If you found the perfect sweater, but it's one size too big, you may want to know how to shrink wool. The coarse, wavy nature of wool creates air pockets within the fibers. While all this air makes wool extra warm and cozy for winter garments, it also makes the fibers more prone to shrinking and becoming misshapen. While this is usually something to be avoided, it can come in handy when you actually want to shrink wool. The process is simple, but be warned: The process can't be reversed and the way in which your woolen garment shrinks can be unpredictable.
To shrink wool, you will need some or all of the following:
- A woolen article of clothing to shrink
- A washing machine
- A dryer
- A steam iron
- A flat, clean, non-wooden surface for drying
- Read your clothing labels. If the label says "pre-shrunk" you may see little or no change when you try to shrink an item made of wool. You can still try, but it's good to know ahead of time if you are fighting a losing battle.
- Steam it up. There are at least two possible methods for applying water and heat to your wool garment. Your first option is to wash the item in warm water in your washing machine. Both the agitation and the warmth of the water can help remove some air from the fibers. An even gentler method is to place the garment on a flat surface (not wooden) and use a steam iron to apply bursts of steam all over the garment. An even application of steam is needed for a good result with this method.
- Dry it out. You can try to tumble dry your woolen garment on low or medium, but you should probably check periodically to see if your clothing is shrinking evenly. The continued heat and tumbling will shrink the fibers, but can also create a lumpy mess as wool fibers are very malleable. Dry too long and you end up with felted wool. A felted item may still be wearable but will be quite stiff. A gentler option is to lay the garment flat and air dry. Be sure to block your garment. (This means to lay it out in the shape you would like it to end up in.)
- Repeat. Shrinking wool can be a long process, but patience is key. It is better to shrink the wool a little at a time as it gives you more control over the final size and shape of the garment.
While there is no guarantee that shrinking a woolen garment will give you the result you desire, it could be worth a try. Knowing how to shrink wool could save that otherwise unwearable sweater from the rag bag. If you aren't going to wear your woolen garment as it is right now, you have nothing to lose. Good luck!