If your t-shirts are often getting damaged by shrinking, color fading, getting holes or the threads start to come out, quality of the material surely can be a key factor to it, but sometimes the way we maintain our t-shirts has more influence over how long they last.
There are three main types of t-shirts when it comes to the material they are made of; cotton, polyester and any combination of those two. Prints are another story. About prints, there are too many variables, such as the quality of the ink, type of ink, the method used to print the t-shirt and so on, that taking care of a t-shirt in a certain way, will not guarantee that it will work with another t-shirt of the same material, but printed differently. Our focus here is durability of the material and avoiding original color (fabric color) degradation.
100% Cotton T-Shirts
T-shirts made with 100% cotton, will shrink after the first wash and will continue shrinking from time to time, no matter what the manufacturer says. If it really is 100% cotton, unless they somehow have genetically modified the cotton they used, natural shrinking is what will occur. This is the major problem of cotton T-shirts and the way cotton t-shirts are washed and dried has great influence on shrinking.
Manually washing our shirts is best, but sounds like something prohibitive now a days because of lack of time and because of the physical effort it takes. Also, stains are best removed by machine. Then, the next thing is to use the most delicate cycle of our washing machines, which is something we often do the contrary, because we think that cotton clothes are tough. Also, temperature is a key factor. Only wash your cotton T-shirts with cold water, which will help slow natural degradation of cotton.
About drying cotton T-shirts, again, the best way is manual. Just hang it to dry or alternatively, for a faster process, put it in your dryer, but don’t let it completely dry, take it out when it is still slightly damp and then hang it to dry. If a dryer-only job (not hanging) is a most around your lifestyle (like me), then slowly dry it in the lowest temperature if you have control of it. Like when washing cotton t-shirts, temperature will play a key role when drying it too to avoid shrinkage and degradation. So no matter what method you use, drying in a low setting will preserve your cotton t-shirt the most.
100% Polyester T-Shirts
Polyester T-shirts have nice properties that resist wrinkles and shrinkage and also, polyester is a lighter material than cotton. But in general, polyester t-shirts are more delicate to manipulate and maintain than cotton T-shirts. As a result, you must wash polyester t-shirts in the “delicates” cycle of your washing machine. Polyester is a type of plastic and high temperatures will not shrink it, but will melt it and destroy the t-shirt, so cold or warm water is a must. In case of polyester, since it does not suffer from degradation as much as cotton, warm water will be the best to use, as stains can be removed more easily.
Drying polyester T-shirts must be done in the lowest temperature setting of your dryer all the time.
T-shirts made of any combination of cotton and polyester will have the properties of both materials. For example, the more polyester; the more delicate, the less the wrinkles and the less shrinkage. The contrary goes to all those three with the more the cotton.
Generally, a cotton-polyester t-shirt can be washed with either cold or warm water, never hot, and dried in the delicate setting of the dryer. If it can be hanged before getting completely dried, the best.
Many people prefer a cotton-polyester combination t-shirt if they have sensitive skin, because the coton part makes the t-shirt softer and the polyester part makes it more light weight. The polyester contents makes it also handy when it comes to wrinkles and shrinkage.
These vintage t-shirts by KaiTing (picture below) have a perfect combination of 35% cotton and 65% polyester.
Other factors which affect all three t-shirt types
Starting with what you use as soap and cleanser for washing your t-shirts, chemicals can be very harmful for the material, color and print of any t-shirt. First of all and I know you may already know it, chlorine (bleach) is prohibitive for any color or printed t-shirt because of decoloration, but for white t-shirts it is harmful too, because bleach not only remove stains, but it will also eat the fabric up, as bleach is a powerful oxidizing agent. So you may use bleach only with white t-shirts and only when there are stains that can not be removed otherwise with soft soaps.
Other harmful agents
Other chemicals that t-shirts are exposed to, are not when washing it, but on the every day use, like if you use it to work with chemical agents, work in a kitchen, etc. To be “exposed” does not always mean been “consciously” exposed. Exposition to harmful agents can be unnoticed, like the perfume you use, deodorants, exposition to sun radiation, gases, particles in the atmosphere, etc. Cotton t-shirts will suffer the most with these.
Less known or less taken in account, the pollutants in water will also have a role in clothes degradation. As we know, tap water may contain sodium hypochlorite (bleach) and not only that, unfiltered tap water may contain other chemicals, like high concentrations of calcium, which may damage our t-shirts when washing them. In these cases, the recommendation is to use a water line filter.
Washer and drying machines will be the most that will contribute in t-shirts degradation. Not only if we use the wrong settings to wash and dry our t-shirts, but it also submits our clothes to mechanical stress, which are friction, vibration and sudden changes in temperatures. This is enough to make the threads of our clothes to come out or break with time. Possible defects in the machines will worsen it.
Closets can be harmful for t-shirts too in the long run. We are all familiar to the funny musty smell that clothes have after been hanged in a closet for a relative long time. This smell is caused by mold (a fungus), which develops in damp environments. But wait, even if your closet is fairly dry, mold can be transported, along with other micro organisms in the air that circulates your house or apartment. If you give enough time to any clothes in your closet, it will become the residence of that mold, creating the familiar smell (and allergy too).
Moths are not a problem here as it will not eat cotton or synthetic fibers, but carpet beetles will.
Some other tips
-If you are hanging your t-shirts to dry, always turn them inside out. That way, if it is exposed to the Sun and color fading occurs, it won’t be in the outside of the shirt.
-Do not hang in a closet t-shirts that won’t be used for long time. Folding is best in this case.
-Take your t-shirts out of the dryer as soon as it finishes and hang in your closet, so they don’t get wrinkled. If you iron your t-shirts, always do it inside out to help protect the fabric color of the outside or print.