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How to Fade a Shirt

By ShirtSpace | Oct 01, 2019 |  Updated Feb 04, 2022

Now that vintage tees and garment washed apparel is so popular, we often get asked, how do you fade a shirt to get that sought after worn-in look? There was a time when a faded shirt was regarded as a fashion faux-pas, but not anymore! In this article, we will tell you how to get the perfect faded t-shirt effect, without having to wash your shirt dozens of times first. 

The Easy Answer: Time and Wear Will Naturally Fade T-Shirts

Have you ever noticed that, in a short amount of time, your deepest blue t-shirts or darkest black blouses lose their vibrancy? Soon, the brightness and depth of these colors start to fade and become a paltry shade of what your shirt used to be. 

When the dye on your shirt starts to die, there are a few reasons why this may happen. The type of fabric, the color dye process, the tone of the original color, and the finishing process are just a few factors that can play a role in how quickly the colors fade

However, there are plenty of reasons why you might want to fade your shirts deliberately. 

Part of the appeal is the idea of keeping and wearing something for long enough that it becomes old and worn, as though it’s your favorite garment. In an age of disposable clothing and fast fashion, this can feel like a luxury. 

Using handy DIY fading methods, you can produce results that retain a t-shirt’s style and shape but give that distinctly worn and relaxed look. Here’s what you need to know. 

WHY WOULD I WANT TO FADE A SHIRT DELIBERATELY?

Elderly man's arms washing a t-shirt in large basin of water to fade it.

Most people are more concerned about how to preserve colors on a shirt, rather than looking for ways to deliberately fade a shirt. 

But there are plenty of reasons why the faded “look” is in:

1) To Give Your Clothes a Vintage Look

This is the age of vintage. For an item of clothing to truly fall under the “vintage” category, it needs to be at least 20 years old. Some aficionados of the antique aesthetic won’t accept anything under 50 years but, generally speaking, shabby items that are well-preserved within this range of time fits the retro bill. 

Vintage has become a catch-all term for anything that looks old, even if the item itself is new. It’s up to consumers to clarify with buyers if the shirt’s real age matters to them. 

Because so few clothing items are high-quality enough to withstand the 20- to 50-year test of time, many individuals will turn to fading, distressing, and aging their shirts and pants on their own. 

2) To Make Your T-Shirts Feel Worn

Even high-quality cotton t-shirts or polyester blends can feel stiff and a tad scratchy when you first wear them. Many people love buying band t-shirts after a concert, for example, with a graphic of the band front and center. 

However, the dye and finishing process on these graphic t-shirts are intended to preserve the colors and quality of the print on the front. So the result may be an uncomfortable experience the first few times.

The DIY methods used to fade a shirt are stylistic, and they can also help you achieve this softer, “worn” feeling even though the shirt is brand new. It takes time, multiple washes, and actually wearing the t-shirt several times in a row to get that same worn fit and feel. Those who can’t wait that long can use creative fade methods to get comfortable faster. 

3) To Keep Up With Modern Fashion Trends

Modern fashion trends tend to favor anything that has a “hip” or distressed look to it. Blame Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen for popularizing the “hobo-chic” aesthetic, which includes faded and distressed clothing items. 

Faded clothing is one trend that stayed on long enough to become a movement

There’s a distinct preoccupation with honesty, authenticity, and a salt-of-the-earth type of values which urban trends like faded shirts exemplify. The only catch is that urban shouldn’t mean shoddy or low-quality. The preference for maintaining an edgy and irreverent personal style also comes with a demand: That clothes remain casual but high-quality.

Woman trying on red t-shirt and checking out her reflection in the dressing room mirror.

4) To Refresh Your Wardrobe 

Depending on your skin tone and personal style, some colors may just “pop” when you wear them. Obviously, you’re going to want to stock up on these. 

But no one wants a monochromatic wardrobe. Translation: It’s boring. Fading your shirts and jeans offer you the chance to introduce some color variation in your wardrobe. So, for example, if you have a hankering for denim shirts, you can use DIY fade techniques to achieve a softer, lighter denim and change up your look with these color variations. The best part is that DIY fades costs a fraction of pre-faded retail shirts and look just as good. 

Fading techniques can also help you to “tone down” the vibrancy on particularly loud or flashy patterns or prints. You may have found the pattern or print cheeky, but almost unwearable because of the over saturated colors. Enter, fading.

However, not all fading techniques are created equal. Which you’ll opt for depends on how much time you have, the fabric of the shirt you’re working with, and how much time you want to devote to your fading quest.

HOW TO FADE YOUR SHIRT (WITHOUT DAMAGING THE FABRIC)

Put a shirt through enough repeated washings, and it will fade — that’s a guarantee. However, constantly running your shirt through the rinse cycle also damages the fabric over time and shortens its lifespan. 

Pro-Tip: Before putting your new shirt through any of these fading techniques, find an old shirt you may have of similar material. Test the method out on this old shirt you don’t need anymore to make sure the technique works without bleeding the colors or damaging the shirt in some other way. 

Many of the materials required for these fading techniques are probably hiding around your home. Gather them together and try a few at a time, or pick the one that works best for you. In general, you’ll need:

  • Bleach

  • Salt

  • Sandpaper or pumice stone

  • Sodium bicarbonate

  • Vinegar

  • Rubber gloves

  • A bucket or large plastic container

  • Line dryer

Depending on how new your chosen item of clothing is, you may have to run these techniques through two or three times to achieve your desired level of fade.

Shirt Fading Techniques

1) How To Use Bleach to Fade a Shirt

Using bleach to fade your shirts calls for balance. Too much bleach and the naturally corrosive effects will damage your fabric permanently. Too little and it won’t make a difference at all. You can achieve this balance as long as you pay attention to the exact measurements for dilution. 

Heather gray and light pink t-shirts messily laying flat with a white jug of bleach and red rubber gloves resting on top.


Follow these steps to fade your shirt to aged perfection via bleaching:

Step 1: Make your bleach “recipe”

 Boil 6 cups of water on your stove and add a ½ cup of salt until dissolved.

Step 2: Prep your bleach solution 

Bring this solution to room temperature and pour into a large bucket or plastic container. 

Step 3: Bleach it up! 

Now pour in two cups of color-safe bleach into the salt water mixture.

Step 4: Let it chill

Let the shirt sit for about two days but keep checking in to make sure it doesn’t fade too much. 

Step 5: Wash it 

When you’re ready, take the t-shirt out of the solution using rubber gloves and wash or run under warm water. Throw it in a wash cycle with other clothes, and it’s ready to wear!

You can see how this bleaching technique manages to maintain the color, but significantly “ages” or decreases the vibrancy of the color and the graphic logo on the front.

2) How To Use Your Washing Machine to Fade a Shirt

To use this technique, you’ll need a top-loading machine, not a front-loading machine. You’ll also be using bleach.

Liquid laundry detergent being poured into wash machine.

Step 1: Make your bleach “brew”

Fill your washing machine with hot water and then add one cup of bleach. Run a quick cycle or use a large stick to “agitate” and mix the water for a minute or two. 

Step 2: Gentle spin

Next, add in your shirt and run it through a gentle spin cycle for only five minutes. 

Step 3: Let it soak

Do not let the water drain. Instead, your shirt should sit in this solution for at least the next hour. 

Step 4: Wash Cycle

Once the hour passes, it’s okay to continue the normal washing cycle. This rinses out any excess bleach.

Step 5: Line Dry 

Finally, place your shirt on a line dryer in the sun for a day to continue the fading process. 

3) How to Use Lemon and Vinegar Soak to Fade a Shirt

If you think about fading as a form of “lightening” colors, this method is perfect. You’ll need a bit of pre-planning for this technique, however. 

A bottle of vinegar, a person's hands holding half a lemon, and a stiff bristle brush.

Step 1: Wash and dry

First, wash and dry your chosen shirts a minimum of three times. 

Step 2: Make lemon juice solution

Next, create a solution of one part lemon juice to three parts water. Pour this in a bucket or a large container for anywhere from three to 12 hours. Again, it’s best to monitor the state of fade through this time. 

Step 3: Line dry

Line dry the shirt completely and start again. 

Step 4: Rough it up

Before you move to your vinegar solution, use the rough edge of a sandpaper square to rough up any graphics or fray the edges of the collars. A tough bristle brush can also be used as an abrasive tool to soften up and wear down fabrics. 

Step 5: Make vinegar solution

Mix vinegar and water in a one-to-three ratio. The vinegar helps to “set” the lightening agent (in this case, the lemon solution soak).

Step 6: Let it soak 

Soak for 4-12 hours and wash your shirt to get rid of the briny vinegar smell. 

Step 7: Dry and touch up

Line dry once more, and you can also run the sandpaper through one last time if you’d like some more fade. 

4) How to Use a Salt Soak to Fade a Shirt

A salt soak requires a significant time commitment, but the results are worth it. 

A two photo collage. The first is a bowl and spoon of baking soda. The second is a spoon of course salt.

Step 1: Mix your solution

For this technique, mix in one-fourth of a cup of sodium bicarbonate washing soda with two cups of iodized salt in a base of a quart of water. 

Step 2: Let it soak 

Let your t-shirt soak in this solution for anywhere from 48 to 72 hours, ideally. Stir this mixture a stir periodically during the three days, so the solution doesn’t “settle.” 

Step 3: Wash Cycle

Place in the wash machine and set on the normal cycle. 

While the salt will fade your shirt, the sodium bicarbonate works to rid the fabric of any manufacturing chemicals in the dye. So this works best on new shirts or t-shirts.

5) How to Use a Hot Wash to Fade a Shirt

The hot wash fade technique goes against everything you’ve ever heard about preserving color and fit on a shirt. But that’s okay because, this time, you actually want to fade your shirt. Almost nothing is as effective for faded shirts as steaming hot water. 

Hands wringing out a white t-shirt over a blue bucket. A black t-shirt rests in the water.

Step 1: Soak your shirt

Soak your t-shirt for a few hours in of the solutions listed above (salt, vinegar, or lemon).

Step 2: Wash with powdered detergent

After soaking your t-shirt, throw it in your washing machine with some strong powdered detergent (not liquid). Set your machine to its highest temperature and tumble cycles. 

Step 3: Repeatedly wash

Run this cycle a few times, a maximum of three, to quickly fade the fabric. 

Step 4: Dry your shirt

Now dry it on a high heat setting as well. Not only will the heat relax and soften the fibers, but you’ll also see a significant toning down of colors.  

FAQs About Fading a T-shirt

Q: What is the overall best method to fade a shirt?

A: There is no one particular method that is best for fading a shirt, it really depends on the fabric material you are working with, if it’s chemically treated, and your technique. We recommend trying out multiple methods and see what works best. If you do not get the results you want the first go-around, it doesn’t hurt to try another methods to see if your garment is more receptive. 
 

Q: How do I stop a shirt from fading?

A: To prevent a shirt from fading or protect a printed design, make sure to:

  1. Read the care instructions on the label

  2. Wash in cold water

  3. Wash clothes inside out

  4. Tumble dry low or even better, air dry!

  5. Wash with like colors (whites, darks, lights)

  6. Use the right washer settings (the gentle cycle is your friend)

  7. Wash less often

  8. Use fabric softener

  9. Add brightening powder 
     

Q: How do you fade a t-shirt print (ink or vinyl) versus the fabric?

A: We recommend using vinegar as a way to soften and distress t-shirt prints to give them that vintage vibe. From our experience with vinyl transfer and screen printed shirts, vinegar won’t damage the shirt if exposed for an appropriate amount of time. Definitely monitor the design when applying vinegar and check back often if you are nervous about the results. If the desired results were not achieved and no damage occurred after one treatment, perhaps you can increase the duration of time you soak the shirt in vinegar. If possible, checking with the manufacturer about garment specifications is always a safe bet when trying to alter a t-shirt. 

Q: Does ShirtSpace carry any styles that already have a vintage-y, faded look to them?
A: Yes!
We have a full selection of tees made to look like a real vintage pierce. You also can’t go wrong with garment-dyed tees that many times have a chalky-like, worn-in appearance to the fabric. Here are some favorites we recommend:

  1. Tie-Dye CD1300 Adult 5.4 oz., 100% Cotton Vintage Wash T-Shirt

  2. J America JA8115 Adult Vintage Zen Jersey T-Shirt

  3. Threadfast Apparel 108A Unisex Vintage Dye Short-Sleeve T-Shirt

  4. Threadfast Apparel 208B Ladies' Vintage Dye Short-Sleeve V-Neck T-Shirt

  5. Port & Company PC099 Port & Company ® Beach Wash ™ Garment-Dyed Tee

  6. Port & Company PC099Y Port & Company ® Youth Beach Wash ™ Garment-Dyed Tee

  7. Alternative 04850C1 Men's Heritage Garment-Dyed Distressed T-Shirt

  8. Adams OL102 Distressed Ollie Cap

  9. District DT600 District ® Distressed Cap

  10. ComfortWash by Hanes GDH200 Unisex 5.5 oz., 100% Ringspun Cotton Garment-Dyed Long-Sleeve T-Shirt

  11. Champion GDS101 Champion ® Reverse Weave ® Garment-Dyed Hooded Sweatshirt

  12. Port & Company PC098 Port & Company ® Beach Wash ™ Garment-Dyed Sweatshirt

  13. ComfortWash by Hanes GDH450 Unisex 7.2 oz., 80/20 Pullover Hood Sweatshirt

  14. ComfortWash by Hanes GDH300 Unisex 5.5 oz., 100% Ringspun Cotton Garment-Dyed Tank

  15. Alternative 05054BP Ladies' Backstage Vintage Jersey Tank
     

CONCLUSION

The five DIY techniques we explore above are time (and user) friendly ways to fade a t-shirt without damaging the natural fiber. If you’d rather opt for a more “natural” way to fade your shirt, use the sun’s natural rays instead. 

Also consider that UV light quickly fades and wears down colors so, whenever you’re not wearing your shirt, you can leave it draped on an armchair or lay it flat in the sun to get a natural fade over time. 

It’s best to use these techniques on a few shirts of the same color or fabric together. Not only will you save time, but you’ll also guard against an accident. If one or two shirts get ruined in the process, you’ll still be able to have a well-faded t-shirt to wear. 

And one last thought, you can always use a combination of these methods in multiple rounds to achieve a drastically faded look. Have you had any luck fading your garments? Let us know what worked from your experience in the comments below! 

Pinterest pin showing folded and stacked shirts reading: how to fade a shirt. 5 methods for achieving the perfect faded tee. Read our blog at www.shirtspace.com/blog

Comments

Diane Cummings07/30/2022 08:42 pm

What if you don’t have access to a washing machine?

Reply

ShirtSpace08/18/2022 06:57 pm

Hi, Diane! To answer your question about how to fade a shirt without a wash machine, there are a few alternative ways to achieve a faded shirt. One would be sun fading, leaving a shirt out in the sun for extended periods of time can impact color retention. Agitation during washing helps n fade a shirt, so even if you are handwashing, you may use a washboard which would help the garment fade when paired with abrasive repetitive motions. Another idea is swimming in a chlorine pool with the shirt multiple times. The harsh chemicals are likely to fade the shirt. If you are ok experimenting, and acknowledge that you might not have perfect results without some trial and error, you can soak your garment in cold bleach water (start with a little bleach and add more for a more dramatic effect). We hope this helps you fade your shirt, with alternative methods that do not require a wash machine for clothing. Thank you for reading our blog, and feel free to reach out to our Customer Service Team if we can assist any further, or if you have any other questions or comments.

Reply

Samantha09/15/2021 10:19 pm

HI!!! I need to lighten the shade of some men's dress shirts. Right now they are a rich burgundy which is a bit too dark. What method would you recommend to take them down a couple shades with out making them look aged?

Reply

ShirtSpace08/18/2022 05:07 pm

Hi, Samantha. To answer your question about how to fade your shirt without giving it a distressed or vintage look, we recommend trying this product. Of course, read the packaging and check that the product is compatible with your shirts first before proceeding, but we have heard good things about the results customers have gotten with it: https://www.ritdye.com/instructions/how-to-use-rit-color-remover/ We hope this helps you fade your shirts to the perfect shade of red that you desire. Please feel free to reach out to our Customer Service Team if you need further assistance. And if you feel so inclined, we would love to hear about your results!

Reply

Sarah 02/15/2021 10:10 am

I have a pair of new stark white sweatpants, and I’m not a fan of the brand-new look, especially pertaining to white… How can I fade the stark white look?

Reply

ShirtSpace08/18/2022 04:01 pm

Hello, Sarah. We know just the trick for getting your bright whites a little less stark. We recommend soaking them in VERY diluted tea. Don’t go too dark with the soaking liquid or the fabric will likely turn out more brown than you wanted. It’s better to start out slow and try again if the results weren’t as drastic as you would like. Here is a great article on the topic: https://clothhabit.com/white-to-ivory-dyeing-with-tea/ We hope this helps! Please don’t hesitate to reach out to our friendly Customer Service Team if you have any more questions.

Reply

YihJun08/02/2020 01:38 pm

Is it possible to use any of these methods to undo colour transfer on a white tshirt?

Reply

ShirtSpace08/17/2022 11:11 pm

Hi, YihJun. You definitely can use some of these methods to undo color transfer on a white shirt, although we don’t promise perfect results that return it to its pre-stained days, depending on the severity of the marks. It may take a few rounds of these methods to get good results as well, so your overall shirt may come out more worn/distressed than it was prior to the fading process. If you are alright with that, then we say go for it! Make sure to use very hot water while trying these methods out to get the best fade.

Reply

R07/22/2020 01:45 pm

The bleach method instantly bleaches. 2 cups is too much for a slow fade

Reply

ShirtSpace10/26/2022 03:22 pm

Hi! If 2 cups is too much for a slow fade, then it is recommended you try using 1 cup. Thanks for reading!

Reply

Jess05/02/2020 04:17 am

Does the salt have to be iodized for it to work?

Reply

ShirtSpace10/26/2022 03:12 pm

Hi Jess! It is recommended that the salt you use be iodized for the best results. Thank for reading!

Reply

Daniel B04/23/2020 05:30 pm

Hey ! I have a ninties vintage grey levis t shirt, i dont like the grey color at all because its a ugly grey and not a washed out black. I want to turn it into a whiter color without ruining the black/light red levis print on it. What would you reccommend of all these?

Reply

ShirtSpace04/15/2020 04:29 pm

Hi Jason! It's hard to guarantee that your logo wouldn't transfer to the white of your shirt without actually testing, but we would recommend trying options 3 or 4 above. Those seem like they'd be your best bet in having an overall fade.

Reply

Jason03/30/2020 12:53 pm

Is it possible to fade the colors of a logo on a white t-shirt without the color transferring to the white of the shirt?

Reply

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