Salt Water Is Not the Only Way to Soften a T-Shirt


You have invested a decent amount of money in a collection of brand-new T-shirts. For what you’ve paid, you’re expecting soft and comfortable shirts from the very first wearing. Unfortunately, you are disappointed by reality. So out come the warm water and salt. It’s time for you to soften up those T-shirts by soaking them in a salty brine.

Did you know that salt water is not the only way to soften a T-shirt? There are other methods that work just as effectively. Even if you are settled on the salt water method, there are multiple ways to employ it. The point here is that there is more than one way to get the job done.

1. ‘Cooking’ in Salt Water

Before discussing some of those other methods, let’s talk about the tried-and-true salt water method. In a recent blog post, New York City-based latino sweatshirt and hoodie seller Plurawl described the most common way to soften T-shirts with salt water. They described soaking a T-shirt in a brine solution for an hour or longer. Plurawl noted that some materials can take 24 hours or longer to soften significantly.

If you don’t have that kind of time, there’s another way to do it. Instead of cold soaking, you actually ‘cook’ your T-shirts over the stove. First, fill a pot with water and put it on the stove to boil. Add a cup of salt and stir it in to help it dissolve.

Once the water reaches a rolling boil, turn it down to low. Place a T-shirt you have already soaked with tap water into the pot and put the lid on. Now let it sit for 30-45 minutes. Then, remove, rinse, and run the T-shirt through a normal wash cycle. It should be quite soft when you pull it out of the dryer.

2. Washing with Vinegar

If salt water is not your thing, you can soften T-shirts by washing them in a vinegar and baking soda solution. Make sure you use clear vinegar and not apple cider or red wine vinegar. After all, you don’t want to stain your T-shirt.

Put a tablespoon or so of baking soda in a large mixing bowl. Slowly add one cup vinegar. The mixture will fizz and foam. Once all the fizzing subsides, gently stir the mixture to completely dissolve the remaining baking soda. Now pour the solution into your washing machine and throw in a T-shirt. Wash it on the normal cycle for that fabric, but don’t add any detergent. Throw it in the dryer afterwards and you’re all done.

3. Abrasion Softening

A non-liquid means of softening T-shirts involves abrasion. Use something like a pumice stone, scouring pad, or sandpaper to GENTLY scuff the surface of the fabric. Be as careful as you can to evenly scuff across the entire surface – inside and out. Also note that this method will scuff printed graphics, too. This is fine if you’re trying to make a new shirt look old. If you don’t want to damage the graphics, use a different method.

The key to abrasion softening is soaking the T-shirt in a fabric softener and water mixture after you finish the abrasion portion. Soaking overnight should do the trick for most T-shirts. Then wash as normal.

There are still more methods for softening T-shirts not described in this post. If the salt water method works for you, go for it. Otherwise, a little research will uncover many more ways to get the job done. Regardless of your chosen method, a softer T-shirt is the ultimate goal.

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