We outline some simple guidelines about how a 100% cotton T-Shirt should be correctly cleaned and cared for. By keeping the following 9 rules in mind you can significantly slow down the natural ageing of your T-Shirts and ultimately prolong their lifespan.
How to clean and care for a T-Shirt so it lasts longer: summary
Wash with similar colours
Wash (and dry) inside out
Use the right (amount of) detergents
Do not tumble dry
Iron on reverse
Treat stains immediately!
1. Wash less
Less is more. That’s definitely a good advice when it comes to your laundry. For extra-longevity and durability, a 100% cotton T-Shirt should only be washed only when needed.
Even though quality cotton is robust, every wash causes stress to its natural fibres and ultimately leads to faster ageing and fading of your T-Shirt. Therefore, simply washing less is probably one of the most important tips to prolong the life of your favourite tee.
Each wash also has an environmental impact (in terms of both water and energy) and washing less can help to reduce your personal water usage and carbon footprint. In western societies, the laundry routine is often based more on habit (e.g. wash after every wear) than on actual need (e.g. wash when dirty).
Washing garments just when needed, is certainly not unhygienic but instead will contribute to a more sustainable relationship with the environment.
2. Wash with similar colours
White with white! Washing brighter colours together helps to maintain the fresh whiteness of your summer tees. By washing light colours together, you reduce the risk of a white T-Shirt becoming grey or even getting coloured (think pink) by another garment. Usually darker colours can be go into the machine together, especially when they have been washed already a couple of times.
Sorting your laundry by fabric types will further optimise your washing results: sport and workwear might have different needs than a super delicate summer shirt. If you’re unsure of how to wash a new garment, a quick look at the care label always helps.
3. Wash cold
A 100% cotton T-Shirt does not like heat and can even shrink if it’s washed too hot. It is clear that detergents work better in higher temperatures, which makes it important to find the right balance between the washing temperature and effective cleaning. Darker coloured T-Shirts can be usually washed completely cold but we recommend washing Sanvt’s Perfect White T-Shirt at around 30 degrees (or it can be washed at 40 degrees if needed).
Washing your white T-Shirt at 30 or 40 degrees ensures a longer lasting crisp looking T-Shirt and reduces the risk of any unwanted colourisation such as yellowish marks under the arm pits. However, washing at rather low temperatures also reduces the environmental impact and your bills too: reducing temperature from just 40 to 30 degrees can reduce energy consumption by up to 35%.
4. Wash (and dry) inside out
By washing your T-Shirts on the ‘inside out’, the unavoidable abrasion happens on the inner side of the shirt while the visual outside is not affected. This reduces the risk of unwanted fuzziness and pilling of natural cotton.
Also dry T-Shirts inside out. This means that potential fading also rather happens on the inner side of the garment while leaving the outer surface intact.
5. Use the right (amount of) detergent
There are now more environmentally-friendly detergents on the market that are based on natural ingredients, while avoiding chemical (oil-based) ingredients.
However, it is important to remember that even ‘green detergents’ will pollute waste water – and can damage clothes if they’re used in too high amounts – as they can contain a wealth of different groups of substances. Since there is no 100% green option, remember that using more detergent will not make your clothes any cleaner.
The fewer clothes you put in a washing machine the less detergent is needed. The same applies to garments that are more or less dirty. Also, in areas with rather soft water, less detergent can be used.
6. Do not tumble dry
It’s worth noting that all cotton products will have natural shrinkage, which generally happens during the drying process. The risk of shrinkage can be reduced by avoiding a tumble drier and air-drying instead. While tumble drying might sometimes be a convenient solution, a T-Shirt is definitely best dried when hung.
When air-drying your garments, avoid direct sunlight to reduce unwanted fading of colours. As mentioned above: 100% cotton products generally do not like excessive heat. To reduce creasing and unwanted stretching, delicate cotton fabrics should be hung over a rail.
Skipping the dryer has not only a positive effect on the durability of your T-Shirt but also a massive environmental effect. The average tumble dryers need up to five times the energy levels of a standard washing machine, which means that a household’s carbon footprint can be reduced substantially by avoiding tumble drying completely.
7. Iron on reverse
Depending on the specific fabric of a T-Shirt, cotton can be more or less prone to wrinkles and creasing. However, by handling your T-Shirts correctly when taking them out of the washing machine, creasing can be minimised. And you can give each garments a gentle stretch or shake to get them back into shape.
Take extra care around the neckline and shoulders: you should not stretch them too much here as you don’t want the T-Shirt to lose shape. In case your washing machine has a special setting that allows to ‘reduce creases’ – you can use this to prevent wrinkles. Reducing the spinning cycle of your washing programme also helps to further reduce creasing but this means that your T-shirt will be a bit moister when coming out of the washing machine.
If a T-Shirt does need ironing, then it is best to refer to the garment care label to understand exactly what temperature setting is safe. The more dots you see on the iron symbol in the care label, the more heat you can use. The Perfect T-Shirt from SANVT, for example, can be ironed at medium heat (two dots).
When ironing your T-Shirt, we recommend to iron on reverse and to use the steam function of your iron. Giving cotton fabrics some moisture before ironing will make its fibres smoother and the garment will flatten more easily.
And for an even better look, and an even more gentle treatment of your T-Shirt, we generally recommend a steamer instead of a conventional iron.
Pro tip: The specific fabric of The Perfect T-Shirt by Sanvt often doesn’t need ironing at all if you gently stretch them when before drying. Due to its extra-long fibres the T-Shirt from SANVT becomes even softer over time, meaning it even needs less ironing after it has been washed a couple of times.
8. Store your T-Shirts correctly
Ideally your T-Shirts should be stored folded and lying on a flat surface. Knitted fabrics (like the Single Jersey Knit of The Perfect T-Shirt) could stretch when hung for a long time.
In case you really prefer to hang your T-Shirts, use wide hangers so its weight is more evenly distributed. In case of hanging your T-Shirts, make sure you insert the hanger from the bottom so you’re not over-stretching the neckline.
Lastly, in order to avoid fading of colour, avoid sunlight during storage.
9. Treat stains immediately!
In case of emergency, when getting a stain on a specific spot of your T-Shirt, the first and most important rule is to treat the stain immediately. Natural materials like cotton or linen are great at absorbing liquids (such as red wine or tomato sauce), so the faster you start to remove the stain the easier it is to get it out of the fabric entirely.
Unfortunately, there is no universal detergent or stain removal product that is ideal to eliminate all kinds of substances. Research has shown that the more effective a stain remover works, the more aggressive it unfortunately also is to the colour of a garment. As an initial step, we therefore recommend to to rinse the stain with warm water and subsequently ad some mild detergent or soap.
For persistent stains, you can use a commercial stain remover, but avoid stain solutions with bleach for coloured cotton garments. The bleach might remove the colour out of the fabric and leave a light mark.