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How to Soften a T Shirt

We love our t-shirts, and there’s nothing more comfortable than a t-shirt that is soft and worn in. But t-shirts, especially new ones, can feel stiff at first and aren’t that comfortable. It can take a while for some t-shirts to get broken in and have that soft feel to them, but is there a way that you can soften a t-shirt quicker?

Fabric softener can be used to soften t-shirts, but this can take a while. There are ways that you can soften a t-shirt quickly and easily using things you already have at home. Vinegar, salt, scouring pads, a pumice stone, and tumble drying your t-shirts can all make them softer.

In this article, I’ll explain how to soften a t-shirt using the items mentioned above. Some methods work better for certain types of t-shirts, so I’ll be sure to mention this as well. I’ll even explain how to give your t-shirts that vintage look and feel.

How to Soften a T Shirt

Can You Soften a T-Shirt?

Most t-shirts are made with 100% cotton, 100% polyester, or a cotton and polyester blend. Many polyester and blended t-shirts can feel stiff and scratchy at first but tend to soften over time with more washes and wear. If you want to soften them sooner, the good news is that you can without the use of fabric softener or heavy chemicals.

If 100% cotton t-shirts aren’t already soft, they can usually be softened a lot quicker. But you can soften any t-shirt yourself as long as you have the right products and use them effectively. Plus, some people just don’t like using fabric softener due to having sensitive skin or allergies, so there are other ways to do it that won’t cause those problems.

Why Soften a T-Shirt?

One of the most common reasons you might want to soften a t-shirt is to make it more comfortable. But there are several other reasons in addition to making it more comfortable.

For one, softening a t-shirt can give it a vintage look, which is great if you tend to have a vintage style but find a t-shirt you love that isn’t vintage. But, softening a t-shirt can also make it more breathable because it opens up the pores in the shirt, allowing more air to pass through and circulate more easily.

Another important reason that softening a t-shirt can be beneficial is that many types of clothing, t-shirts included, are often coated with chemicals to preserve them during shipping or make them more resistant to certain elements. Some of these chemicals may irritate the skin, so softening the shirt can be a way to remove these chemicals.

How to Soften a T-Shirt

One of the easiest ways to soften a t-shirt is using fabric softener in the wash. But, this can take a while, or at least a few washes, to make the fabric softer. And as previously mentioned, some people can’t use chemical fabric softeners due to allergies or sensitivities that they may have. Fabric softener can also make some fabrics less comfortable due to how it coats the fibers.

If you want a faster way to soften clothing that also won’t irritate your skin or allergies, there are natural and chemical-free ways to do this. Some of these methods can soften your t-shirts in as little as one wash, while others may take a couple of washes. But, they are all very effective and should give you desirable results.

1. Vinegar

VinegarWhite vinegar works best for t-shirts primarily made from cotton since most cotton is already somewhat soft on its own and vinegar is the gentlest method. You’ll first want to create a solution of vinegar and baking soda by adding 1 tablespoon of baking soda to a bowl, then pour in 1 cup of vinegar.

You’ll notice that the solution is fizzing, which is normal. Wait until it stops fizzing, then stir the solution and pour it into your washing machine the same way you would detergent. Add the shirt to the machine and wash it without detergent. For cotton fabrics, use cool water to prevent shrinking, but you can use warm water for polyester t-shirts or polyester/cotton blends.

Alternately, you can wash the shirt with your regular detergent and add ½ cup of vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser instead if you don’t have baking soda. Or, you can add vinegar to the machine during the rinse cycle. After washing the shirt, let it dry and repeat the process as necessary.

2. Salt

Redmond Real Salt - Ancient Fine Sea Salt, Unrefined Mineral Salt, 16 Ounce Pouch (1 Pack)Salt works well for cotton, polyester, and cotton/polyester blend t-shirts. To use it, add 1 cup of salt to a pot filled with water. Stir the salt until it has completely dissolved in the water, then put the pot on the stove, turn it on, and let the water come to a boil.

Once the water is boiling, soak your shirt by running it under cool water from the sink. This will help prevent damage when you place the shirt in boiling water. After placing the shirt in the boiling water, turn the water down to a simmer and let the shirt sit in the water for up to 45 minutes.

Remove the shirt from the water using tongs because it will be hot. Place the shirt in the sink and let it cool, then rinse it under cool water to remove some of the saltwater. Wash the shirt using your normal detergent and let it dry. Repeat the process if necessary or try another method.

3. Air Dry/Tumble Dry

The way that you’re drying your t-shirts could be making them stiff. Air-drying your clothes is the safest way to prevent damage, but it can also make them stiff to the lack of heat that is used. If you want your t-shirts to be softer, tumble dry them if it is safe for the fabric to do so.

Or, you can line dry them (preferably outside if the weather is good) until they are damp but not soaked. Then, finish drying them by placing them in the dryer on low heat to prevent shrinking and damage. You can also add tennis balls or dryer balls for extra softness.

4. Scouring Pads

Scotch-Brite Heavy Duty Scour Pads, Great For The Kitchen, Garage and Outdoors, 8 PadsScouring pads or Brillo pads used for washing dishes can also be used to make t-shirts softer. This method works especially well for t-shirts that have graphics on them since other methods can make the colors bleed or ruin the design. But, you can use scouring pads on t-shirts that don’t have graphics as well.

First, run the scouring pad over the clothing, paying close attention to stiffer areas, especially the sleeves and neckline. If the shirt has graphics on it, stay away from those areas if you don’t want them to appear distressed.

Next, create a mixture of ¼ cup of washing soda and 1 cup of salt. Stir them until evenly mixed and place your shirt in the washing machine. Set the water temperature to the hottest setting the fabric can handle (check the care tag).

Let the machine fill with water, then pour in the washing soda and salt mixture. Wash the shirt and let it dry. Repeat the process as necessary because it can take a few washes for this method to work.

5. Pumice Stone

Pumice Stone 2 Pcs, Natural Lave Pumice Stone for Feet/Hand, Small Callus Remover/Foot Scrubber Stone for Men/Women by MAYKIA pumice stone that you use to soften your skin can also soften a t-shirt.

First, gently run a pumice stone over the shirt, including around the sleeves, neckline, and hem.

Then create a solution of fabric softener and a few teaspoons of water and soak your shirt in it for several hours overnight.

After soaking the shirt, wash and dry it as you normally would.

How to Soften a Screen Printed Shirt

The best way to soften a screen-printed shirt is to use the scouring pad method or fine-grit sandpaper. But, how you use it depends on if you want both the shirt and the print to be softer or just the shirt itself.

To make just the shirt softer, use the scouring pad or sandpaper, following the instructions above. Just avoid the print if you don’t want to take some of the print off. If you want to soften the printed area (which can often feel stiff), run the fine-grit sandpaper gently over the print. Be careful, as it could take some of the print off if you’re too abrasive.

Then, wash the shirt in warm water using your normal detergent, and add fabric softener or vinegar to the wash. Dry it by line drying it until it is damp and then let it finish tumble-drying on low.

How Can You Make T-Shirts Look Vintage?

Making t-shirts look vintage can also be done with a scouring pad or sandpaper, especially if they have a logo. Making the logo look distressed and making the t-shirt softer is the best way to achieve the vintage look.

Run the pad over the shirt, especially around the sleeves and neckline. When you get to the logo, you can decide how much you want to distress it, but using more force or coarser grit sandpaper will distress the logo more.

Then, combine salt and washing powder the same way as instructed above and wash the shirt in hot water. Remember to add the salt and washing powder to the machine when it fills with water. Tumble dry, using either high heat or low heat depending on what the clothing can handle. Repeat the whole process a couple of times, depending on how vintage you want the shirt to look.

How to Soften Stiff Cotton Fabric

The best way to soften stiff cotton fabric is with vinegar. You’ll need to wash the shirt the way you normally wash your cotton fabrics but add ¼ cup of vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser. If you don’t have a fabric softener dispenser, you can add the vinegar directly into the wash just before the rinse cycle starts.

After washing:

  1. Put the fabric in the dryer and dry it on low heat to prevent shrinking.
  2. Add dryer sheets or dryer balls to the dryer to increase softness.
  3. Repeat this process every time you wash the fabric to keep it soft.


Softening t-shirts doesn’t always require fabric softener and it can be done quickly and easily with things you already have at home. The best method just depends on how you want the t-shirt to look, but any of these methods will make your t-shirt softer in just a wash or two.