T-shirt cotton conundrum
March 15, 2005 8:29 AM   Subscribe

I have a lot of cotton t-shirts, of the medium-to-heavy weight kind that usually have something printed on them. There seem to be two distinct kinds of cotton fabric in the shirts: Good: After a few washes, the shirt becomes soft and kind of broken in. Bad: the shirt never really becomes soft or broken in, and worse, inevitably comes out of the dryer with (clean) lint and cat hair all over it. So I have two questions about this:
1. What accounts for the different outcomes for two 100% cotton shirts?
2. Is there any solution, ASIDE from using fabric softener? Any non-nasty alternatives to fabric softener?
posted by everichon to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I eagerly await the answer to this question as well. I would also ask, is there any way to notice the difference before buying the shirt?
posted by ontic at 9:07 AM on March 15, 2005

Best answer: I can't speak to the cotton issues. Natural fibers such as cotton shouldn't develop static or stay hard. But as to the fabric softener issue, there are a couple of solutions.

For the wash: add a cup of vinegar to the final rinse cycle, or soak the "hard" shirts in the sink with some vingegar for half an hour or so before washing them and see if that fixes it. (I find apple vinegar works best and doesn't leave a scent.)

Alternately, for those whom do not have time to perch upon their machine awaiting said final rinse (myself included), you can make dryer sheets with some old rags.

Get a mason/mayo jar with a lid, or a plastic bottle with a spray nozzle.

In container mix 4oz sweet almond oil, 12oz slightly warm water (80F or so.), 1 tsp borax (it's an emulsifier), and up to 3 tsp essential oil of choice. (Warning 3 tsp is *a lot* of EO...I recommend starting with one and seeing if the scent is enough for you.)

Close container and shake until it's all mixed together and you don't see grains. (The warm water helps with this part.)

Dampen (NOT SOAK!) a rag with the mixture and toss it in the dryer. Leave mixture sealed until the next time you need it. Remember to shake each time, EOs tend to separate. Store at room temp, out of sunlight.

There you go...fast, natural, non-chemical, static stopper and clothes freshener.

Let me know if you need some ideas for making essential oil scent blends, or reputable online suppliers if you don't have a local company that sells to the candle and soap maker market. I recommend a local supplier if you can find one, because you almost always want to be able to smell what you're purchasing if you're unfamiliar with the supplier, brand, point of origin, etc.
posted by dejah420 at 9:53 AM on March 15, 2005 [10 favorites]

I have the same problem with my cotton shirts. There seems to be a correlation to price: the more you pay, the softer the shirt becomes.
posted by goatdog at 9:55 AM on March 15, 2005

Response by poster: That's great, dejah, I am going to try both the vinegar and the home-made fabric sheets! I am still quite curious about why some cotton is different than other cotton. I suspect goatdog may be on to something. :o)
posted by everichon at 10:29 AM on March 15, 2005

the difference, as in buying 100% cotton sheets, is thread count, weave and finish. "mercanized" cotton, which is a finish, stiffens the fibers, making them permanently straight and probably the cause of the bad shirts. fabric softeners, et al, will not affect it.

so, steer clear of mercanized cotton (the label will not always say). look for a looser weave (which will be more prone to holes) ringspun cotton is softest, IMO.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:41 AM on March 15, 2005

Cheap cotton has short, weak fibers that tend to break. Good quality cotton has long, strong fibers that hold up well. The tightness of the weave, or knit, in the case of cotton tshirts, also makes a big difference. Tighter weaves/knits are "crunchier". No idea how to tell the difference before buying other than buying more of the ones you like.
posted by theora55 at 10:48 AM on March 15, 2005

crush-onastick, it's Mercerized cotton. It looks as if long staple cotton is more likely to be Mercerized, which would seem to me to lead to a better quality T-shirt. (Better fiber = better shirt.)
But IANAFA. (I am not a fiber artist) So I dunno.
posted by Floydd at 11:03 AM on March 15, 2005

Owing to some health problems, my skin is incredibly sensitive. I have a hard time wearing most shirts.

The shirts I find comfortable are old, thoroughly worn t-shirts. I'm talking about ones where the fabric is half its original thickness and has taken on a smooth, almost silky feel. Softness is nice of course and I think it helps, but trial and error have taught me that it's this smoothness which is the key difference between a comfortable shirt and a horrible torture device that I want to rip off my back and shred with my bare hands. I've encountered many a shirt that's soft but not smooth; they just don't do the job. I sometimes find new, retail shirts - usually at the GAP - that come fairly close to the texture I want, but shopping for shirts remains a real nightmare for me.

Could Mercerized cotton (Floydd's post) or vinegar-softened shirts (dejah420's post) possibly be the answer to my problem? Or is this just a different kettle of fish altogether? I'm willing to spend a few bucks on better quality cotton, but I don't know what I'm looking for. Higher thread counts? Longer fibers (as discussed above)? I'm pretty clueless here.
posted by Clay201 at 8:37 PM on March 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

hey clay201 try american apparel. they are so soft and thin you can see through some of them. so soft!
posted by c at 9:20 PM on March 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

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