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Does Acrylic Shrink? How to Shrink or Unshrink Acrylic Sweaters and Yarn (2024)

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does acrylic shrinkYou know the feeling—that favorite sweater starts to sag and bag.

Acrylic’s a tricky fabric. Unlike natural fibers, it won’t shrink much. Yet too much heat will melt it.

So can acrylic be shrunk safely? Yes, with care.

Strategic washing and targeted heat reshape acrylic clothing gently.

Tighten up loose threads and revive drooping acrylic sweaters.

Bring back their structure and shape.

With simple tricks, resize and refresh old acrylic favorites.

Key Takeaways

Acrylic has minimal natural shrinkage compared to other fibers. High heat drying can cause acrylic to shrink unintentionally. Acrylic can be shrunk intentionally with hot water washing and heat drying. Shrunk acrylic clothing can be reshaped while wet and heat set to return to a larger size.

What is Acrylic Fabric?

What is Acrylic Fabric
Acrylic is a synthetic fabric made from plastic that mimics the properties of wool.

As textile engineers, we know acrylic is economical, lightweight, soft, and warm like wool while being more durable and easier to care for.

Its durable fibers resist shrinking and fading yet also allow for versatility in fabric finishing techniques.

By modifying production methods, acrylic’s inherent shrinkage potential can be controlled to create custom fabrics with desired shrinkage rates.

However, acrylic’s synthetic origins pose unique challenges for post-production resizing as the fibers lack the elasticity of natural fabrics.

Care must be taken during laundering, drying, and blocking to gently coax acrylic fibers into a smaller shape without causing distortion.

With proper yarn preparation and strategic shrinking techniques, acrylic’s versatility can be harnessed to create innovative fabrics that balance affordability, ease of care, and the comfort and quality that consumers desire.

Does Acrylic Shrink When Washed?

Does Acrylic Shrink When Washed
Acrylic can shrink slightly when washed, though typically less than natural fibers like wool or cotton.

When machine washing acrylic fabrics, use warm or cold water and avoid high heat drying to minimize potential shrinkage.

Always check garment labels, as some acrylic materials specify gentle cold water washing.

If planning to intentionally shrink an acrylic sweater or yarn, washing in hot 140°F+ water can encourage up to 5% shrinkage.

However, acrylic resizing requires caution – excessive heat damages fibers.

Test shrinkage on swatches first and reshape garments promptly before drying to control reduction.

With care when washing, acrylic maintains its structure and provides convenience lacking in high-maintenance natural textiles.

Though acrylic shrinks minimally, proper fabric care preserves material integrity.

Does Acrylic Shrink in the Dryer?

Does Acrylic Shrink in the Dryer
When drying your acrylic clothes, you’ll find they may shrink due to the heat of the dryer.

As innovators in textile care, we know acrylic fibers are sensitive to high temperatures.

Exposing acrylic knitwear to excess heat, whether during washing or drying, can cause the fibers to relax and tighten up.

This shrinkage occurs because the polymers making up the acrylic threads become less rigid when hot.

To prevent unwanted dryer shrinkage, use low or medium heat settings.

Air drying also works well.

Fabric softener sheets can reduce static cling.

And always promptly remove items after cycle completion – any prolonged heat exposure may incrementally shrink your sweaters, socks, or other acrylics over time.

A bit of forethought protects your threads.

With some reasonable care, innovative fabrics like acrylics retain their shape and belong in your adventurous wardrobe.

How to Shrink Acrylic Clothing

How to Shrink Acrylic Clothing
To shrink acrylic clothing:

  • Use heat and wash the items in hot water.
  • The heat from drying and the hot water make the acrylic fibers relax and contract to slightly reduce size.
  • Repeat the machine wash and dry process if additional shrinkage is needed after assessing results from the first cycle.

Use Heat

Having washed the acrylic clothes in hot water, you’d now dry them using high heat settings to shrink them further.

As a textile engineer, I’d advise applying heat via tumble drying to maximize shrinkage potential.

With acrylic’s thermoplastic nature, the polymer chains compact under heat, reducing fabric dimensions.

However, use caution – excessive temperatures risk permanent damage.

Better to incrementally increase dryer heat while checking frequently, stopping shrinkage before fibers degrade.

Gentle heat allows moderating shrinkage as desired, but brittleness indicates overheating.

Balance proper acrylic care with your shrinkage goals through controlled heat application.

Wash in Hot Water

One effective way to shrink acrylic clothing is by washing it in hot water.

  • Use boiling water in a bucket or sink for 10 minutes.
  • Then machine wash on hot with heavy agitation.
  • Check sizing and repeat as needed.
  • Air dry to set size.
  • Test on swatch first to avoid overshrinking delicate acrylic fibers.

Alternate cool water method is safer.

Tips for Washing Acrylic Clothes

Tips for Washing Acrylic Clothes
You’ll want to check the care label and wash acrylic clothes in cold water to avoid excessive shrinkage.

When caring for acrylic fabrics:

  • Use a gentle, cold water wash cycle with a mild detergent. Overly hot water can cause acrylic fibers to relax and shrink.
  • Skip the fabric softener, as it can leave residue on acrylic that attracts dirt.
  • Tumble dry on low and remove promptly from the dryer. Extended heat exposure allows the fibers to take on a permanently smaller shape.

Limiting heat and agitation keeps acrylic clothing pilling-free and shrinkage-free. With a delicate touch, your machine-knit acrylics will maintain their shape and soft hand for seasons of stain-free, fashionable wear.

Can You Unshrink Acrylic?

Can You Unshrink Acrylic
You can attempt to unshrink acrylic by:

  • Reshaping it while still wet after washing.
  • Applying heat again.

The polymer chains in acrylic relax when wet and can be manually stretched back to size before drying.

Re-exposing the damp, reshaped acrylic to heat can set it in the larger size and reverse previous shrinkage.

Reshape While Wet

If your acrylic sweater has accidentally shrunk too much, you can try reshaping it by hand while it’s still wet after washing.

Gently stretch and smooth the fabric back into shape.

Lay flat on a towel to dry fully before moving.

For severe shrinkage, it may be necessary to re-wet and repeat reshaping.

Storing properly can help prevent re-shrinking—keep in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

Use Heat Again

Another way you’re able to try unshrinking acrylic is by using heat again after it has shrunk too much initially.

Carefully reshape the garment while still damp, then allow it to fully air dry.

Once dry, use a moderately warm iron to apply heat, working slowly to gently stretch and redistribute the fibers.

Check sizing frequently and reshape again if needed.

Contained heat allows precise control over gradually relaxing acrylic to return size.

With patience, heat remodels over-shrunken acrylic.

Why Does Acrylic Shrink?

Why Does Acrylic Shrink
Since acrylic is a synthetic fiber, you don’t expect it to shrink like natural fibers when washed.

However, acrylic can lose its shape and shrink when exposed to high heat during laundering or drying.

This occurs because the polymers that make up acrylic fibers can be reshaped when sufficiently heated, allowing the fibers to relax and shrink.

Proper care is therefore required when laundering acrylic items to prevent unwanted shrinkage.

  • The acrylic polymer chains can rearrange and shrink when heated above a critical temperature.
  • As heat increases molecular motion, the polymer chains become more flexible.
  • Above the glass transition temperature, the chains have enough mobility to relax to a more stable, shrunken state.
  • Heat can also release latent strain in the fibers introduced during manufacturing.
  • Exposing acrylic to sustained high temperatures allows more polymer chain motion, enabling greater shrinkage over time.

With a nuanced understanding of how heat impacts acrylic at the molecular level, we can better care for these useful synthetic fabrics.

Gentle treatment preserves the shape and durability of garments.

How to Store Acrylic Clothes

How to Store Acrylic Clothes
You’ll want to store your acrylic clothes properly to maintain their shape and prevent shrinkage over time.

Here are 3 key tips:

  1. Control moisture.

    Allow acrylic items to fully air dry before storage.

    Check drawers for excess moisture that could cause shrinkage.

    Consider using moisture-absorbing products.

  2. Use proper folding techniques.

    Refold items smoothly along the original creases.

    Avoid overly tight folds that could stretch the fibers.

  3. Use non-wire hangers.

    Wire hangers can stretch acrylic sweaters out of shape over time.

    Opt for thick, non-wire hangers instead.

When organizing your dresser, store acrylics separately from fabrics like wool that could infuse them with unwanted heat during washing.

Proper storage helps acrylic maintain its durable, long-lasting performance.

Shrinking Acrylic Yarn

Shrinking Acrylic Yarn
You can shrink acrylic yarn by washing it in hot water and drying it using high heat.

Shrinking Method Result Tips
Hot Water Wash Tightens stitches Use hottest setting allowed
High Heat Drying Fibers contract Don’t overdry
Repeat Process Incremental shrinkage Check frequently to avoid overshrinking
Soak in Hot Water Yarn relaxes Gently stretch while wet to reshape
Lay Flat to Dry Defines new size Block to desired dimensions

When resizing acrylic yarn pieces, patience and care are key. Test your selected technique on a swatch before committing your full project to avoid unpleasant surprises. Adjust water temperature, drying times, and repetitions as needed to achieve your ideal gauge.

Seek advice from experienced crafters if struggling with consistently resizing acrylic yarn. With some trial and error, you can master intentional shrinkage for customizing handmade pieces.

Alternatives to Shrinking Acrylic

Alternatives to Shrinking Acrylic
If you don’t want to risk shrinking your acrylic garments, you could consider getting them altered or exchanging them for a better fit instead.

Given the resizing challenges posed by acrylic’s fiber characteristics, you have some options.

First, take the garment to a tailor for adjustments like taking in seams or hemming sleeves and pants.

Creative blocking techniques could also help resize a sweater more evenly.

Check if the retailer accepts returns or exchanges for a different size.

As a last resort with handmade pieces, make pattern modifications to adjust sizing for future projects, taking care to handle acrylic yarn care properly when washing and drying.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Will acrylic shrink in cold water?

Acrylic can shrink slightly in cold water.

Though less than other fabrics, acrylic fibers may contract up to 5% when agitated in water below 85°F.

Carefully launder garments inside-out, using mild detergent and minimal agitation to minimize potential shrinkage.

Reshape and lay flat while damp to maintain form.

How much can you expect acrylic to shrink?

Acrylic can shrink up to 3-5% of its original size.

Though less than natural fibers, improper care may still cause noticeable shrinkage.

Handle garments gently, follow fabric care instructions precisely, and resize cautiously to retain shape and structure.

Even slight mishandling risks distortion, so proactively prevent issues through proper techniques.

Is there a way to pre-shrink acrylic before making a project?

Yes, to preshrink acrylic, wash and dry a swatch of the yarn before starting your project.

This process allows the fibers to relax and accounts for any potential shrinkage.

Once preshrunk, the acrylic yarn should remain stable throughout the making and wearing of your item.

What percentage of acrylic is in this sweater – will a sweater with 15% acrylic content shrink as much as one that’s 100% acrylic?

The acrylic content will affect shrinkage potential.

A 15% blend likely has less shrinkage risk than 100% acrylic.

However, heat and agitation can still distort the fibers.

Check garment labels and test samples first when laundering.

Handle with care.

I accidentally felted my acrylic sweater – can it be un-felted or is it ruined?

Unfortunately, once acrylic is felted, it cannot be un-felted or returned to its original state.

The felting process is permanent and irreversible.

I’d recommend repurposing the sweater into something like mittens, boot linings, or even a pillow.

With some creativity, the felted acrylic can still have value.


As a textile engineer, I see acrylic clothing as a garden that requires care and patience.

Without attention, your favorite acrylic sweater may droop and stretch like a thirsty flower.

Yet with strategic heat and washing, its fibers can reshape, the way strategic pruning helps roses regain their form.

Like any garden, acrylic may revive when nurtured gently.

So remember, should your acrylic garments lose their shape, they hold the capacity to shrink back with care, the way plants can always regrow after a dry spell.

Avatar for Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a site dedicated to those passionate about crafting. With years of experience and research under his belt, he sought to create a platform where he could share his knowledge and skills with others who shared his interests.