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4 Easy Ways to Shrink a Sweater (Complete Guide)

4 Easy Ways to Shrink a Sweater

Sweaters can lose their shape and become too big over time through stretching, pilling, and washing. While you may be tempted to get rid of an oversized sweater, there are several easy methods you can use right at home to shrink it back to the proper size.

In this complete guide, we will provide step-by-step instructions on how to shrink a sweater using a washing machine, dryer, steam, and even chemical solutions. We will also discuss key factors that impact how much a sweater will shrink.

Follow our guide to learn how to shrink wool, cashmere, cotton, and synthetic sweaters so you can restore ill-fitting sweaters to their original size and shape.

1. Washing Machine Method

Washing Machine Method

Using a washing machine is one of the easiest and most effective ways to shrink a sweater. Here are step-by-step instructions:

What You Need

  • Sweater to be shrunk
  • Washing machine
  • Laundry detergent
  • Clean towel

Step 1 – Check Sweater Care Tag

Begin by checking the care tag on your sweater to see the recommend wash methods. Note if the tag says “Dry Clean Only” then machine washing may damage the fibers.

Step 2 – Wash Sweater Alone

Wash the sweater by itself in the washing machine using hot water. Adding other garments increases the surface area and prevents the sweater from shrinking as much.

Step 3 – Use a Hot Water Cycle

Set the washing machine to the hottest water temperature recommended for the sweater material. Hot water causes the fibers to tighten and condense in size.

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Step 4 – Select a Short Gentle Cycle

Opt for the shortest, gentlest wash cycle possible. Aggressive, long cycles with high spin speeds can overstretch the sweater fibers.

Step 5 – Use a Mild Detergent

Wash the sweater in a mild laundry detergent. Harsh detergents could damage the material or affect shrinkage.

Step 6 – Lay Flat to Dry

After washing, lay the sweater flat on top of a clean towel to dry. This prevents overstretching the wet fibers.

Tips for Shrinking Success

  • Wash in hot but not scalding water to avoid damaging fibers
  • Only wash sweaters made from wool, cashmere, cotton, linen, silk, or other natural fibers
  • Synthetic fabrics like polyester do not shrink easily in hot water
  • Lightly stretch sweater back to size if it becomes too small

Washing your oversized sweater in hot water in the machine should shrink it at least one size. Repeat as needed until you reach the ideal size and fit.

2. Dryer Method

Dryer Method

Using a clothes dryer is another simple approach to shrinking a sweater. Follow these directions:

What You Need

  • Sweater
  • Clothes dryer
  • Clean towel

Step 1 – Check Care Tag

Examine the care tag to make sure the sweater is dryer safe. If not, air drying is the best bet.

Step 2 – Wash Sweater

First, launder the sweater before drying to eliminate oils or dirt that could hinder shrinkage.

Step 3 – Use High Heat

Dry the sweater on the highest heat setting recommended for the material. High heat causes fibers to tighten.

Step 4 – Toss in a Towel

Throw a clean cotton towel in the dryer with the sweater. The texture helps agitate the fibers.

Step 5 – Check Often

Monitor the shrinking progress frequently. Remove immediately once the desired size is reached.

Step 6 – Lay Flat to Finish

Lay flat on a towel after drying to complete shrinkage and allow to fully dry.

Tips for Shrinking Success

  • Only tumble dry natural fibers like wool, cashmere, cotton, linen
  • Synthetics like polyester do not shrink easily
  • Remove immediately if sweater becomes too small
  • Repeat drying cycle if additional shrinkage is needed

Be extremely cautious using a clothes dryer to shrink sweaters. It is easy to over-shrink the garment very quickly.

3. Steaming Method

Steaming Method

Steam is a gentle shrink method perfect for delicate fabrics like cashmere. Follow these instructions:

What You Need

  • Sweater
  • Steamer
  • Hangers
  • Large bath towel

Step 1 – Wash Sweater

Launder the sweater first according to care instructions to remove any detergent residue.

Step 2 – Fill Steamer with Water

Fill the steamer’s water reservoir to the fill line with hot water per appliance directions.

Step 3 – Hang Sweater Up

Hang the damp sweater on a hanger in an area where you can walk around it.

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Step 4 – Steam Sweater

Working in sections, hold the steamer head 1-2 inches from the sweater surface. Steam entire sweater until damp.

Step 5 – Stretch Sweater

Gently pull and stretch the sweater in all directions to encourage shrinkage as you steam.

Step 6 – Let Dry Completely

Lay the sweater flat on a bath towel and allow to fully dry. Repeat as needed.

Tips for Shrinking Success

  • Do not actually touch sweater with steamer to avoid damaging fibers
  • Keep steamer head moving continuously
  • Only steam natural fibers – wool, cashmere, cotton, silk
  • Synthetics like polyester do not shrink

Steaming is ideal for shrinking delicate sweaters like cashmere that cannot withstand washing machines or dryers.

4. Chemical Shrinking Method

Chemical Shrinking Method

For stubborn sweaters, a chemical shrink solution can help achieve maximum shrinkage.

What You Need

  • Sweater
  • Bottle of chemical shrink solution
  • Measuring cups
  • Large bowl or sink
  • Gloves and eye protection

Step 1 – Select a Product

Purchase a sweater shrink product containing etidronic acid. This chemical forces fibers to contract.

Step 2 – Prepare for Treatment

Wear gloves and eye protection for safety when handling chemicals. Work in a well-ventilated area.

Step 3 – Mix Chemical Solution

Mix the shrink solution concentrate with water per product directions. Use a large bowl or sink.

Step 4 – Soak the Sweater

Fully submerge the sweater in the chemical solution. Let soak for 5-10 minutes.

Step 5 – Rinse Thoroughly

Remove sweater and rinse under cold running water until all solution is washed away.

Step 6 – Reshape and Dry

Gently reshape sweater on a towel and allow to fully dry flat.

Tips for Shrinking Success

  • Carefully follow all safety precautions when using chemicals
  • Only use chemical shrink products designed for clothing
  • Properly dispose of unused solution
  • Wash hands after use
  • Repeat soaking if needed to reach desired shrinkage

Chemical shrink methods work well but should be used cautiously and correctly to avoid damage.

Tips for Shrinking Wool Sweaters

Check out these pointers for best results when shrinking wool sweaters:

  • Wash in hot water and dry with high heat to maximize shrinkage
  • Use laundry bags if concerned about pilling or abrasion
  • Only shrink 100% wool sweaters – wool blends may not shrink evenly
  • Avoid over-drying in machines which can cause irreversible felting
  • Lay flat on a towel after washing and drying to maintain shape
  • Gently pull and reshape sweater if uneven shrinkage occurs
  • Consider using a commercial shrink spray made for wool

Tips for Shrinking Cotton Sweaters

Follow these top tips when shrinking cotton sweaters:

  • Machine wash in hot water then tumble dry on high heat
  • Use an old cotton towel in the dryer to help bind fibers
  • Repeat cycles if needed until desired size is reached
  • Lightly stretch sweater if excessive shrinkage occurs
  • Avoid over-drying cotton to prevent damage and yellowing
  • Steaming can help shrink cotton without machines
  • Skip the fabric softener or dryer sheets to maximize shrinkage
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Tips for Shrinking Cashmere Sweaters

Cashmere is delicate and requires a gentle approach. Keep these pointers in mind:

  • Hand wash cashmere instead of using machines to prevent felting
  • Submerge in hot water in a sink or basin
  • Rinse with cool water to tighten fibers
  • Reshape and lay flat on a towel to dry
  • Use a steamer to lightly shrink instead of washing
  • Avoid agitation, high heat, detergents to prevent damage
  • Cashmere may grow after shrinking if not re-blocked
  • Never wring or twist cashmere when wet

Frequently Asked Questions

How much will a sweater shrink?

Most sweaters will shrink 15-20% of their original size through washing and drying methods. Delicate fabrics like cashmere may only shrink 5-10%. The exact amount depends on the material, weave, and initial size.

Can all sweaters be shrunk?

Natural fibers like wool, cotton, cashmere, silk and linen can be shrunk with heat, agitation, and moisture. Synthetic fabrics do not shrink as easily. Blends may have uneven results.

Will a shrunk sweater stretch back out?

It depends on the fiber content. Natural fabrics can relax and stretch back out over time, especially if not reshaped while drying. Synthetics are less likely to re-stretch after shrinking.

How to shrink a sweater without ruining it?

Go slowly and check shrinking progress frequently. Use lower heat or gentler cleaning methods and allow sweater to fully dry flat between cycles to prevent damage from over-shrinking.

Can you shrink a sweater in the dryer?

Yes, using high heat in the dryer is an effective shrinking method for wool, cotton, and other natural fabrics. But it must be done carefully to avoid over-drying which can ruin the sweater.


We hope this complete guide gives you the confidence to shrink an oversized sweater using washing machines, dryers, steam, or chemical solutions. With some simple tools and techniques, you can rescue baggy sweaters and restore them to a perfect fit.

Always carefully follow material care instructions and check the garment frequently during shrinking to prevent accidental damage. With caution and patience, you can add years to the life of your favorite sweaters.

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