Does Wool Shrink? (How To Shrink and Avoid Wool Shrinking)


It is actually quite tricky to shrink wool unless you happen to be a sheep. Wool fibers are hydrophobic, meaning that they repel water rather than absorb it. The same material that prevents wool from shrinking also makes it less likely for the fabric to wrinkle or rip – both of which would make your sweater look even worse.

If this is your first time washing wool then I recommend consulting a few articles about doing so before you do anything else because many people who are new to this fabric are not aware that all of their wool products need to be washed before they can be worn for the first time.

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Does Wool Shrink?

Wool is one of the most luxurious fibers ever produced. It’s naturally insulating, absorbent, and durable. It breathes well and it also resists shrinkage better than cotton does. However, wool does shrink so you want to make sure that you wash it correctly in water that is close to its natural temperature before drying it with a dryer or letting it air dry.

It is important to remember that all wool garments shrink when you wash them, even those that say they do not. Since there are no preservatives in a fabric, it needs some way to maintain its previous shape after washing and drying.

In most cases, if your garments shrink at all after being washed, it is due to greater heat and/or longer drying times in the dryer. Hot water setting and drying are often the culprits. If you take longer than recommended to dry, your garment may become significantly smaller.

In the environmental section at the end of this article, we will detail how you can prevent your wool garments from shrinking.

Why Does Wool Shrink?

Wool gets dramatically smaller when it is washed because the water molecules take up space and push the wool fibers together. When you wash thick knits and sweaters, you are actually wearing a collection of many thousands of individual fibers. The thicker your garment, the more fibers you’re pulling together and the greater potential for shrinkage your wardrobe has. 

Wool also shrinks because it is vulnerable to moisture in a dryer. Given enough exposure to heat and moisture, your wool knit will recede. It’s how you can tell how new an item of wool clothing is by examining the labels. A wool garment that has been pre-shrunk with chemicals or heat will generally have a label stating so.

It is important to remember that all of your garments need to be washed before you wear them for the first time, otherwise they will look terrible on you and everyone else.

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How Much Does Wool Shrink?

The wool shrink rate is about 20-50% among the different type of wool. When you are washing your wool garments, take care to use the proper temperature in your washer and dryer. The process must be slow or it will shrink your garment too quickly. Also, make sure that you avoid over-drying where you can so your garment doesn’t shrink too much after you dry it.

The amount of shrinkage depends on how thick your garment is, how hot your water is and how long you dry it. The heavier the knit, the more likely it is to shrink. If you add too much heat to the equation, wool will not only shrink but become matted and distorted.

Fortunately, if you simply wash your wool garment in warm water and don’t use a dryer you should have little to no shrinkage. It depends how much or how long you dry it, of course.

Does Wool Shrink When Washed?

Most wool garments shrink by about 20-50 percent depending upon the type of wool when washed for the first time. This is not unusual and you can expect it even with the items that do not state that they do not shrink. The best way to prevent this from happening is to wash all of your wool garments at least twice before wearing them and make sure your drying time is slow or they might shrink enough that they are no longer fit for use.

Some people suggest using a hot water wash cycle on your machine, but this will result in greatly reduced durability, so don’t do it if you value your clothes. Instead, use warm or cold water only and avoid over-drying whenever possible.

Wool is hydrophobic, which means that it repels water. Therefore, if wool is not washed before you wear it, the natural oils and dirt will not come out of the wool fibers and will stay on your skin all day long.

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How to Fix Shrunken Wool

There are a few ways to regain lost volume in your woolen sweater or knit. Finally, it is best for you to wash your wool garment in cold water and dry it on a gentle cycle.

In addition, if you are concerned about a lack of shape after the first wash, use some baby shampoo or lukewarm water to gently cleanse your garments before drying them with a soft towel.

Some people recommend putting wool items in the dryer with a damp towel or set of clothes pins. However, it is important to remember that if you do this, the item will shrink and you will have to rewash it again.

Wool is a great fabric for cold winter weather and it will serve you well for many years if you take proper care of your garments. If everything goes according to plan, your wool items should last as long as you do.

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Wool Care Tips

  1. Know how to wash your wool garments before wearing them the first time.
  2. Take care to keep your winter wardrobe dry and avoid over-drying.
  3. Follow the instructions on the label carefully when you wash it for the first time in regular water, warm water or cold water depending on your climate and climate changes.
  4. Using a dryer with an appropriate temperature setting is extremely important for any wool garment to ensure that it does not shrink too much or become distorted in any way.
  5. Use the gentle cycle or air dry process whenever possible to avoid shrinkage.
  6. Use the appropriate amount of detergent, do not over-suds the wool garment and let it soak for a few minutes. 
  7. If you are concerned about shrinkage after your first washing takes care to use baby shampoo on the garment before drying it.
  8. Frequent washing and gentle hand washing will prevent your items from shrinking.
  9. It is best to wash your woolen garments before wearing them the first time, in particular, if it is something of which you are particularly fond.
  10. Washing in cold water without any detergent will preserve the fabric and your garments should last much longer than washing with hot water and detergent.

Can You Shrink Wool in the Dryer?

You can definitely shrink wool in the dryer. Unfortunately, even though your wool does not shrink when it is washed and dried by itself, once you tumble it in the dryer for a minute or two you are essentially boiling it which does lead to shrinkage.

There are two basic options when it comes to drying wool in the dryer; you can either tumble it for a couple of minutes and then let it sit on the clothes line to finish drying, or you can use a dryer sheet. Dryer sheets make your dryer smell wonderful, but there are also chemicals in them that can cause shrinkage. So although they make your clothes smell great, the chemicals can actually shrink your wool sweaters.

Do Wool Shirts Shrink?

Most wool shirts do not shrink much, but there are two good reasons to wash these garments before wearing them:

  1. Wool’s shrink rate is affected by the temperature of the water.
  2. it can get a little bit of a pull-on clothing when it is washed. If you have never washed a wool shirt and worn it for the first time, you may find that it pulls on your arms or around your neck. This can be uncomfortable and even damaging to some types of shirts.

Before you wear them, wash all your wool shirts in warm water without using dryer sheets. Let them dry naturally and they should fit fine.

How Can You Prevent Wool Clothing from Shrinking?

There are a few things that can be done to prevent springing wool garments before washing them for the first time. The best way is to dry them completely with no heat after washing them because many people neglect to do so. Proper care and maintenance will ensure your garments last for many years.

  • There are a couple of ways to prevent wool garments from shrinking and they all work with the two basic options of tumble drying or airing.
  • Pre-wash all your wool clothes in warm water, preferably in the sink. You can even put them in a large pot or bowl and fill it with hot tap water and let them soak overnight, they will come out nice and clean this way.
  • They will come out nice and clean this way. Dry your wool clothes by airing and letting them dry naturally.
  • Use the gentle cycle on your washing machine (especially if the garment is a sweater or other article of clothing made with multiple layers), which should help you prevent shrinkage.

Does Merino Wool Shrink?

Merino wool is a very popular fabric for winter clothing particularly because it is heavier and warmer than other synthetic fabrics. However, it does not shrink as much as other wool garments, but you should still take care to use the correct amount of detergent when you wash your merino garments and allow them to dry at the correct temperature. 

It is also important to dry your merino garments fast when you wash them because they will shrink if you let them too long in the water. Merino wool does not shrink as much as other woolen fabrics.

Can You Machine Wash 100% Wool?

The general rule of thumb when it comes to caring for your wool garments is that you should take care of them properly. If you want your garment to last, it needs to be washed in warm water and dried with no heat at all.

When washing your garments remember that hot water may shrink the garment and if you are putting a sweater in the dryer make sure it is set on a low heat setting because the dryer can shrink clothing as well, so don’t forget to take this into account as well.

You can wash them in the washing machine just make sure that you take care of the garments by washing them with a mild detergent and cold water. This will ensure that they do not shrink, but also make sure that they do not bleed or get a pull in any way. 

Try to avoid using any bleach and avoid using fabric softener as well because it will cause more problems than it solves. If you have any concerns just go ahead and pre-wash the garments to avoid shrinkage and to ensure they do not bleed.

Can You Shrink 100% Wool?

Yes, 100% wool can be shrunk. There are two ways that 100% wool can shrink, by using hot water and by using a dryer (tumble drying).

Using hot water is one of the fastest ways to shrink your wool. You should try to use warm water for washing or even cold water for washing your wool garment on the delicate cycle. This will help you avoid using hot water because it can cause your garments to shrink up to half its size. 

It is best if you were them on a line or put them in a dryer where there is no heat but just let them finish drying naturally, if you have the option in your dryer this could help avoid any shrinkage as well. Using the dryer can also lead to some shrinkage of 100% wool as well, but it may be much less than using hot water.

Check Also: Does Viscose Shrink?

Can Shrunken Wool Be Restored?

Most wool garments can be restored to their original size. To shrink wool in a dryer, heat the water as hot as you can get it and put your woolen garments in for about 5-10 minutes. After that, put the garments in the tub and run cool or cold water on them until they are cool enough to handle. Pick them up and lightly roll them in your hands, squeezing out the excess water and twisting gently. If you have any other type of wool, then roll it in your hands and stretch it out gently.

If you have your garment dry cleaned, then bring it to them and ask them to see if they can repair the damage.

Some vintage items can be restored with a little bit of luck, but some pieces that are extremely well worn will not be.

Does Wool Shrink In Cold Or Hot Water?

It is easy to assume that wool does not shrink in cold water. However, as soon as a wool fiber gets wet, the water molecules take up space and push the fiber tissue in every direction possible causing your item of clothing to become smaller. Remember, there are no preservatives in this type of fabric so it needs some way to maintain its previous shape after washing and drying.

Wool is a natural fabric and as a result, it shrinks when it gets hot. This is something you should consider when you’re shopping for wool clothes, especially sweaters that are meant to keep you warm during the cold winter months.

You should also consider this when washing your own wool garments at home. Unless the garment is dirty or stained, you should avoid hot water if you want to minimize shrinkage.

FAQ About Wool Shrinkage

Does Wool Shrink in Dye?

The short answer is yes, wool does shrink when dyed. However, because the shrinking process is done on a molecular level you don’t notice it happening until much later. Preshrinking your clothes is done to prevent them from becoming smaller as they wash and dry over time.

Does Wool Shrink Happen All At Once?

The answer to this question is “it depends”. It is possible for new wool knit clothes to shrink all at once if they are left in water too long or if they are placed in a hot dryer for too long. If you care for your wool clothing properly and give it a proper wash then it will not shrink drastically, but it will do so over time as the fibers gradually become matted down and tight among themselves.

What are Merino Wool Sweaters?

Merino wool sweaters are one of the most comfortable, versatile, and attractive modern clothing items available today. They are often knitted from the top down and are made from a blend of Merino wool and other artificial or natural fibers. Merino wool sweaters can be used in any climate and season, and their warmth and breathability makes them an ideal garment for all seasons. The fabric is soft, luxurious, and warm to the touch, with a beautiful drape that makes it a pleasure to wear. Merino wool sweaters and other garments are used by athletes, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts, (as well as people who just like to look good).

Does Dry Cleaning Shrink Wool?

The main problem with dry cleaning is that it damages the wool fibers. The chemicals can be quite harsh and usually lead to shrinkage. We strongly recommend that you wash wool at home before wearing it for the first time to prevent damage and shrinkage. Not only will your garment last longer, it will also be softer and smell nicer than if you clean it with a professional cleaner. If you can’t do this yourself then try to avoid having it professionally cleaned.

How Do You Shrink Wool?

The most common way to shrink wool is by putting it in the dryer with a damp towel, clothespins or another set of clothes. Tumbling in the dryer can cause your garments to shrink and distort, so they will not look as nice or fit correctly as they did before you shrunk them by using a dryer. Instead of shrinking it yourself, take care of your clothes and they should last for many years without any special treatment.

Does Wool Shrink With Time?

It is not only the initial washing of wool that can shrink it, but time as well. Many people believe that weight loss of wool with age is due to the shrinking of wool. However, the main reason behind the shrinkage is actually because of the way wool fiber reacts to moisture while it’s in your clothes. Hot and cold water may cause very small amounts of shrinkage but over time this will add up and lead to significant weight loss in your wool clothing.

Can You Steam Wool?

Steaming is a good way to re-shape non-wool garments, but it is not a good idea to try steaming your wool garments. Steam can damage your wool garments and lead to irreversible shrinkage. If you have any wrinkles in your garment, it will be better to take it to the dry cleaners instead of using steam. If you have a garment that is made up of multiple layers, such as a sweater, you will have to hand wash in warm water without detergents or dry clean. If the garment has very small holes in it, they will not be noticeable after washing and drying (if cleaner was used). Since there are many different types of wool clothing on the market, it’s best to check with the manufacturer. 

How Do You Permanently Shrink Wool?

First you should use a steamer to remove the water and then iron it. A steamer will help to decrease your chances of shrinking your wool while ironing. You can also try putting the wool garment in a bag with boiling water and letting it sit for about 15 minutes. Then remove it, roll it up in towels and let it sit out overnight to get completely dry.

Final Thoughts

Wool is one of the most versatile fibers available. It can be worn as clothing, as bedding, as upholstery and as fabric for decorative accents in a wide variety of products.

Wool is a great fabric for cold winter weather and it will serve you well for many years if you take proper care of your garments. If everything goes according to plan, your wool items should last as long as you do.


  1. Quora – Does wool shrink in the wash?
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  3. Reddit – LPT: Shrunk your favorite wool sweater in the wash? No worries! You can unshrink it.
  4. Quora – How do wool and other fabrics shrink?
  5. Purseforum – How and how much does wool shrink? (doing it on purpose)
  6. AskAndyAboutClothes – Shrinking a wool sweater?????
  7. Etsy – Does wool continue to shrink after it’s been felted?
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  9. Reddit – Has anyone purposely shrunken a wool sweater?
  10. Quora – Will wool clothes continue to shrink if they have already shrunk once before?


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