unshrinking process outlined below.

Credit: Tetra Images/Getty Images

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?

Follow the steps below to unshrink a sweater.

Step 1: Combine water with fabric softener, baby shampoo, or hair conditioner.

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: Soak your sweater in the mixture.

Let your sweater soak in the water mixture for at least 20 minutes or up to two hours.

Step 3: Drain the liquid.

Drain the liquid, but don’t rinse the sweater. Gently squeeze out extra moisture, but don’t wring.

Step 4: Get moisture out of the sweater.

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: Carefully stretch out the sweater.

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: Let it rest, then re-stretch it.

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.