It’s a lazy laundry day as normal as any, until your heart sinks as you fold your go-to merino wool sweater and it’s a third of the size it was before the wash cycle. Or, maybe your spouse assumed laundry duty this week and accidentally put something in the dryer that wasn’t supposed to go in there. Perhaps you even got distracted and didn’t hear the timer go off.
Accidents happen, and we’ve all unfortunately had our fair share of clothing washing woes. There’s the classic "turning your white sheets pink from a leftover red sock," or "mistakenly taking the 'dry clean only' tag as a suggestion." We’d argue though, that shrinking your clothes takes the cake as one of the most frustrating things to happen in the laundry room (yes, worse than learning how to clean an iron, how to clean a dryer vent, or—gasp—how to clean a washing machine).
If you happen to find yourself in this situation and are frantically Googling “how to un-shrink a sweater,” not all hope is lost. Even if your favorite cashmere ends up looking like it belongs to your six-year-old niece after a wash or dry, don’t toss it or buy a new one. Dry your tears, because there’s a magical solution for stretching your best knitwear back to its former glory (even more magical than a laundry egg!). And it’s a safe bet you already have the sweater-saving tools on hand at home.
So, first thing's first—take a deep breath, and hold off on dumping that hoodie in the donation pile just yet. Try this simple trick to bring wool, cotton, cashmere, or any other natural fiber clothing item back to life. (That includes cotton T-shirts, many sweaters, and jeans, all of which you should be able to bring back to their original, stretched-out state—but note that you'll have less luck with material blends and synthetic fibers.)
Fill a sink with lukewarm water and a capful of baby or hair conditioner.
If you're unshrinking a wool sweater, you may need more conditioner—about 1/3 of a cup. You can also use a gentle wool wash like Eucalan or Woolite for delicates.
Add the sweater and let it soak for 10 minutes.
This will relax the clothing's fibers.
Drain the sink of water.
Leave the clothing item inside the sink during this step. Once it's fully drained, gently squeeze the garment, removing excess water. Do not rinse it with clean water or wring it dry.
Place a bath towel on a flat surface and lay the sweater over it.
Roll the towel up, with the clothing in it, to absorb more water. The garment should be damp, but not wet.
Place the sweater on a fresh, dry towel.
Gently stretch the sweater to its original shape while it's still damp. Keep it flat until it dries, preferably on a drying rack. Voilà!
Can I unshrink wool and other clothing items?
Wondering how to unshrink wool socks, or maybe even your favorite merino wool throw? The same process holds true—you'll just need to adjust your water and conditioner ratio accordingly. For smaller apparel items, including wool hats, use about a dime size of conditioner. As for a larger piece of knitwear, depending on the size, consider moving to the bathtub for more room. According to Wool Me, you can also toss in a bit of mild detergent to help freshen up the fabric.
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