Can You save Wool Clothing Shrunk in the Wash?

Updated on October 12, 2009
M.J. asks from Langley, WA
9 answers

I'm a Mom with just a few nice wool things to wear. I like to keep it simple.

Story begins with a good pile up of mine, my sweethearts, and our sons laundry and a wool skirt caught up in the mix on accident. My partner and I share laundry washing duties and he had no idea and it went through the wash, luckily was intercepted before the dryer, but now is definentley a size or so off.

Is it possible to salvage it and stretch it back out? If so, what is the best way to do this? Help me. I'm a thrifty gal with not much dough to go replacing the few nice warm things I have.

Thank you.

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answers from Dallas on

My Norwegian grandmother has been knitting since she was 3 years old, and she recommends rewetting and "blocking" wool garments back to shape. This works if they get stretched out too. However, this advice applies to knitted garments such as sweaters, not a wool fabric garment, which may be different. I hope one of the suggestions listed here works for you!

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answers from San Francisco on

Once you felt a piece of wool in the wash, the fibers join together and you can't undo it. I'm sorry! Since it didn't go through the dryer, it's not as shrunk as it could be. If you really like this skirt, you can try wetting it again by hand and stretching it out, pinning it to something like a carpet or the bed. But I doubt it will get back a full size or two.

Probably the best thing is to felt it a bit more and then cut it and make something else warm out of it, a scarf, jacket, hat, etc.

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answers from Portland on

I would be thankful that you have a helpful husband but maybe make a special laundry basket that only your clothes go into so they don't get ruined in the future. Guys don't seem to have as much attention to detail when it commes to laundry

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answers from Portland on

You might be able to get it to budge a little bit by rewetting it and stretching, but honestly it will never be like it was before. Don't use an iron or anything hot, because that also causes felting.

Marda (below) is right--the wool fiber changes as a result of washing and lanolin may soften it. You might get a little bit more stretch to get it closer to the original just because the fibers are more relaxed, but it isn't going to save your skirt. It will make it very water resistant though! :) Wool is hair just like ours and those little plates that make up the hair get roughed up with washing and detergent and they lock together. You can get them to slip a little, but they won't be like they were before. Sorry.

If you want to buy some lanolin, call Audrey at Punkin' Butt here in Portland. She sells it for use with wool diaper covers. Most wool/knitting shops can sell you a cleaner with some lanolin in it called Eucalin. That is great for washing any wool that can be hand washed. It isn't the same as pure lanolin though.

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answers from Portland on

I'm sorry to say that there is no way to get it to return to it's earlier size and shape. The combination of the water and the agitation has changed the structure of the wool.

Seventy some years ago my mother washed my wool baby blanket. It shrunk to doll size. She saved it and I used it as a doll blanket for years. I loved the blanket knowing that it was once mine when I was a baby.

I washed a wool sweater several years ago. The label said it was hand washable but it shrunk anyway. The next spring I found the same sweater at The Rack at a very reduced price. That's the only way I know of "fixing" shrunk wool.

You can use the material in the skirt to make something else. You could felt the material which would shrink it more creating a different look all together. I have only read about felting material. I have seen felted hats, vests, and even a blazer that were beautiful. Felting compacts the fibers to produce a woven material that looks a lot like felt.

I have purchased washable wool in the last 10 years or so and stay away from clothes that cannot be washed because I'm not so careful about fabric care. The process for producing washable wool has become quite good.


The actual fibers shrink because the lanolin is washed off. I suppose you can replace the lanolin on the surface of the fibers but this will not lengthen them; only make them softer.

Because the lanolin is washed off of the fibers the fibers stick together. I know of no way to unstick them. The reason that we can block a knit fabric to a somewhat larger size is that we can stretch the knit. The main reason for blocking is to give the knitted fabric a specific shape. We are lining up the fibers and the fabric and are not actually changing fibers or stitches.

I did try to block my sweater. It blocked just fine only it was still a smaller size. I have heard of someone blocking a sweater and successfully adding perhaps an inch. In doing so the spaces between the stitches were marginally larger. I have never heard of anyone being able to change the size of woven fabric.

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answers from Seattle on

M. - Your first responder doesn't know about lanolin! You can buy lanolin and soak your skirt. The wool was stripped of lanolin when it was washed, but you can get it back to normal (maybe not exact perfection, but you should be happy enough) by soaking the skirt and then reshaping it.

I'm sorry - I'm not sure where you can buy it locally, but there are a lot of places that sell it online - especially cloth diaper sites that sell wool soakers. Here is an example of what you're looking for:

Good luck!

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answers from Seattle on

Yes it can. You can try doing it at home by getting it wet again, stretching it and blocking it (shaping it)and keep doing it as it is drying on a flat surface or you can take it to a dry cleaners and ask them to stretch it and block it.I worked for a dry cleaners many years ago.




answers from Corvallis on

I think if you took it the drycleaners and asked them to block it (shapes and stretches it). Ik now my mom has done this with blankets, I think it would work for wool clothing.



answers from Seattle on

The dry cleaners saved my husbands sweater that I accidently washed.. :)

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