Test pilot: Making your T-shirt vintage soft with salt


Awhile back, Buzzfeed had a post that offered “23 Solutions to Your Most Pressing First World Problems.” Burger too big to eat? Bananas ripening too quickly? Stuck on a Candy Crush level? Suffer no more!

Some of the advice seems apocryphal — chewing gum is not going to stop your eyes from watering while chopping onions, sorry — but I was very interested in one that offered advice on how to make a T-shirt feel as soft as your favorite vintage ones.

The hot rod/racing gear website Octane shared this suggestion:

OctaneShirtsI don’t know how Urban Renewal T-shirts get so damn soft, but I’ve been nuts buddharocksTshirtfor how my “Buddha Rocks” shirt feels so soft and almost slouchy. I find myself reaching for it out of default (and then putting it back because I feel bad for other shirts that don’t get worn as often).

My heart practically started racing think what it would be like if ALL of my shirts could feel like that. And I knew woodshirtexactly which shirt would be the guinea pig for this experiment: a T-shirt that we made for a competitior analysis presentation a few years back. I kept the shirt around because it says “wood” on it, but the fabric was so stiff and scratchy that it felt like wearing something that had been woven out of corrugated cardboard —if not boards of lumber. If I could transform that into something soft and wearable, the formula would work on anything. I had visions of entire tubfuls of T-shirts, soaking their way to softness.

“When my grandmother washed clothes in salt water, they would disintegrate,”  the Bulgarian warned when he found out what I was planning to do. “And you’re going to leave it for three straight days?” His words were still ringing in my head when I measured out a half-cup of salt. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re pouring it — and pouring it … and pouring it — that’s when you begin to realize the ratio of water to salt is pretty low.

saltrockIn fact, by the time a T-shirt soaks up its first dousing of water, a quart doesn’t leave that much more for marinating. And because cotton’s inclined to float in water, I needed to find something to weigh down the shirt so the entire thing could reap the benefits of brining. (I ended up taking home a big decorative rock from our office parking lot. When it’s not pressed into duty, it occupies a place of honor amid all the quarter-minus gravel in our back garden.)

The Bulgarian’s words made me call short the experiment after only two days. After laundering, the shirt was a little friendlier to the touch, but definitely not “vintage soft” — and nowhere near falling apart, either. (Maybe the Bulgarian’s grandmother was also beating the fabric against rocks or something.) I decided to repeat the process on the same shirt for another two days. Again, an improvement by degrees, but still not supercomfortable.

“Maybe the fabric Octane uses is softer to begin with?” I mused, and vowed to extend the experiment again. The shirt went back into the brine this morning, so we’ll see if maybe seven days does the trick. If not, maybe I’ll have to start beating it against a rock, Bulgarian grandmother-style.

Update 1: No luck, so I tried soaking the shirts in vinegar instead.

Update 2: My final decision was to throw the shirt in the laundry every single time I could. Even with whites in hot water (although I skipped any time there was bleach involved, to avoid discoloration). You could try hastening the process by rubbing sandpaper all over the fabric, too, but I’m sticking with the tried-and-true of wear and tear.

WHAT SAM WORE: 6-23-13
shirt063013 shorts063013 shoes010613
The shirt: Jagi (from “Hokuto no Ken“) T-shirt, from Uniqlo in New York
The shorts: Cotton jersey sweat shorts, from H&M in Scottsdale.
The shoes: “Whirlwind” sneakers, on clearance at the Puma store in New York.

7 responses to “Test pilot: Making your T-shirt vintage soft with salt

  1. wheres the buddha rocks shirt from, urban outfitters?

    • Good eye, Katia! It was indeed from Urban Outfitters — I’ve had it at least half a decade now, but it felt great right off the shelf. (It’s also 100% rayon, which helps explain its softness.)

  2. I can’t find it anymore 😦 not on ebay or anywhere online lol do you know if they sell anymore

    • I know Urban Renewal is still around, but I bet that particular shirt isn’t being produced anymore. I’ve had mine for years and years and I’ve never seen another one exactly like it. (I did see one that had almost the same image but the words “For Good Luck, Rub My Tummy.”)

  3. I found a soft Buddha Rocks T shirt here, but it is not from Urban Outfitters and the design is a LITTLE different.

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