How to Soften a New T-Shirt
I hate new T-shirts.
I guess I should qualify that statement. I love brand new soft, flexible cotton/polyester mix T-shirts, and I love new thin, soft cotton T-shirts with that delicious comfy vintage feel. Who doesn't?
But I hate, hate, hate the feel of a brand new thick, scratchy cotton t-shirt (like the Hanes Beefy-T style shirts). That type of T-shirt is completely uncomfortable and unflattering, especially to the female body. I want a T that will mold to my curves and move with me, not one that will bunch and wrinkle in weird places and make me look like a big round log. Ugh!
So, normally I only buy shirts in styles I find comfortable and attractive. But once in a while I want to support a smaller band or artist with limited merchandise options. This past weekend, for example, I went to see my artist friend at the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival. She gave me a T-shirt with some of her drawings to help advertise her art booth. The shirt is super cute and I love it. But it's one of the dreaded thick, scratchy cotton T's.
Since I don't want to wait a few years or have to wash it 200+ times to get that comfy worn T-shirt feeling, I decided to see if the internet had any solutions. A quick Google search turned up some DIY shirt-softening methods from various forums and message boards. The two most common methods I found are the vinegar method and the salt water method. But nobody offered any conclusive proof that they work or posted photos of their softened shirts.
So, I decided to try for myself. Here's my experience with both methods, including my assessment of their usefulness (at the end).
Softening a New T-Shirt with Vinegar
- Clear vinegar (don't use apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, etc-- they'll stain your shirts)
- Baking soda
- Measuring spoons and cups
- Add one tablespoon baking soda to a bowl or large measuring cup.
- Pour in one cup of clear vinegar. Do it very slowly or it will fizz and bubble everywhere and make a mess. I did it in my old laundry sink just to be safe.
- Wait for the mixture to settle down and stop fizzing, then give it a good stir to make sure the baking soda is completely mixed in.
- When there are no more bubbles or foam, pour your baking soda/vinegar mix into the washing machine with your T-shirt and run it through a normal wash and dry cycle.
The shirt wasn't damaged and my washing machine wasn't damaged (which is good to know), so trying this method out doesn't hurt anything.
But I couldn't tell any difference in the shirt's texture or softness. It felt just as scratchy against my skin and wasn't more pliable or flexible.
However, I did notice that the shirt smelled fresh and clean. Although the vinegar mixture didn't do anything to soften my shirt, it seems to have cleaned it perfectly. So, maybe vinegar and baking soda could work as a cheap alternative to laundry soap-- but it's pretty ineffective as a softener.
Softening a New T-Shirt with Salt Water
- One large pot with lid
- One cup of salt
- Wooden spoon or similar utensil
- Enough water to fill the pot
- Range or stovetop
- Strainer or colander
- Fill a large pot with water. Leave a little room to submerge your T-shirt.
- Add one cup of salt and stir it in.
- Place the pot on your stovetop or range and bring it to a rolling boil.
- Once the water is boiling, wet your T-shirt. Just run it under the sink until it's fully saturated. This step is important because a dry T-shirt will just float on top of the water. It'll be much harder to submerge if you haven't wet it first.
- Turn your burner to low heat so that the water is no longer boiling.
- Place your wet T-shirt in the pot of salt water.
- Use a wooden spoon or other utensil to poke out the air bubbles and make sure the shirt is under the water.
- Put the lid on your pot and leave it sit on a low heat (with the shirt inside) for 30 to 45 minutes.
- After the 30-45 minutes have passed, turn off the burner and pour the contents of the pot (T-shirt and salt water) into a strainer or colander.
- Once the shirt has cooled enough to touch, rinse it thoroughly to remove the excess salt residue.
- Run the shirt through a normal wash and dry cycle.
The salt method also did not cause any damage to the shirt or the washing machine, so this experiment is also totally safe to try.
I noticed that the collar of my shirt was much softer and more flexible, which is awesome because I hate when shirts feel like they're choking me.
The fabric in general feels softer, but only slightly. The shirt is not noticeably more pliable or flexible, as far as I can tell. It feels about the same.
Perhaps soaking the shirt longer or repeating this process several times would produce better results.
The vinegar method did not soften my T-shirt or make it more flexible at all, as far as I could tell.
The salt method softened and loosened the collar of my shirt and made the fabric slightly softer to the touch, but it did not make the shirt more flexible.
After trying both the salt water and vinegar method of softening shirts, I have concluded that neither will truly make a brand new thick, stiff T-shirt feel like a comfy worn vintage one. The salt method helps a little bit, but after this experiment, I've come to believe that time and multiple washes are the only way to achieve a truly soft, flexible feel for your new T-shirts.
I was rather disappointed by my results, but at least now I know!