How To Make A T-Shirt Look And Feel Vintage (Aka, SO Soft)

July 21, 2017 by Justine Schwartz
shefinds | Style

There is nothing better than a super soft and well-worn vintage t-shirt. If you’re like me, you have one or two of them in your drawer that you wear constantly–especially on Sunday afternoons for your weekly Netflix binge with your stretchiest pair of sweat pants. *Sigh* if only all t-shirts could feel that soft. Thankfully, the folks at Men’s Health learned a trick that can make any t-shirt – no matter how new, starchy or stiff – feel like a soft vintage tee. All you need is one special product that can easily be found at any hardware store. Here’s the instructions:

Step 1: Choose the shirt.

Any shirt can become a vintage tee, but the experts suggest starting with a shirt that is 1 size up from what you normally wear, because the cotton will likely shrink during the softening process (it involves a lot of drying on high heat).

Step 2: Mix 1/4 cup of sodium carbonate washing soda with 2 cups of salt.

In a bucket or bowl, mix the sodium carbonate washing soda with the salt. Garment expert Miyong Noh told Men’s Health that the salt “acts as an abrasive, making the shirt look older,” while the washing soda “breaks down the new shirt’s built-in coating that keeps it stiff, crisp, and . . . well, new.”

Step 3: Start your washing machine.

Put the shirt or shirts into the washing machine with a towel and set the water on the highest temperature. “The heat weakens the fibers,” Noh told MH. Once the water line is above the clothes/towel, pour in the soda/salt mixture as well as your regular detergent and let the machine run through.

Step 4: Dry on high heat.

After the wash is done, transfer the shirt to the dryer and run it on the highest heat setting for as long as possible (60 minutes or so).

Step 5: Repeat the process 3-5 times. 

Mix up another batch of the soda and salt, and repeat the process again 3-5 times, drying on high heat after each wash. Keep washing and drying for as long as you can–or until desired results.

Step 6: Brush off any logos or graphics.

To make a shirt look truly vintage, you’ll need to distress that logo, graphic or whatever is printed on the front (which will most likely still be in tact even after you’ve run it through the soda wash 5 times). Using a piece of fine-grit sandpaper, stroke in a circular but irregular motion until the plastisol (that’s what the logo is) has worn off just the right amount.

[Photo: Ring My Bell, T-Shirt recipe: Men’s Health]


Editorial Director

Justine Schwartz is a veteran women's lifestyle editor; she's written extensively about style & beauty tips, health advice and wedding planning for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in New York Magazine, Huffington Post and New York Weddings. Justine has been with SheFinds since 2010; you can reach her via email at [email protected]

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