Honey, I Shrunk The Clothes! How To Save Laundry After A Sad Dryer Mishap

Mistakes happen, so here’s how to fix them.

by Becky Bracken
Originally Published: 
How to Unshrink Clothes

Welp, you’ve done it again. That cashmere sweater that hit perfectly right under the beltline has been shrunk in the dryer to American Girl doll proportions. Those 501 jeans that hugged your rearview in all the right spots? After a few too many cycles in the dryer, they’ve left you in straight Steve Urkel territory — and you deserve better. We know these things can happen at home. That’s precisely why we rounded up a few pro tips for how to unshrink clothes.

By this point in your life, you’ve probably figured out that it’s all about the fibers, baby. Synthetic fabrics don’t shrink much at all, while natural fibers (like cotton, wool, silk, and linen) shrink the most in the wash, retracting like a scared turtle’s head when exposed to high temperatures. Why? Well, synthetic fibers are made of petroleum-based chemical chains, and the washing machine doesn’t get hot enough to alter their molecular structure. Natural fibers must be stretched, twisted, and pulled to make usable fabric — this creates tension on the molecular level. Washing them in hot water or tumbling them in a scorching dryer can have entirely catastrophic effects, causing them to shrink down to their teeniest, tiniest size.

Whirlpool, which is pretty much the expert on clothes washing tips to prevent shrinkage, says it’s vital to wash on a gentle cycle and follow the recommended water temperature for washing. “If you only remember one rule about how to avoid shrinking clothes, remember this: keep it cool,” Whirlpool cautions. “Clothes are much more likely to shrink when exposed to hot water or high dryer settings.”

The company adds that cold water might not prevent every bit of shrinking but will help maintain the garment’s general size. “Also, try to avoid using heavy-duty cycles or fast spins with fabric that’s prone to shrinkage,” Whirlpool recommends. “Use delicate cycles instead, and put very delicate clothes in mesh laundry bags for increased protection. When it comes to drying, consider a ‘low heat’ or ‘air dry’ setting.'”

Preventative shrink measures aside, sometimes these things happen. Like, you know, when a partner with no clue throws everything in the washer on high. Or how about that time you meant to pull your jeans out after a few minutes, but you forgot? We’ve got you. Keep reading for intel on how to reverse laundry room shrinkage.

How to Unshrink Clothes Made Out of Cotton

Good news! This is a simple one since cotton is easy to stretch. Fill up a bowl or sink with lukewarm water and a couple of tablespoons of baby shampoo or conditioner. Place the shrunken garment in the basin and let soak for 30 minutes to loosen up the fibers. Rinse, then flatten out the garment on top of an absorbent towel, rolling it up to remove as much water as possible. Finally, carefully stretch the piece of clothing back out to size and let it air dry.

How to Unshrink Polyester

You can even unshrink synthetic fibers! Polyester and rayon can be turned back into its original shape in the same way you’d unshrink cotton. Take a tablespoon of conditioner and let it soak in a basin of warm water. Let it sit for about 30 to 45 minutes. Then gently pull and stretch the fabric to its original size.

How to Unshrink Clothes Made Out of Cashmere

If you’re lucky enough to own a cashmere garment with a “c” and not a “k,” you may be wondering how to unshrink a sweater. You have the option to repeat the same steps as with cotton, or you could use a tip from stylist David Zyla.

“Dampen the top half of the sweater using cold water in a spray bottle and place it flat on a towel,” Zyla told Reader’s Digest. “Then, stretch the shoulders out wide and place a book covered in plastic or a towel to hold each one out as wide as possible. Leave it like this overnight in a cool spot and let it dry thoroughly. Then, try the sweater on. As most knits stretch out over time, you may find the fit now better than ever before. If the body still feels a bit snug, repeat the process of dampening and stretching each side with two books on each side, being mindful that each side is stretched the same amount. By the next day, your favorite sweater will be back in your wardrobe!”

How to Unshrink Clothes Made Out of Denim

Stretching out jeans is no sweat. The trick is to get them damp, then slide them on your body to stretch into shape before they dry. If you need to unshrink your jeans by just a bit, a squirt bottle full of water might suffice to dampen the jeans enough to get them on and stretch them to size. You can even just pull them on and take a bath wearing your jeans to get them wet enough to give you some room!

If you need more help, soak the jeans in baby shampoo or conditioner to really loosen up the denim fibers. After letting them soak for a bit, wring out as much water as you can with a towel and pull those babies on to stretch to size.

How to Unshrink Clothes: Q & A

Does ironing unshrink clothes?

Irons can do more than press crushed clothes — they can also be a big help when stretching out shrunken fabric. The weight and heat of the metal can pull and stretch the fibers and help restore them to their original state. When ironing, use the steam setting to loosen the fabric or spray the item with water before pressing it.

Does drying on low heat shrink clothes?

Putting your clothes in the dryer on low heat doesn’t automatically save them from shrinking. It’s the heat that causes the shrinkage, but each washing machine is different. Some may have more intense heat settings than others. So, if you need to dry your clothes in a hurry, try splitting the time. Put it in the dryer for a little while and then take it out to air dry. It might cut your chances of shrinkage.

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