What to do if you’ve shrunk clothes – this two ingredient hack even works on wool

Bring shrunken clothes back from the brink with this reliable laundry hack

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Shrinking clothes is a rite of passage for anyone who does laundry at home.

Even if you know how to do laundry, accidents happen. Whether you forgot to separate a prized woolen from your laundry pile before washing, or turned the washer or dryer up too high, it only takes a single cycle to misshape your clothes. 

But what can you do to rescue them, if anything? Here, experts have offered their advice to save your shrunken clothes, using a viral hack that uses just two ingredients. 

Two ingredient hack to unshrink clothes

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(Image credit: Aimee Mazzenga)

If you forgot to use the delicate setting on a tumble dryer, or washed your clothing on too high a heat, using warm water and conditioner can help to resize your clothes and relax the fibers.  

Shopping List

1. Soak the garment in a clean sink 

When trying to resize precious garments, it is important to create the right conditions by first cleaning your kitchen sink or utility room sink to ensure the freshly washed garment doesn't need to go back into the laundry after stretching. Once clean, you can begin the process. 

‘Start by filling up your clean bathtub or sink with warm water and add either specialized wool shampoo, high-quality hair conditioner, or a gentle detergent,’ begins Lorna Meikle, ladieswear buyer at House of Bruar

Once they are combined, add the shrunken garment and allow it to sit and soak for around 20 minutes. This will help the clothing fibers relax ready for stretching without breaking,’ she explains.  

2. Drain the water before pressing the garment  

Once you have allowed the garment to soak, it is time to drain the water away. ‘Remove the drain stopper so that the water can drain, but leave your item in place,’ warns Lorna. This helps to prevent pulling or wringing the fibers and misshaping the garment any further.

‘Gently press straight down on the material to extract any excess water, allowing it to drain away, and pat with a dry towel,’ Lorna continues. ‘Now you can begin to stretch your garment into its original shape while it’s still damp.’ 

To stretch the garment back to its original form, lay it down on a flat, clean surface such as a kitchen island or table and start to push the garment outwards in opposite directions with your hands. Try to avoid pulling vigorously on the edges of the garment as this can lead to uneven edges. Rather, apply equal pressure to either side of the piece, always on opposite sides at the same time, to encourage the garment to stretch naturally.  

3. Air-dry the garment  

Once it has reached a size you are happier with, remember it is something you should not put in a tumble dryer, Lorna explains. ‘Leave it to air dry and return periodically to keep stretching the garment,’ she says. You may need to gently weigh the item down with something flat and heavy to prevent the garment from immediately returning to its shrunken form. 

‘Once it’s nearly completely dry, then you can transfer it to a drying rack to let it fully dry out,’ Lorna adds. It is best to keep the garment laying flat at this point – especially if it is made from a heavier fabric such as wool, to prevent it from misshaping. 

Although there are plenty of hacks out there to dry clothes quickly, allowing a freshly stretched garment to dry slowly and naturally gives you the best shot at returning it to its former size.  

Why clothes shrink

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(Image credit: Marloe Interiors)

There is a multitude of reasons why clothes shrink. From incorrect washing temperatures and tumble drying items that should be left to air dry, to too harsh a laundry cycle with the wrong products. 

Clothes and household linens shrink as the material fibers become agitated and distorted, causing them to lose their shape and either physically contract to make the strand smaller, or tighten around one another and compress. This is especially true of natural fibers such as wool, mohair, cotton, and silk but it can happen to any garment.

Although it is normal for all garments to lose a little bit of size or shape in the wash, especially if they have not been treated with pre-wash, any shrinkage that drastically alters the wearability is considered an issue. 

How to prevent shrinking clothes in the laundry

A traditional wooden airer mounted from the ceiling in a white laundry room with black painted cabinets.

(Image credit: Martin Moore/Darren Chung)

Of all the laundry lessons that are important to keep tabs on, understanding how to avoid shrinking clothes should be at the top of the list as reshaping them is often more hassle than stopping to read the care labels. 

‘From choosing the right temperature to assessing the speed, knowing how the different settings on your washing machine work are really important, especially if you want your wardrobe to last as long as possible. Picking the right water temperature for each cycle will prevent your clothes from shrinking, stretching, or fading. It really is as simple as following the informative laundry symbols on your clothes!’ says Rebecca Wright, Product Technologist at clothing store M&S 

If you are overly concerned about your clothes shrinking, then consider washing clothes in cold water for peace of mind. ‘Be sure to sort your clothes before starting your wash, to ensure a decent lifespan on your load. Though it’s true that having hotter water essentially means cleaner clothes, it doesn’t mean you should dial up the heat for every wash. If you do, you’ll likely end up with clothes you can no longer wear due to shrinkage and misshaping,’ Rebecca explains. 

If you are a diehard dryer user, then understanding a tumble dryer temperature guide, and knowing which materials are an absolute no-go for high heat can also help to prevent any disappointments when it comes to laundry.  

Can you shrink clothes that have already been washed?

Even if you have previously washed clothes, it is possible for them to start shrinking if you wash them incorrectly in the future. Make sure to always adhere to the care tag on your garment or household linens to ensure they are washed on the correct setting and dried properly to prevent shrinking.  

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.