How do I make a t-shirt softer?
January 30, 2006 12:14 AM   Subscribe

How do I make a t-shirt softer?

My boyfriend gave me a t-shirt of his that I'd like to use to sleep in, but it's made of a fairly stiff cotton rather than the soft stuff I usually wear.

Is there some way to make it softer (preferably one that doesn't require too many washings, as I am a poor student who uses a laundromat)?
posted by anjamu to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Um... fabric... softener?
posted by disillusioned at 12:20 AM on January 30, 2006

Strange as this sounds, I think someone in my family once had an allergic reaction to fabric softener, so we never used it in any form except dryer sheets (which don't seem to have a dramatic effect).

Will just one wash with liquid fabric softener do the trick?
posted by anjamu at 12:31 AM on January 30, 2006

I've heard grand stories about Downy, but most of my clothes are jeans and cotton blend t-shirts. They're... soft, in that they're not brittle... But I'm not sure I've paid that close of attention between when I use and when I forget the fabric softener.

I read on a site debasing the chemical nature of fabric softeners that a quarter cup of baking soda during the wash cycle will help as well.

I'd say give the Downy stuff a shot if you're reall interested in softening things up and see how well it does after a couple of cycles.
posted by disillusioned at 1:33 AM on January 30, 2006

Try the softener that comes without dyes or perfumes. And as far as I know, a sheet and the liquid do the same thing, no?
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:03 AM on January 30, 2006

I've always felt that cotton fabrics washed with liquid fabric softener tend to develop "build up" over the course of many washings. Also, it's a pain in the butt if you don't have 1) a washer with a fabric softener dispenser, 2) time to wait around for the rinse cycle, or 3) faith in contraptions like the "Downy Ball".

Notwithstanding, with the liquid stuff, the tradeoff for ubersoftness seems to be a declining absorbtion ability. This is why I don't use liquid softener on fabrics whose primary business involves being used directly on skin, like bath towels and undershirts. I recall reading a laundry article on some domestic "how do I do Y?" website a few years back that said more or less the same thing as well.

Come to think of it, I've been using sheets to soften my fabrics for a while now, with zero complaints. Try sheets? Unscented, if you're sensitive to stuff like that.
posted by porntips guzzardo at 6:41 AM on January 30, 2006

Sorry, I don't think fabric softener will do anything for you.

The stiffness of the cotton could be due to some fabric sizing remaining, or it could be related to the thickness of the threads/finished fabric, which would not be affected by fabric softener at all.

Try washing it a few times and see if it gets any softer -- although sizing usually comes out in the first wash or clothing is pre-washed before being sold to the consumer -- but if you simply have a heavier weight cotton shirt, it won't be "softer" (that is, lighter or more supple) until you wear it thin over the years.
posted by rosemere at 6:58 AM on January 30, 2006

I don't think that fabric softener is going to do what you want. Fabric softener is just to make clothes smell nice, "feel" soft (see above about build-up), but not to beat up / break down fabric fibers to make the shirt thinner and more gauze-y, which is what I take you to be asking. Another way to ask the question is: How can I get this shirt to be like those really really expensive t-shirts that I see in boutiques?

I think the answer is sand or other abrasive. I'd hand wash it in a bucket with a bunch of clean sand or some other abrasive (small granite rocks?). Throw in some detergent if you'd like, and then try to work the sand into the fabric by wrining and kneading. Then try to knead and fiddle to get the sand out (mostly). After this dry the shirt and then wash it normally. A couple of times of this will start to wear the shirt down. CAUTION: I've never done this. [I have used sandpaper on jeans though, so I'm all about "fashion sponsored by Home Depot".]

Maybe the kids at can help. Good supportive community of homemade shirt nerds.
posted by zpousman at 7:04 AM on January 30, 2006

Fabric softener just adds a waxy/greasy layer. If you had access to a non-laundramat dryer you could tumble it on cool with a couple of tennis shoes for 4 hours or so and see what that does.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:19 AM on January 30, 2006

You could also try putting it in bleachy water in a bucket for a few hours, but you risk dissolving it, so do a test.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:21 AM on January 30, 2006

I'm allergic to fabric softener, gives me a rash, the smell makes my nose itch.
To really soften up your t-shirt, I'd recommend doing your best to break the fibers down manually: leave it on the floor, step on it, do the twist on it, treat it generally like crap. It will take a while, but will eventually be heavenly-soft. This is the kind of life-lessons you get from being a slob.
posted by Sara Anne at 8:02 AM on January 30, 2006

I've heard that washing your jeans with rock salt in the washer aids in breaking them in... I'm sure it would do the same for a t-shirt. I haven't done it myself, though, but I've been meaning to -- so I don't have any first-hand experience, or an idea as to quantity.
posted by penchant at 8:02 AM on January 30, 2006

I've had some t-shirts that were soft and comfy from the beginning and some that have gotten harsher with every wash. Outfits that print promotional t-shirts often use cheap shirts, so if yours a printed shirt it's probably a cheap cotton that will never feel particularly nice. Better to find yourself something comfier to wear to bed.
posted by zadcat at 9:11 AM on January 30, 2006

Salt water is your friend - if you live near the beach, try leaving it in a bucket of sea water for a while, or washing it in sea water. My brother and his friends used to drag new jeans behind a boat to totally soften and somewhat bleach them. So I bet that penchant's suggestion would work. I can't take the chemical-y smell or feeling of fabric softener; I'd try the rock salt first.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:14 AM on January 30, 2006

I use the Downy ball, with about 20% more fabric softener than they tell you to use, and it seems to me that my clothes get softer.

I have never used these - but it could be worth a try. Some guy at the State fair tried to sell them to me, and they sound good but won't make my clothes smell pretty, so I didn't buy.
posted by KAS at 9:18 AM on January 30, 2006

Um, I guess I messed up the link -

It's the "amazing dryer balls" as seen on TV.
posted by KAS at 9:19 AM on January 30, 2006

I asked this, and had it very thoroughly answered:
posted by everichon at 9:23 AM on January 30, 2006

"Another way to ask the question is: How can I get this shirt to be like those really really expensive t-shirts that I see in boutiques?"

The irony is that the shirts I want it to feel like are the ones I bought at Kohl's in the range of $6.

everichon, did you try any of the ideas people recommended to you? Soaking the shirt in apple vinegar seems like the most feasible way to me.

If all else fails, I'll wait until the next time I go to my parents' house and then try rock salt or tennis shoes.
posted by anjamu at 9:53 AM on January 30, 2006

I've had pretty good luck with soaking shirts in white vinegar for 6-8 hours. Takes a couple of washings to get the vinegar smell out, but it definitely softens the fibers and removes any detergent buildup.
posted by Orrorin at 1:25 PM on January 30, 2006

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