Although many T-shirts are made of cotton, a natural and breathable fabric, they also often come out of the factory bright and loaded with manufacturing chemicals. From brand-new concert tees to weekend wear, make your shirt into a well-loved, faded fashion statement without waiting a decade for the results.
Use a Salt Soak
Soften and fade your shirt with common products you often can find in your pantry. Mix together 1/4 cup sodium bicarbonate washing soda and 2 cups of iodized salt in a quart of water. Soak the T-shirt in the mixture for at least one day and for as much as three days.
The salt works to fade and soften the fabric while the sodium bicarbonate removes the protective factory-made sizing and manufacturing chemicals. To ensure the fabric is evenly covered by the mixture, swirl the fabric in the mixture every once in a while throughout the soaking period.
Once you see the results you want, wash and dry the shirt as directed on the care label.
Consider a Hot Wash
Nothing works better at fading color than piping hot water, as black jeans have tragically proven in the past. After soaking your T-shirt in the brine mixture mentioned above, throw it in the washing machine with some strong, powdered detergent.
Set the machine to the highest possible temperature and agitation settings. Repeat the wash cycle a few times to quickly fade the fabric. Dry the T-shirt on a high heat setting. The repeated use of heat will weaken and softens fibers while also toning down the color.
However, beware that using extreme high heat could also shrink the fabric, so try it on after each drying session to make sure it still fits. It won't do any good to fade it if you can no longer wear it.
Leave your T-shirt in the sun to dry after washing or whenever you are not wearing it. The rays quickly fade color, and you don't have to lift a finger.
Try a Heavy Duty Fade
If soaking, washing and drying don't fade your fabric effectively, you can up the ante. Mix a gallon of water with 1/2 cup of bleach. Put on some rubber gloves and place your shirt in the mixture and agitate the shirt for about 5 minutes.
Keep an eye on the color as you agitate and remove as soon as you see the color you desire. Keep in mind bleach works quickly. Remove promptly, and put in a hot wash cycle to remove any excess bleach.
Sweep some fine-grain sandpaper over any screen print designs to fade the ink and give the T-shirt a vintage, worn-in feel.
Monitor the Results
Regardless of which fading method you use, it's important to monitor the results throughout the process to ensure you get the faded look you want. This is not a "set it and forget it" process. Different fabrics will react differently to each method, with some fading faster than others, so keep a check on it as you proceed.