How to Soften a T-Shirt

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A salt brine can act as a natural fabric softener.
A salt brine can act as a natural fabric softener. (Image: schafar/iStock/Getty Images)

The soft, broken-in feel of a well-loved T-shirt is a wonderful thing. So wonderful, in fact, you're looking for a way to obtain that comfortable softness without the wait. In truth, age is the only surefire way to get that lived-in feeling from your tee, but you can experiment with a handful of methods to reduce the stiffness of a newer T-shirt before it becomes a vintage classic.

Fabric Softener

Washing your T-shirts repeatedly with a commercial fabric softener is an easy way to soften them up for a comfortable wear. Fabric softener works by coating the threads of your garment with a lubricating chemical sheath that makes it feel softer to the touch, while causing it to be less prone to wrinkling and static cling. One drawback: some people find fabric softener to be a skin irritant.

Tumble Dry

Putting your T-shirts in the dryer to tumble dry is another effective way to soften up clothing -- in this case, by prematurely aging it. The mechanical action of tumble drying abrades the fibers of your tee -- just like normal wear and tear does -- only faster. If you don't mind the wear, you can break in your T-shirts by running them through a few extra tumble-dry cycles on low to medium heat. Tumble drying does increase the risk of shrinkage, especially with 100-percent cotton tees.

Salt Brine

A salt brine can soften your T-shirts to a certain extent, acting as a natural fabric softener. Dissolve a half-cup of salt into a quart of water and soak your tee in the mixture for three days, then wash with a small amount of detergent and tumble dry. This method is not as effective as commercial fabric softeners and the results may be subtle, though still noticeable.

Vinegar Rinse

Use vinegar as a fabric softener. Add a half-cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle of your washing machine in the same way you would use a commercial fabric softener. You can also try using a fabric-softener dispenser ball in the washer but this time filled with vinegar. Your laundry will not smell like vinegar, but your shirts will be a little softer to the touch.

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