How To Wash 100% Cotton T-shirts

Got a T-shirt made from 100% cotton and you’re wondering how to properly wash it so it lasts longer? 

It’s actually quite easy. 

Wash cotton T-shirts in the washing machine using the normal cycle, a quality detergent and any water temperature of your choice, except when the fabric manufacturer states otherwise. You can also wash 100% cotton clothes by hand. Soak the T-shirt in a solution of water plus detergent, and scrub soils off the surface of the cloth by hand. 

Cotton T-shirts can also be dry cleaned or wet washed, but almost all cotton clothes are machine and hand washable. 

Keep reading below to properly learn the do’s and don’ts of washing 100% cotton shirts. 

Find out if it’s dry clean only or machine washable

As much as cotton is a really durable material, it can still be made sensitive through its finishing.

Many cotton materials can have specific color or texture finishing on them that can be compromised by any stage of machine washing or hand washing, and so dry cleaning becomes the only option. 

Others, for example, suits and jackets, can also have structures that can be destroyed by home laundry. As a result, dry cleaning becomes the better option because it’s gentle on structured clothes and helps preserve finishings and colors by virtue of the gentility of the solvent cleaner.

Because of the problems you may encounter while washing fabrics at home, it’s best to always check the fabric care label to learn the best method for washing it, as well as how to maintain it.

Check for stain spots and treat them

After reading the care label, the next thing is to check for stains on the T-shirt. Inspect the fabric carefully to identify stain spots. When you have done so, treat them using the recommended and appropriate techniques and products. 

Stains, generally, are easier to remove on cotton fibers because of their affinity for water molecules. Cotton fibers are absorbent of water, and so release stains faster than materials like polyester or silk. 

If you have fresh stains, they’re best removed immediately using a runny paste of quality detergent and warm water. Apply the runny paste to the affected spot and work it in, then let it sit for some time before rinsing with warm water and then drying, or laundering the entire cloth.

Set-in stains have driven farther down into fibers, and so require tougher products like oxiclean or clorox to completely remove them. You can even use bleach on cotton without problems. Chlorine bleach will help break down common stains on your 100% cotton T-shirts when used properly. But you have to make sure the T-shirt is white otherwise the color will be damaged with it’s application. 

For colored clothes, use a non-chlorine bleach.

When you’ve tried everything possible and nothing is working, then you should take the T-shirt to a professional stain remover like the dry cleaners. 

Configure the washer

So after the stain removal process comes configuration of the washer. Meaning, that we set the washer to the appropriate settings for proper washing.

Cotton, by nature, is a very durable and strong material, and this durability, tenacity and strength can be attributed to the way its polymers are structured; they are long and aligned very well, which makes the material very strong. 

When cotton gets wet, instead of getting weaker, it becomes even stronger, and this is because the arrangement of the previously well aligned long polymers is further improved by the introduction of water, and more hydrogen bonds are formed too. So cotton becomes 20 to 25% times stronger than when it is dry. 

The strength of cotton when wet is the reason why it can be subjected to any kind of wash cycle in the washer without any problems.

Additionally, cotton is very tolerable when it comes to heat too (not the UV rays of the sun though) because that causes a breakdown of dye molecules in cotton fiber which leads to degradation with time.

Cotton can tolerate heat up to 120°C for a long time before beginning to turn yellow. At temperatures greater than that, cotton burns and chars. With this fact, it’s easier to see why cotton can be washed in really hot water temperatures, or dried in the 66°C high heat setting of most modern dryers. 

With all these aside, let’s go through the settings you should be using on cotton. 

If you have a really soiled item, opt for medium to hot water wash which will aid cleaning. For lightly soiled clothes, or colored clothes, use cold water as that is gentler and wont do any harm. 

Don’t worry about the kind of detergent to use. Cotton is still Alpha in that department. Cotton has a good degree of resistance to alkalis like detergents and soaps, and so hardly ever gets damaged by them, unlike polyester that can get damaged by harsh laundry detergents with time. 

If you have a bottle of fabric softener and wish to use it, feel free to add it to the fabric softener dispenser. Cotton will benefit greatly from its addition. The fabric softener will soften your cotton cloth as well as add scent to it, although cotton does not develop static because of its hydrophobic nature, which means you don’t need the help of softeners to remove static build up. Cotton fiber attracts water molecules which helps distribute static changes that might occur on the structure. 

Another thing you can add if you wish to is bleach. For white clothes, you can use chlorine bleach with no problems. On colors however, avoid chlorine bleach as it will cause discoloration. Always opt for non-chlorine based bleaches which are safe on colors.

If you need to sanitize the fabric because a  sick person has come in previous contact with it, then you’re free to use fabric sanitizer too. Fabric sanitizers will help eliminate pathogen and bacteria growth from the surface of the fabric. 

How to dry cotton clothes in the dryer

Cotton clothes can be dried using the highest settings of the dryer. Cotton is very resilient to heat, and has a very high burning point. Meaning that it takes high temperatures to actually cause cotton to burn, or get destroyed. Somewhere around 230°C. In fact, cotton only begins to yellow when subjected to temperatures above 140°C for an extended period of time. 

Because of this, you can easily put cotton in the dryer to tumble dry without any problems.

Even with that said, it’s still a good idea to check the material that you have to find out the highest temperature it can be subjected to. While cotton may be able to withstand high temperatures, specific finishing on it might not, and so also, structuring applied on it! 

How to wash cotton clothes by hand

Because of cotton’s very durable nature, you can easily wash it by hand if you wish to. 

Washing cotton by hand is easy. Simply make a solution of a quality detergent and any water temperature (you obviously can’t use hot water because your hands can’t bear it). 

Proceed to soak the 100% cotton in the solution for at least 15 minutes to loosen soiling and stains on it. After that, take the shirt and apply moderate agitation to it. 

Avoid excessive agitation which can cause permanent destruction of fibers and also misalignment of fibers from the weave pattern. 

One alternative you have to hand scrubbing, is to use a soft sponge to scrub the surface of the cloth. When you’re done, rinse the cloth properly and go ahead and put it in the dryer to dry. 

How to wash cotton clothes for the first time?

When you’re washing 100% cotton for the first time, especially colored cotton, it’s advised to add salt to the wash water, and rinse water. 

The salt will help reduce color bleeding, and improve the intensity of the cloth. 

When washing cotton clothes for the first time too, do them alone. This is because the polymer system of cotton readily absorbs and releases dye molecules, which means that cotton clothes can easily stain or be stained as much as it can easily be dyed. 

So during the wash cycle, add half a cup of salt into the wash water and also the same amount during the rinse cycle. 

How do you wash 100% cotton t-shirts so they don’t shrink?

If you want to avoid shrinkage in cotton that is prone to shrinkage, then you have to minimize agitation. Make sure to use the permanent press cycle, gentle cycle or the normal cycle of the washer, and avoid heavy duty cycles that have high spin agitation. 

Doing this will also reduce wrinkling and creasing on cotton clothes. 

Or, better still, always opt to buy cotton clothes that have been pre-shrunk already and so will not shrink in the washer when you wash them for the first few washes.

Final Thoughts

If you have a 100% cotton T-shirt and are bothered on how to properly wash it, don’t be. Cotton is a really sturdy and durable material, and can be subjected to heavy duty settings without running into any problems. 

You can wash cotton T-shirts in the washing machine and also by hand. You can also take it to the dry cleaners or wet wash it. 

But in order to be safe with cotton clothes, it’s best to always check the fabric care label as it may contain vital information on how to properly wash the specific type of T-shirt you have!