How to soften vintage t-shirts

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How to soften vintage t-shirts

T-shirts are everywhere. BUT there is nothing like wearing a vintage t-shirt. Not only does the piece give you an instant sense of accomplishment for finding such a gem, but whatever vintage t-shirt you’ve found - a concert t-shirt. Statement wardrobe piece. Fan apparel. A comfy pyjama top. You know that piece is proof you’re doing your part to live sustainably, at least with your clothing.

However, everything can seem peachy until you get home and encounter one huge problem… a piece of clothing that’s supposed to be easy, casual, and multipurpose suddenly becomes an irritating nuisance. It was fine and soft to the touch in your hands in the charity shop/ retro store but now that it’s on your body, it’s either too stiff and boxy or it’s scratchy and unstructured. Let’s just say that, despite your best efforts to pick a high-quality t-shirt, for some reason, it’s boxy and stiff perhaps from being packed, travelling, and unworn for so long. The truth is that most used t-shirts don’t quite have that incredible texture.

Perhaps the itching and scratching are unbearable and you’re considering throwing the awesome vintage t-shirt away or giving it out and getting a new t-shirt - even though you know deep down that if that piece somehow manages to be soft it’s probably because the material is thin.

Don’t throw your treasure away yet, because, in this article, we’re going to share with you how to make vintage t-shirts softer using simple home ingredients.

Why soften your vintage t-shirts?

They can be used as casual clothing, comfortable companions, and classy accompaniments to blazers and suit jackets. Plus, they’re incredibly useful when layering — but, all of this flexibility also means that t-shirts come into direct contact with your skin. And that’s where the discomfort begins. Softening your t-shirt helps boost the comfort felt when wearing the garment.

Aside from comfort, there are a few other reasons why it makes sense to soften t-shirts, including these:

  • It will remove any chemicals that may have been used as preservatives for t-shirts, and as these chemicals might be allergens or even harmful, softening protects you.
  • Softening creates more pores in the fabric, thus allowing air to flow freely and making the t-shirt more breathable.
  • As the t-shirt becomes more breathable, you sweat less and remain fresh much longer.

Disclaimer / Forewarning

You can soften your t-shirt — but you must know it can be risky. You’ve got to choose the right technique for your fabric blend. The last thing you want is your attempts to soften your t-shirt (basically improving your experience of wearing it) resulting in you completely ruining the colour, print, logo, or fit. There is a trick, however, that you can use to make all of your t-shirts feel amazing!

One other thing you have got to know is that when you soften the t-shirt, it might shrink in size, perhaps up to 1 size down. Thus, when choosing a t-shirt, ensure that you go for something that’s at least 1 size bigger than what you normally wear. If, for instance, you wear size 14, you can go for a size 16 or 18.

Picture your vintage t-shirt as perfectly vintage-soft because by the time you’re done going through the steps described below, you should be able to break into stiff t-shirts till they feel vintage-soft. This will not only boost their comfort level but also make them appear cooler.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Step 1: Make a mix

All you need is some good old table salt, baking soda, and warm water or water and vinegar in a large bucket to make your vintage t-shirt feel soft and fluffy. For both mixtures, it’s one-quarter water, to about ½ cup of salt and baking soda or ½ cup of vinegar. Softening fabric requires opening of the fibres, the salt will act as an abrasive, and it will ease the fibres of the shirt and make the shirt look vintage/old. The washing soda will break down the shirt and remove the coating that makes it stiff, crisp, and new. "The salt and vinegar mixture will also open up the fibres," says Fashion Institute of Technology professor Ingrid Johnson, who works in the Home Products Development department. "The mixture will add volume to the cotton, much like adding volume to your hair. The fibres will be brushed up." Regardless of how it works, the point is – it DOES work. Really well!

Step 2: Submerge and soak your t-shirt

Soak your t-shirt in the mixture for about seven minutes - Some people say you need to leave your t-shirt in overnight, but all the magic will be done in just about seven minutes, no more, no less, - that’s what the experts say. This process will work on cotton, cotton/poly blends, and modals.

Step 3: Machine wash and dry as normal

Use a mild detergent at the highest temperature and place the t-shirt in there along with a towel. The hot water will weaken the fibers and prep them for softening. You can tumble-dry as usual, but be sure to pull your shirt out of the dryer before it fully dries. "If it is bone-dry, the T-shirt will feel scratchy," Johnson says. "Just like your skin, you want the shirt to be a little hydrated and then air-dry."

Step 4: Repeat

Repeat the softening process around four to five times (if it’s not soft the first time). When it comes to the machine-wash step, before turning on the machine, pour in the salt, baking soda, or vinegar mixture then continue to wash and dry the garment as described in the last few steps above. You can do it more times until the fabric gains your desired softness level, but we’d like to believe five times will be enough.

Give it a try for yourself. We think you’ll be impressed with the results!

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