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The Shrunken Sweater

7 years ago by

…My biggest winter woe

I shrunk my favorite COS sweater last week. I don’t know how it happened. I washed it on cold, I let it hang dry. And in the morning, it was perfectly sized for a pre-teen. Whyyyy? Seriously though, why?

I asked Gwen and Lindsey, founders of The Laundress, for some basic laundry tips and tricks (including how to avoid any further wool sweater disasters). Laundry day is about to get a whole lot better…

Washing. Hand washing is the most gentle way to wash. If it’s the first time you’re washing something, instead of going to the dry cleaner, the most controlled environment is hand washing. Use a cold or tepid water. If you are hand washing cotton or linen, use hot water. It’s better for stains, but use only with cotton or linen.

Drying. We are really big on hang drying. Aside from sheets and towels, the dryer is the devil. It’s really bad, it’s really hard on your fabric. It ages the item, it is as if you’ve had it in your wardrobe for 10 years if you keep using the dryer. We recommend using a drying rack so items can dry properly. When there is limited access due to travel, lay items flat on a dry towel in a low humidity environment. It can take a full day to dry so you’ll need to flip the garment over before going to bed. Avoid a damp basement altogether.

Treating stains. We recommend pre-treating areas with heavy wear (the underarms, the collar, the cuff). We treat the underarms with a stain remover with every single wear. If you treat something every time you wash it, with just a dab of stain remover, you’re going to have a clean slate every time and prolong build up.

Read the tag. Tags are not monitored by any authority. Whatever you want to label, you can label and no one is going to come after you if it is wrong. We like to read the tags for the fabric content and when we know what it is made out of we can wash it accordingly. You can follow the tags as a general guide, but going by the fabric is the best guideline. If a tag says dry clean only, that really means dry clean only.

Taking care of wool & cashmere. You have to be very careful with wool, it’s always a hand wash or a delicate cycle. Wool shrinks with movement as well as temperature. You have to have minimal agitation and a cool temperature, hot or warm water will cause shrinking. You should also use a specialized wool detergent when washing (try a baby hair shampoo that is sulfate free).

Wool inherently repels odor, dirt and is naturally fireproof. You will eventually break the odor barrier in the underarm area, which you can still treat with a stain remover. Don’t iron your wool or cashmere items as this will squash the yarn.


Add yours
  • Hi Alex. Sorry to hear about the sweater, but if it is wool you may be able to resize it back to its original size. Let the sweater soak in tepid water for 30-60 minutes. Don’t swish. Take out of the water, lay flat on a towel and gently roll up the towel with the sweater inside, gently squeezing out water. Unroll. You can put several dry towels on your bed or a portion of rug that you won’t need for walking! From the center, gently pull/coax the sweater into its original size and using sewing or t-pins, pin it to the towels (like a dart in a dart board). Make sure the sweater is firmly stretched with pins around all sides. Then let it dry. If it did stretch a little, but not enough, you can repeat the process until it’s back to its original size. Good luck!

  • Lisa! Thank you! I’m trying this over the weekend! xo Alex

  • Might go without saying, but when blocking your sweater make sure you use dressmaker-quality pins that won’t rust when wet (especially if it’s the beautiful white sweater pictured above!).

  • A friend of mine tried this technique when she shrunk her favorite wool sweater and it really worked.

  • my friend wore such a sweater the other day and she made a point of wearing her strawberry blonde hair tucked in. it looked great! :)


  • I feel your pain…..sadly I have no great tips to help you on this….;((


  • As a person who works in the wool and handknit industry: get some gentle soap and re-soak your sweater in warm-ish water. Lay it on a towel and reshape it to the desired size. Lay another towel on top and squeeze out a bit of the moisture. Leave on the floor to dry. It’ll be as good as new.

  • Great to know!! I have a wool pinkish sweater and its shrinking… now I know why :)
    http://www.androbelinsider.blogspot.com new post is up! :)

  • I have a large collection of sweater, vintage and new, and my COS knit sweater is the ONLY one that has shrunk in a wash. I am noticing a pattern here . . .

  • some weeks ago i got my first COS sweater (black, 90% merino wool) I wanted to buy one item to check out if I like the brand – hand washed it ONCE, cold water, special wool detergent and I noticed that it is significantly smaller. it is still OK, but im wondering what will happen later. it was 70 euro, so not the cheapest, but on the other hand COS=H&M, so quality expectations should not go too high (that was my guess before buying the sweater to be honest).

  • Thanks a lot Emily for those precious advices. I always finish to destroy a clothe i love because of the washing machine.

    XX Aurélie http://hotelisonfirediary.com

  • Un cauchemar qui devient régulièrement réalité en cette saison!

  • Basically it’s because it’s Cos = H&M = not good quality. Sorry to say, but I’ve had similar experiences. You just can’t get good quality cheap.

  • I have to agree with Mary and Ania here. I expercienced several times the same thing. I now check the COS label first and when it says handwash I don’t buy it or if I really really want the piece, I hand it over to my dry cleaners when it needs to be washed.
    A bit expensive but cashmere sweaters just need that extra care.

    I read several similar experciences here ; maybe COS needs to reconsider the quality or combination of materials they use for jumpers/sweaters.

  • Great reminder to treat sweaters properly! Would have loved to hear tips on shedding sweaters (angora, mohair, etc) as well. Maybe next time? ;-)

  • Yet another one who starts to see a pattern here!
    I am actually wearing a sweater from COS that has shrunk circa 2 sizes after the first wash. Very disappointing! Despite the tag saying “Machine wash cold, slow cycle”, as soon as I took it out I noticed it was tiny! Still fits but not in the same relaxed way.
    If someone from COS is reading this thread – please do something about your wool!

    Will try the un-shrinking technique soon :)


  • Facts:
    French (well, no… Parisian!). Soon to be married 32 yer old fashionisto. Been living for 11 years with an even worse fashionista with whom I have a 3 year old stylish little guy (yeah he’s the cutest!)

    I’m the laundry guy in the house and I have set some rules:
    – eco friendly gentle detergent (except for dark garments for which I use a special kind )
    – no softener. Never. Only white vinegar
    – cold water for everything (except for very dirty/ stained clothes or towels/ sheets…)
    – for cashmere and wool: wool program, cold water, white vinegar
    – for silk: wool program, cold water, white vinegar and absolutely NO tumbling. I lay the piece on a towel, roll it up, squeeze it a bit and then carefully hang it.
    – as for ironing, I steam the delicate pieces putting the iron approximately 1 cm above (sorry but I suck at inches… Should be half an inch though…). Everyone should know that wool (and cashmere IS wool) and silk love water (and steam IS water…! haha)

    So long, it’s always worked and I have never messed anything up. I only use the dryer for towels and sheets (or after an express wash in the morning when we cannot wear anything BUT that piece, ya know…)

    I don’t really agree with the: if they say dry cleaning only, don’t wash it. All high end and luxury brands mention the no washing on their labels to avoid after sales service. I only give the cleaner’s jackets and coats. The rest I take care of.

    As for COS, I must say I have never experienced any lack of quality. We have many of their cashmere, merino, merino/silk and cotton/silk sweaters. To me, COS is strong quality at an OK price. (they REALLY need to lengthen the legs of their men’s pants though! I’m 1m86: 32 long is too short! Just saying…) Buy a € 79,90 cashmere at Zara and experience wasting your money. Don’t even get me started on Zadig et Voltaire!..

    OK… Long comment here but I had to react because, I have to confess, I love to do our laundry: oddly, it calms me down…

  • Gotta love a man who knows his laundry! <3

    But I just wanted to comment that I hope you wash your sheets and towels on hot (60 or 90), because it can ruin the washing machine to always wash only cold. I guess for you it should be ok if you usually use gentle detergent and add vinegar, but if you use a normal detergent that contains zeolites, those build up in the machine at low temperatures and will ruin it in the end. It can also get moldy, which will make all your clothes smell damp and sour no matter how nice your detergent smells (although the vinegar helps with that too).

    If you never wash hot, it's good to run the machine empty on maximum temperatures from time to time, and once or twice a year with some citric acid or a good amount of vinegar to clear out build-up.

    Just saying this cause I just moved into a shared apartment where previous tenants always washed cold only. the machine smells HORRIBLE….

  • When you got any clothes with the “dry clean only”, can you wash the piece in a cold/lukewarm water in my bathtub gently ?
    Thanks for sharing your advices

  • Merci pour ces conseils qui en cette saison sont la bienvenue !
    La parenthèse Enchantée.fr

  • Catherine December, 14 2013, 6:14 / Reply

    The only thing I put in the dryer is towels. Nothing is better than getting in a bed with sheets that have dried in fresh air.
    I hate to hand wash and try to avoid buying items that require it. Or I machine wash them cold, in a tight net bag, so they can’t move too much.
    I wash most clothes in cold water, because they aren’t that dirty–they just need to be freshened after wearing all day (or two). Then they go on the line outisde. Socks and underpants and really dirty stuff get piled up into a load of hot water.

  • I wish I could jump in that sweater right now, it looks so cosy! And I love your tips!

    Sandrine x

  • Il ne faut jamais laver à l’eau froide ! Elle est aussi dangereuse pour la fibre que l’eau chaude et il y a donc tout autant de chance pour que le vêtement rétrécisse. Avec de l’eau tiède, habituellement, il n’y a pas de problème !

  • I completely disagree with the dry clean only label. I only take things to the dry cleaner if they are difficult to press well myself. Every thing else I do in a wash basin with a gentle detergent and let it soak with very little agitation. Most things aren’t really so dirty, just need to be freshened up. I’ve even done wool mix winter coats in the bath tub. Everything turned out fine. The bigger challenge is pressing the lining properly. It saves a lot of money.

  • I’m with you on this one. Here in Germany the dry cleaners have very high environmental standards that they have to conform to and so dry cleaning is o.k. but still leaves chemical residues in the fabrics that some people (me!) can react against. I’d hate to think about what is in the dry cleaning machines in other countries where the regulation is not so strict.
    I’ve hand washed some dry clean only things from good houses — comme des garcons, hermes, poetry — with excellent results. Just make sure the iron is right, not too hot or cold, for the finale.

  • If the method that Lisa recommended does not work. Here is what you can try. It works amazing so it sounds scary and crazy, but do you have to loose, if the sweater is screwed up anyway…
    You put your sweater in almost boiling water with some vinegar. Let the water cool with the sweater in it.
    Take it out once its cold enough to reach into the water. Roll in a towel, Squeeze it gently.Then stretch it into shape lying flat and let it dry that way. Wash cold afterwards, if you smell any vinegar. The vinegar detangles and loosens the wool. Good luck!

  • Hello,
    I have just discovered (thanks to internet!) this way to save shrunked whool :
    – let the item soak all night in cold water + sodium bicarbonate
    – wash in water + soap and rinse
    – Soak 6 hours in cold water + Tartaric acid (5 spoons for one liter). Mix from Time to Time
    – let dry
    I have tried on 3 items and it worked. Good luck :)

  • Hi Alex, I think Lisa’s suggestions are perfect and def your best chance to get the garment back to original shape. Did you contact the manufacturer for some feedback? Obviously this is a quality control problem – yarn insufficiently pre-shrunk/tested before mass production = BAD and manufacturer should def know about it. As long as you are sure you followed the laundry directions on the care label I recommend pursuing a refund (esp. if others have had the same problem). So upsetting and so unfair. A client came to me once in a lather – a $5kUS jacket (I won’t shame the designer, but should def know better) that shrunk after one trip to the cleaners (as suggested on the care label) … iron-on interfacings shrunk (A LOT) and cloth didn’t – not acceptable in any item – esp. one with a price tag like that.
    The advise of The Laundress – all good except I would never recommend hot wash for ANYTHING that is stained regardless of composition. Always best to cold wash a stain and when item is back to normal warm/hot wash by all means. Heat sets stains. If you use a dryer on a stained item – be prepared to have that stain for good. This goes for hand dryers in the Ladies’ too. My advise is always – blot the stain with something white – tissue/table napkin, repeat and LEAVE IT ALONE till you get home. Girls do a lot of damage esp. after a few drinks, soaking the stain with soda water, rubbing at it and hand dryers – all just make things worse. Your dry cleaner has a much better chance of rescuing the item if you leave it alone and get it to him pronto; and if you need to hand wash much better result will be achieved sober and quietly the next afternoon at home after you have killed your hangover.
    Traditionally crepe style fabrics reliably shrink. Original 40s and 70s crepes can shrink unbelievably/terrifying amounts in the wash/cleaners. I have managed to restore some garments back to original size but you need time and patience through both the wet/wash and press/steam stages of the process (start pressing BEFORE the garment is 80% dry with a CLOTH for best results/safety) You will need to be able to hang the garment (door frame) and an iron that produces sufficient vertical and horizontal steam to wrestle that frock back into shape.
    Good luck and patience for a happy outcome. B
    PS If you can’t get yr sweater back to the right shape and you don’t get a refund – give it to charity. Nothing more upsetting than holding to something that you will never be able to wear again = wardrobe move on/optimum/happy functionality.

  • princessglee December, 15 2013, 3:38 / Reply

    Ooooh how disappointing. I’m so sorry about your shrunken sweater. Thanks for the care instructions and the discussion it has started. I’ve worked many years in the apparel manufacturing industry. It has been my experience that care labels are not random instructions. There are many manufacturers who do actual wash tests. To be safe when the label says dry clean, do dry clean. Often times you can wash very mildly with mild soap, mild temperature water, mild squeezing to remove water and dry mildly–no dryer. It is never a good idea to hang sweaters and an even worse idea to hang when they’re wet.

  • Actually there are regulations regarding clothing tags, but a lot of times things are on there for convenience or so they don’t have to write a longer explanation. Dry clean on the tag doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t hand wash it. Oh, and for drying, I highly recommend a mesh sweater dryer like this:


  • I shrunk my beautiful white cashmere beanie two days ago. It was a set with some hand warmers and a long scarf. The hat somehow snuck in with my towels and got washed at 60 C :(

  • I always put a little hair conditioner in the final rinse when hand washing wool and cashmere. They are all protein fibers, non? I agree with re-blocking to get that sweater to fit. I wash everything except things which are lined. These I dry clean. (Coats, Jackets, Trousers) Dry cleaning is very hard on fibers, but how often do you need to clean a coat?

  • Hi, I have been running a italian made cashmere knitwear company for six years and these are the instructions to wash fine wool and cashmere:
    Wash by hand, in lukewarm water (not cold!!!), use a teaspoon of shampoo, move around the sweater in the water without strectching it, be gentle. Then rinse with clear water, at the same temperature (temperature change shrinks wool!!) when there’s no soap left in the wool, dip the sweater in clear water with a spoonful of fabric softener. Rid the sweater of all the water, by twistig it in a towel for example… again be gentle!!! once the sweater is practically dry you can put it in the tumble drier for up to 10 minutes at moderate heat. Let it dry on a flat surface, once dry: iron it (!!) but inside out, the seams will be straighter and your sweater will look like new!!

  • Oh no!! I’m anxiously awaiting the Cos site to open in 2014 and now I will be insanely careful with their wool sweaters. :O


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