How to Unshrink Your Clothes

clothes on a line
Natural fabrics are more likely to shrink than man-made ones. 101cats/Getty Images


Ever pulled a garment out of the dryer that suddenly would better fit a lanky tween than a grown adult? It's happened to the best of us. There are some tricks to unshrinking that favorite piece, although sometimes it's but a temporary fix. Still, it might help you to squeeze out a few more wears!

Certain types of fabric, like cotton, wool or any kind of animal hair-based fabric, are more likely to shrink than others, according to textile expert Deborah Young. Rayon is another example. "People are always surprised by rayon because they think it's synthetic," she explains, noting that rayon is actually a cellulose, like cotton. "The more absorbent the fiber, the more it will shrink. Rayon is incredibly absorbent."

The type of garment and the way it was put together will also affect its shrinkage potential. "The looser the construction the more it will shrink. A bulky sweater will shrink more than a T-shirt," Young says. However, she notes that knits tend to shrink more than woolens, thanks to the air inside of the knit, which allows room for the piece to get more compact. Add heat and water to that and it's going to change the makeup of the garment in ways that are tricky to reverse.

So, if your favorite shirt fell victim to an accidental laundry mishap, can you unshrink it?

Young says you can try massaging a garment of any fabric back into peak condition by washing it with a mild soap (like a baby shampoo). Gently rinse out the water but don't wring out the garment. (Use a towel to get out more moisture.) "You can gently coax [the garment] to stretch out," she says, adding that this practice is probably best used on pieces you really care about because once it's washed normally, the item may shrink back up again and will need to be restretched.

T-shirts or other cotton items that have gone tiny can be stretched if you use this method from Cotton Incorporated:

  • Put 3 tablespoons of hair conditioner in a basin of warm water.
  • Add the shirt and let it soak for about five minutes.
  • Rinse and stretch the shirt out on a flat surface, like a countertop, until you reach the desired size.
  • Use cans or jars to hold the garment in place, and allow it to air dry.

Jeans often shrink in the dryer. One way to stretch them out is to spray some water on the tight areas and pull the fabric out in all directions. This will relax the denim. Let it air dry.

Of course, the easiest way to keep your clothes from shrinking is to launder them correctly. "Wool and rayon can be washed, but not in a washing machine," Young says. "Read the labels — it makes a difference."

Also, take shrink-prone clothes out of the dryer before they have a chance to completely dry out. Then, hang them up or lay them flat to finish air drying.