Guide to Shrinking and Stretching Clothes

Pulling a garment out of the dryer only to find that it shrunk or stretched is heartbreaking, especially if it was one of your favorite pieces. But why do clothes shrink and stretch? And is there anything you can do to fix them? Fortunately, there may be solutions for bringing your damaged clothing back to life and preventing problems from happening in the first place. Learn about why this happens, how to prevent it and even how to reverse it in this guide to shrinking and stretching clothes.

Why Do Clothes Shrink?

Shrunken clothes can become a size or two smaller in certain conditions. Two things can make your pieces shrink — their fabric and how you launder them. Various factors have different effects, like:


  • Natural fabrics: Natural fibers like bamboo, cotton or wool are more likely to shrink than synthetic alternatives. That's because these materials can have microscopic scales on their surfaces that snag on each other and cause fabric to scrunch. Synthetic materials are smoother and aren't as likely to catch and tighten together.
  • Agitation: To launder clothes, your washing machine puts them through a lot of spinning and agitating. That makes the fibers scrunch together, shrinking the overall size of your garment. Natural materials, like wool, can even become felted with water and agitation, ruining your clothing's size and appearance.
  • Loosely woven fabric: When fabric has a loose weave, there's space between the fibers to shrink down. Certain conditions, like agitation, will force the loose fibers together, creating a smaller garment that may also become misshapen.


How to Keep Clothes From Shrinking

Sometimes, you can tell that laundering or caring for a garment the wrong way will cause it to shrink. Even if you're unsure how the clothing will behave, take steps to know how to keep clothes from shrinking. You'll save your wardrobe in the long run if you follow these clothing care tips:


  • Read the tags: Before you launder your clothes, you should always read the tag for washing and drying directions. Follow those recommendations as directed, whether they say to dry-clean, wash in cold temperatures or avoid tumble drying. Your clothing may also say to hand-wash only, which you should especially follow to preserve garments.
  • Air dry: Even if a garment says it could go through the dryer, consider air drying it. Lay it flat and give it time to dry instead of subjecting it to high heat and tumbling in the dryer. The agitation of the dryer could cause garments to shrink, and air drying can help pieces maintain their shape. If your clothes are too wet, consider laying a piece flat on a dry, clean cotton towel and rolling it up. Unroll it and lay the garment flat to air dry.
  • Choose preshrunk materials: When you're shopping for clothes and find something made of natural fibers, try to pick items that say "preshrunk." Manufacturers shrink these materials before you buy the garments. That can prevent shrinking or ensure garments shrink less when you wash them over time, saving you from future heartbreak.
  • Choose synthetic blends: Natural materials like cotton and wool absorb more water, so they're prone to shrinkage if you machine dry them longer. The scales on these fibers also leave them vulnerable to shrinkage. Synthetic materials like acrylic, nylon and polyester have smoother fibers, and they don't absorb as much water, meaning they dry quicker.
  • Use a gentle cycle: The gentle or delicate cycle on your washing machine agitates clothes less than a normal wash cycle. There's likely less spinning, and any spinning your machine does could be slower than normal cycles.
  • Consider hand-washing: Hand-washing your clothes puts them through less agitation than the washing machine does, even on a gentle setting. Whether the tag says to do this or not, you could consider hand-washing your clothes to help maintain their appearance. Be sure not to wring them out or wash them too aggressively.
  • Try fabric conditioner: Fabric conditioner coats your clothes' fibers to make them fluid during the washing process. That protects the material from friction caused by agitation in the washing machine.
  • Buy a size up: Depending on the fabric in garments you want to buy, you might consider sizing up. You don't want to wash your clothes once before wearing them only to find you shrunk the garments and can't wear them.


How to Save Shrunken Clothes

If you've accidentally shrunk one of your items of clothing, it doesn't have to be the last time you wear it. To save shrunken clothes, avoid putting the garment in the dryer if you notice it shrunk in the wash. The heat from the dryer may make the shrunken effect permanent, but you don't have to give up hope if your clothes shrunk in the dryer. Use steps to unshrink clothes and try to save your garments. It's important to note that every article of clothing and material is different, so be careful when you try these tips and work based on the material:


  • Wool: Rewash and reshape the sweater by laying it out flat and coaxing the material to stretch as you set it to dry. Soak the garment in a mix of baby shampoo, fabric softener and cool water for about 30 minutes. When you take the garment out, squeeze the excess solution out and don't rinse it. Lay the piece flat on a clean, dry cotton towel and roll it up to absorb more of the solution. Unroll it and lay it out flat. You can pin it in place on a flat cork board using pins, selecting a material like stainless steel that won't rust. If you can't risk getting pinholes in your clothing, lay it flat on a rack and check on it and pull it as it dries.
  • Woven cotton or linens: Press clothes made of these materials carefully with a hot iron. The heat and pressure from the iron may help the fibers loosen again, and you can try to reshape the fabric. If the garment is a bit delicate, lay a clean cotton towel over it before you iron for a layer of protection.


Why Do Clothes Stretch?

Putting on a stretched out garment doesn't feel very stylish. The neckline of your tops or sweaters may not fall where it's supposed to, and your jeans lose their flattering, figure-hugging look. So why do clothes stretch? Your garments could lose their shapes for different reasons, including:


  • Wear: When you put on your clothes, especially more fitted pieces or fabrics, they'll stretch over your body initially. They continue to stretch as you wear pieces and move around in them.
  • Heat: Heat, whether from the dryer or the washing machine, can cause the fibers in a garment to relax, creating a stretched look. If you wash or dry clothes the wrong way with warm or high settings, you may find they lose their shape.
  • Loosely woven fabric: Loose-weave fabrics may shrink more than tighter weaves, but they can also stretch more since the fibers aren't as secure. Wear, heat and improper care will take fibers that aren't woven close together and stretch them more.


How to Keep Clothes From Stretching

To maintain the sleek and stylish look of your garments, learn how to keep clothes from stretching. Remember to read the tags and follow these additional tips for keeping your clothes from stretching:


  • Lay clothes flat to dry: If you do air dry clothing, try to avoid hanging it on a line, especially if it's a heavier piece. Sweaters and other heavy garments often say to lay flat to dry. Get a clothes drying rack with enough room to lay the clothing flat and let air circulate around it to dry.
  • Launder clothes regularly: If you've worn a pair of jeans a few times without washing them, you might have noticed they felt larger by the last wear. That's because every time you put on clothes and move around in them all day, the fibers relax as you wear them. The garment then feels larger until you wash and dry it as directed.
  • Wash in cool or warm water: When you can avoid using hot water to launder your clothes, be sure to do so. Cold water can't prevent stretching entirely, but it can be better for your fabrics than the hottest temperature.
  • Dry in low heat: Since high heat could be damaging from the washer, it makes sense that it can also cause problems for clothes in your dryer. While drying clothes on low heat isn't a guaranteed way to avoid stretching, it can help.
  • Choose synthetic fibers: Just as synthetic materials can help prevent shrinking, they may stop stretching, too. Synthetic fibers absorb less water and are more heat resistant. As a result, they can be less likely to stretch, so find pieces in all synthetic materials or ones that combine natural and synthetic fabrics.
  • Store clothes correctly: Washing your clothes the right way isn't the only way to prevent them from shrinking. You should also store them properly. Choose the right size hanger for the garment if it's going in your closet — a large hanger will stretch the shoulders. If a piece is a fitted short sleeve shirt or heavy sweater, avoid hanging it. Fold it and store it on a shelf or drawer instead. A hanger could stretch the fitted shape of a shirt, and the weight of a sweater hanging up could cause it to stretch.
  • Put clothes on the right way: When you put on items like pants, dresses, skirts or tops that have buttons, zippers and other closure methods, be sure to use them. Trying to get into a garment without undoing these components could cause it to stretch as you're getting dressed.


How to Save Stretched Clothes

Fixing stretched clothes can be a bit easier than saving shrunken garments. In fact, most of the ways you can fix stretched clothes involve purposefully shrinking them. How you save stretched clothes will depend on the material, with possible options including:


  • Spandex: This stretchy material will go back to its original shape on its own. Hang it for about two days to let the material recover from being stretched. If you have to launder spandex garments, hand-wash them to prevent stretching.
  • Bamboo, cotton or wool: Since these natural fibers shrink with heat, wash and dry them on high settings. The hot water and heat from the dryer will help the fibers shrink, and your garment may not be stretched any more. Do this with caution. Avoid putting wool sweaters in the dryer as that can cause them to shrink too much or become damaged.


What to Do With Shrunken or Stretched Clothes

These methods for fixing shrunken or stretched clothes may not work for every garment or fabric. If you try to save shrunken garments but they're still small, don't try to stretch them back out with force. You'll risk damaging the garment by popping seams or ripping the material. If your attempts at shrinking clothes that have stretched aren't working, don't continuously expose them to heat. Avoid the damage and consider these options for dealing with clothing that stretched or shrunk:


  • Donate clothes: Consider donating a garment if it's beyond repair but still in a wearable condition. If you think you'll donate a piece, avoid any extreme attempts at stretching or shrinking it, like washing it in hot water or physically pulling it.
  • Have a closet swap: Your friends or family members may fit your clothes that you've shrunk or stretched. Do a closet swap with them so they can get rid of pieces they don't wear and get new ones you can't wear.
  • Take it to a tailor: If you have an item of clothing that's special to you, you don't have to give up on it. A tailor might be able to make repairs or adjustments to a garment so it can fit again. Keep in mind that it'll be easier for them to take in stretched clothing to fit better rather than making a shrunken item larger.


Replace Shrunken or Stretched Clothes With Pieces From Perfectly Priscilla

Try as you might, some garments are beyond repair when they stretch or shrink. If you have damaged clothes and your wardrobe thinned out as a result, shop with Perfectly Priscilla. We've got the tops, bottoms, dresses and outerwear you need to replace everything in your closet. You'll find a range of exclusive styles and sizes when you shop with us, so you're sure to find something you love! Get the boutique experience online with Perfectly Priscilla.

Shop our stylish collections today, from comfy, casual pieces to fabulous, trendy clothes!

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