How To Make T-Shirts Soft: Easy Ways To Soften A T-Shirt

Learn how to make tee shirts soft with nothing but salt and time.

All you need is some good old table salt and a bit of warm water to make new, starchy t-shirts feel as soft and fluffy as your favorite vintage tee. I’m not entirely sure whether the salt is actually breaking down the fibers as you soak your t-shirt, or if it strips away a starchy residue — but either way, it’s really effective!

You can also use vinegar, baking soda, or fabric softener methods to soften stiff tees. Any of the quick and easy techniques in this post will make t-shirts softer and more comfortable to wear, and they are all inexpensive too. When new cotton t-shirts are too stiff or scratchy, use one of these ways to soften it up!

These methods work on both ringspun cotton and rayon and polyester blends, including from popular brands like Gildan, Hanes, and Fruit of the Loom (but I would recommend against using these methods on more delicate fabrics like linen!) Give these tips a try — I think you’ll be just as impressed as I was!

Salt is one of the easiest, but most time consuming ways to make a t-shirt soft.

How To Soften A T-Shirt With Table Salt

You’ll need:

  • Bucket
  • 1/2 cup of salt
  • 1 quart of water (warm)

Instructions:

  1. In a bucket, combine one quart of warm water and 1/2 cup of table salt.
  2. Stir until the salt has dissolved completely.
  3. Soak the shirt in the salty water for up to three days. (This method requires a bit of patience, but the results are worth the wait!)
  4. Stir the shirt around in the water once a day. (You may see some salty patches forming on the shirt, or salt crystals forming in the water, but that’s normal!)
  5. After three days, remove your t-shirt from the salty water and toss it into your washing machine.
  6. Wash the shirt as usual, then tumble dry until it’s just shy of completely dry.
To soften a tee shirt with salt, make sure you stir to dissolve the salt completely in warm water.

Using Vinegar To Soften Your T-Shirt

You’ll need: 

  • Large bowl
  • 1 tablespoon of baking soda
  • 1 cup of vinegar (distilled white vinegar)

Instructions:

  1. Put the baking soda in the bowl, then slowly pour one cup of vinegar into the bowl. 
  2. Stir until the baking soda has dissolved completely.
  3. Put the shirt in your washing machine, pour the vinegar solution over the top, then run a rinse cycle with cold water. (You could also add clear vinegar to the rinse cycle using the fabric softener dispenser, if desired.)
  4. Wash and dry the shirt as usual and it’ll be ready to wear!
After 3 days in salt water, wash the t-shirt as usual and it should come out soft and comfortable.

Using Fabric Softener To Soften New T-Shirts

You’ll need:

Instructions:

  1. Wash the t-shirt using your normal detergent, and add fabric softener to the rinse cycle.
  2. Allow the shirt to air dry it until it’s only slightly damp.
  3. Put the shirt in your tumble dryer on low heat with a few wool dryer balls. (You can also use tennis balls, but be warned — they’re noisy!)
  4. Take the garment out before it’s completely dry and give it a good shake.
You can also use store bought or homemade fabric softener to soften a t-shirt.

Try These Other Fabric Softeners

The homemade fabric softener I referenced above is very economical and smells great, but if you’d rather not use conditioner, you can make a wonderful fabric softener with glycerine and vinegar that cleans as it softens.

You can also make your own homemade dryer sheets with old cloths and store-bought fabric softener — they make a single bottle of fabric softener go a long, long way! Another option is adding homemade fabric softener crystals (which in turn can be used in homemade laundry detergent) to the wash cycle — they’re easy to make with Epsom salt and your favorite essential oils.

Finally, you may be able to achieve the desired results using wool dryer balls alone! They’re great for reducing stiffness and improving fabric flexibility, especially with fabrics made from natural fibers, and they can even help fight static cling. These flexible options can help you preserve the softness in your t-shirts without spending a fortune!

Some people use a pumice stone or even sandpaper to make a t-shirt soft.

BONUS: Last-Ditch Method To Soften Stiff T-Shirts

If you’ve tried the methods above and your t-shirt still feels stiffer than you’d like, it may be time for drastic measures! Some people use scouring pads, pumice stones, or even sandpaper to distress and soften t-shirts around the collar, sleeves, and hem.

This wouldn’t be my first suggestion, but if the alternative is just giving up on the shirt entirely, it’s certainly worth trying! Use your chosen tool with a light hand to avoid damaging the fabric, then wash the shirt in hot water with 1 cup of salt and 1/4 cup of washing soda.

Have you ever tried to soften a new t-shirt?

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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  • I just tried this method on three t-shirts and none of them became soft. I used two new t-shirts and one that had already been washed & worn twice, each soaked (separately) in 1/2 cup of table salt dissolved in a quart of warm water and stirred daily, per instructions. I let two of the shirts soak for three days and one of the new shirts soaked for four days before laundering as usual, all with the same result. Oh well, live & learn.

  • Can you reuse this same water for another t-shirt or do you need to start off with fresh? Also, could you do a gallon of water (with 2 cups salt) and put in two t-shirts?.

  • Hi Jillee, my first email to you and from London UK. I too like natural ingredients for cleaning etc but can’t stand the smell of vinegar.
    Also a little of the ingredients you suggest are just American and difficult or impossible to find in UK. The sizes too are much smaller.
    A substitute suggestion would be a great help. And to know if there is a vinegar without that strong smell would help.

    Thank you….
    Mirz

    • Mira, All vinegar will have that strong smell. Depending on the use, you can dilute it some. If you want to neutralize the smell after the vinegar has done its work, you can rinse or wipe the item with backing soda (bicarbonate of soda,) hydrogen peroxide, or another base/alkaline substance. The reason vinegar works so well for so many things is because it is a mild acid so neutralizing the smell before you use it would make it not work. Hope this helps!!

    • I have spun yarn for a while and Knitted with all types of yarn for many years. If your yarn is skeined, make sure it’s tied in 4-6 places. Soak in very warm water. Squeeze it out. Straighten out the skein, grab one end of it and wack it several times on the side of the bath tub. Grab it in another spot and do it again. After working around the skein fill the sink with warm water and about the same amount of hair shampoo as you’d use to wash you hair. Work it around gently but don’t agitate too much. Drain that water and refill with clean water at the same temp. Add a fair amt of hair conditioner to the water. Let it sit for half an hour then rinse, squeeze out water and roll in towel to squeeze out most of the water. Hang over shower head or door knob to dry.

      Acrylic should be hand washed in very warm water with shampoo and left overnight in the conditioner. The acrylic is way less sensitive to change in temp.

      This is the method I use for all will and natural fibre items.

  • I am going to try this, my skin is sooo dry in the winter. I can’t wear sweaters, I can just feel a soft shirt on my skin!! Thanks so much for the great tips. :)

  • OK, I want my big cotton bath towels to get soft. They say don’t use fabric softener as it decreases the drying power of the towel. What’s the solution? After several washes, the cotton is hard to the touch..

  • I love this idea. It think if done at volume, you could create lot of vintage t-shirts. It would be a great way to start a clothing company and since being hipster is the cool thing right now, you know it’s going to take off. Thanks for showing us how to do this.

  • I find it interesting that you used a red t shirt with warm water and the color didn’t even bleed. The reason it’s interesting to me is because I recently read on a quilting blog that putting salt into the wash load when washing a hand made quilt for the first time keeps the colors from releasing and running onto the lighter fabrics in the quilt. I think I would still use a color catcher to be on the safe side, but I sure expected your soak water to turn red! Amazing.

  • Hmm…I wonder if this would work on already “vintage” cottons? I’m thinking of a couple of my old cotton fleece hoodies (they still have plenty of wear left, but it would be nice if they were softer), and my bath sheet (I never use store bought fabric softeners on my towels, only your home made version, and this one could use some more “fluff”). This will be my first “after the holidays” experiment! Thanks Jill!

  • Will this work on other fabrics? I have a great cotton shirtwaist dress that’s stiff
    as a board. Wore it once, washed it ten times and it’s stiff as new.

  • Didn’t know about salt affecting the feel, but mom told me many years ago about doing a quick wash in cold salt water for new red apparel….to keep it from bleeding in the future. Has worked for me all these years!

  • If you add a bit of vingear to the salt-water solution, it will help to set the color in the shirt or any other article of clothing. I learned this a long time ago at a langerie party. It even works on whites.

    • salt is used to set colors so it would probably lessen the chance of fading and bleeding. It would be worth an experiment to see if the salty shirts fade less over time!
      But, it would still be smart to keep reds and whites separated! Let’s not go too crazy!

    • I have not tried to use salt on jeans, YET. But the best thing I’ve founnd for softening jeans is Coke Cola. Not diet but one can of regular Coke Cola in your washing machine will soften jeans. It can even be used on white jeans without effecting the color.

    • It definitely works on blue jeans — I used this years ago on those really stiff jeans (and overalls — the first time they were popular ;-). As I recall, I filled the washer, added the salt, agitated a bit, let it soak and then ran it through the cycle. Thought it was a miracle when it actually worked.

    • Deb, for items made with acrylic yarn this is the way I soften them.
      Hair conditioner (really cheap ones work just as well).
      Warm water.
      Container for item to soak.
      Elbow grease/annoyance.
      Patience.

      I fill a bowl with hand hot warm water and put in 1 generous squeeze of conditioner.
      Swirl into water with your hand then add garment and make sure thoroughly soaked.
      Squeeze some conditioner on to garment and rub in well.
      Then really work at garment like you are kneading bread/dough make sure it stays wet and add conditioner if required.
      Great if you’re cross with someone, really let that frustration work into the garment.
      When you’ve had enough (5-10 mins for me), submerge garment overnight.
      Wash next day on gentle cycle and dry in tumble dryer or air and you will have a
      super soft garment for it’s life time.

  • This is fantastic! My husband and I were just talking about how much more comfy the vintage Ts are…I’m going to try it, see if he notices before I tell him
    Thanks so much as always and wishing you a very Merry Christmas!

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