Say goodbye to stiff and scratchy in your lounge-wear -- and hello to comfort. Garment factories sometimes go overboard with the sizing chemicals and leave a tough coating on new clothing that can irritate the skin, or, on the flip side, they didn't do enough treatment on a garment's unyielding fibers and it's barely wearable. Get aggressive at laundering to break in your new sweatshirts as well as soften old shirts stiffened with soap residue.
Sweatshirts and hoodies come in a few types of fabric, including cotton, cotton blends, nylon, nylon blends and fleece. Most are preshrunk as part of the manufacturing process or are partially shrink-resistant, as in the case of polyester and nylon blends. These tend to tolerate some heat, so you don't need to worry about washing too aggressively unless the clothing care tag states otherwise. If the sweatshirt is not preshrunk or requires gentle care, stick to cold water washing only, to avoid turning a favorite look into a rag.
The Saltwater Soak
Strip any sweatshirt of old detergent buildup or new factory chemicals with an abrasive salt wash that doesn't require heat. Mix 1 quart of lukewarm water with 1/2 cup of salt and pour it into a sink or wash basin, and then soak the shirt for up to three days. Machine wash with 1 tablespoon of detergent to freshen the shirt. If the fabric still isn't as soft as you'd like, repeat the soak as many times as necessary, or move on to another method.
Washing Machine Additives
If the saltwater soak doesn't make your sweatshirt soft enough, run it through a few cold machine wash cycles with different additives. On the first wash, add 1 cup of baking soda and a few extra towels to help increase wear on the sweatshirt fibers. On subsequent washes, add 1/4 cup of white vinegar or a mixture of 1/4 cup of washing soda -- sodium bicarbonate -- and 1 cup of salt. If the sweatshirt is made of fleece, turn it inside-out before washing to protect the material.
Fabric softeners add a layer of silky chemicals to clothing, which can be helpful if stiffness is a problem. Check your detergent label to be sure there isn't already a softener additive, and then select a liquid softener or laundry sheet product. Add liquid softener to the final rinse cycle only, or use one laundry sheet in the dryer. You can make your own laundry sheets out of liquid softener by spritzing a washcloth with a 1:2 mixture of liquid softener and water.
Heat weakens fabric fibers -- so if your fabric can stand it, wash the sweatshirt on the hottest possible settings. Dry cottons on high heat, and tumble dry low or line-dry synthetic fibers, especially nylon, which can permanently wrinkle if the dryer heat is too high. Add a dryer ball, wool ball, clean tennis ball or even a clean sneaker to the dryer cycle to help "beat up" and break down fabric fibers. If you really want to wear out your sweatshirt for the softest possible feel, use a fabric-distressing technique and run a scouring pad over its surface.