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How to Soften Jeans

There’s nothing more uncomfortable than a stiff pair of jeans. My new jeans feel so scratchy and rough; I can’t wear them. I need to soften them up a bit. Is there an easy way to do this? How do you soften jeans?

The best way to soften jeans is to break them in by wearing them. But, this takes time. For a quick solution, wash denim jeans on a cold setting and add fabric softener to the final rinse. Or use a vinegar soak to make the denim fibers supple. Leaving jeans to soak in a salt bath will also soften them.

In this article, you’ll learn how to soften your jeans using everyday items. You’ll discover how quick and easy softening your jeans can be.

How to Soften Jeans

Why Are My Jeans So Stiff?

There are several reasons why jeans end up being stiff. The main one is the fabric the jeans are made from and the fibers contained within the material. Although jeans can come in various styles and fiber combinations, they nearly always have one identical ingredient. Albeit in differing amounts.

To understand why they can become rough and rigid, you need to know what the common denominator is. The answer is cotton. More precisely, it’s the amount of cotton in the denim fabric used to make your jeans.

Denim is a type of twill weave known for being hard-wearing and durable. Its rise in popularity stems back to the late 1800s. Miners needed working pants that could withstand hard working conditions. In 1873 a tailor and a fabric wholesaler joined together to make the first denim pants. Their names were Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss. Together they developed the most famous denim jeans of all time, the 501, in 1890.

In the 19th century, the denim would have been 100% cotton, and jeans were called waist overalls. But even so, they had an issue still found in jeans of the 21st century. Get them wet, leave them to dry in hot conditions, and have pants that feel like cardboard. Stiff and uncomfortable with a bothersome scratchiness.

Cotton is a natural fiber and tends to shrink in the wash. Not necessarily because it gets wet, but because cotton is heat sensitive. It doesn’t matter where the heat comes from either. Whether it’s the water, the sun, or a dryer, it’s all the same to cotton. As the fibers dry out due to the warmth, they pull the fabric inwards, causing it to shrink. They also harden a little. It’s this hardening and shrinkage that makes jeans feel rough and scratchy.

The amount of stiffness you’ll feel in jeans is determined by two factors. One is the thickness of the denim twill weave; the other is the level of cotton content. Thicker jeans made from 100% cotton are more likely to end up as stiff as a board.

These days, jeans can contain synthetic fibers, making them less prone to stiffness. But even so, even a minimal amount of cotton in your denim will cause the dreaded scratchy feel. You might get a bit more flexibility thanks to the lycra or polyester content, but those jeans will still feel rough next to your skin.

While washing old jeans with too much heat can be a key to discomfort, new jeans have another problem. When manufacturers make jeans, they use fresh denim that often needs breaking in. Denim was used as a hard-wearing fabric for miners’ pants, remember. Being soft and delicate would have made it pretty useless down a mine.

Another issue that contributes to the scratchy roughness of denim is the quality of the material. You’ll find poorer quality denim will be rougher on your skin. Made from denim with a consistency more like a burlap fabric, cheaper jeans will tend to stiffen more.

High-quality denim tends to be softer, thanks mainly to the production process. The better the fabric quality, the more likely the denim will be treated to feel like soft cotton.

How to Soften Jeans

How to make jeans softer

Although denim and stiffness tend to go hand-in-hand, there are ways to soften jeans. In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the remedies you can use to transform your cardboard jeans into pillow-soft comfort. Our step-by-step guide will walk you through each option so you can get the best results for your denim.

As always, make sure to check the care label on your jeans before attempting any of these methods. Darker colored jeans or denim with a special finish may end up with a changed appearance. Make sure to do a spot test in an inconspicuous area first before committing to the full treatment.

1. Wash Your Jeans

One of the easiest ways to soften jeans is to wash them. Although denim is one of those fabrics you shouldn’t wash too often, an occasional dip in the washing machine can help alleviate some of that irritating roughness.

You will need:

  • Your jeans
  • Washing machine
  • Your usual laundry detergent
  • Clothesline

Step 1

Turn your jeans inside out. This helps protect the color of your jeans and stops the jeans from developing a blotchy distressed look. Add your usual laundry detergent to your washing machine. Choose a cold setting and wash your jeans.

Step 2

Once the wash cycle has completed, remove your jeans and give them a little shake. Then hang them on a clothesline to dry. Always hang from the waistband to prevent peg damage to the hems of the legs. Leave the waistband open to allow air to get inside the pants.

2. Fabric Softener

Downy Ultra Liquid Laundry Fabric Softener, Cool Cotton Scent, 120 Total LoadsFabric softener and jeans don’t usually mix. Mainly because it softens the fabric and can lead to shrinkage. But if you’ve washed your jeans with detergent and they still feel uncomfortably rough, a touch of softener could be called for.

You will need:

  • Your jeans
  • Fabric Softener or shampoo
  • Washing machine
  • Your usual laundry detergent
  • Clothesline

Step 1

Set your washing machine to a cold cycle and add your usual laundry detergent. Next, put your jeans in the washing machine. Remember to turn your jeans inside out first.

Step 2

Add fabric softener to the final rinse on your washing machine. Don’t use too much. You should always use fabric softener in moderation if you use it on jeans. A tablespoon should do. The shampoo is another product you can use instead of fabric softener. Again, use a small amount to lessen the risk of too many bubbles in your washing machine.

3. Baking Soda Soak

Baking sodaBaking soda is a product found in most kitchens. As a stain remover and general household gem, baking soda can cure a multitude of problems. From cleaning a sticky oven door to neutralizing odors, it should come as no surprise that you can use it to soften your jeans.

You will need:

  • Your jeans
  • Washing machine
  • Your usual laundry detergent
  • 1 cup of baking soda
  • Bucket
  • Clothesline

Step 1

Turn your jeans inside out and wash them in your washing machine. Use a cold setting and your usual laundry detergent. Remove your jeans from the machine when the wash cycle has finished.

Step 2

Fill a bucket with cold water and 1 cup of baking soda. Stir it to mix it. The bucket needs to be big enough for your jeans to sit in the water completely submerged. Only use enough water to cover your jeans. Stir the jeans around in the water and leave to sit for 20 minutes.

Step 3

Thoroughly rinse your jeans under cold running water. Then, rewash them in your washing machine using your usual detergent. Remove from the machine once the cycle has completed and air dry outside on a clothesline.

4. Epsom Salts

Amazon Brand - Solimo Epsom Salt Soaking Aid, Eucalyptus Scented, 3 PoundUsed in products as disparate as bath salts and indigestion remedies, Epsom salts can also be used as a natural fabric softener. However, you do have to be careful with this method.

Epsom salts work best when the clothing is dried using a dryer. As dryers are one of the causes of shrinking and roughness in jeans, pay particular attention to the dryer’s heat setting.

You will need:

  • Your jeans
  • Your usual laundry detergent
  • Washing machine
  • ¼ cup of Epsom salts
  • Dryer with a cool setting/fluff option
  • Clothesline

Step 1

Set your washing machine on a cold setting and add your laundry detergent. Next, add ¼ cup of Epsom salt. Remember to turn your jeans inside out and add them to the machine. Once the wash cycle has finished, remove the jeans.

Step 2

Put your jeans in the dryer. Double-check that the dryer is set to the coolest option available or the fluff setting. Keep checking on them to make sure the heat isn’t getting too high. While they are still damp, remove them from the dryer and finish drying on a clothesline. Or use the next option on this list.

5. Roll Your Jeans Like a Towel

This method works well if you have to use a dryer. It can also be used if you don’t have an outside clothesline or anywhere to hang wet jeans indoors.

You will need:

  • Your jeans
  • A cloth belt or tie

Step 1

Remove your jeans from the dryer. While they are still warm, lay your jeans on a flat surface, zipper side up. Then, fold them in half, so one leg is on top of the other. Start rolling from the hem of the legs upwards.

You can also use this method for jeans straight out of the washing machine. Make sure to squish the jeans tightly as you roll to expel any excess water. Hold the jeans in the roll with either the belt from a bathrobe or an old tie.

Step 2

Leave the rolled-up jeans to sit for 30 minutes. Rolling them in this way helps stretch the fibers and soften them up. Unroll your jeans after the time has elapsed. If they are still a little damp, shake them out and hang them across the back of a chair to finish off.

6. Soak in Vinegar

VinegarDistilled white vinegar is a natural softener & stain remover. Unlike baking soda, you can use vinegar directly in your washing machine. It won’t fizz up and cause too many bubbles.

You will need:

  • Your jeans
  • Large bucket
  • 1 cup distilled white vinegar
  • Clothesline

Step 1

Fill your bucket with lukewarm water. The level should be just enough to cover your jeans. Mix in 1 cup of distilled white vinegar and stir it, so it is well mixed. Submerge your jeans and swirl them around. Leave them in the vinegar solution for at least 20 minutes.

Step 2

The great thing about this method is that you should be able to feel your jeans softening. Check them after 20 minutes. If they feel soft enough, remove them from the bucket. Leave them for another 10 minutes if you want a softer feel.

Step 3

Once you are happy with the softness, rinse the jeans under cold running water. You want to get rid of as much of the vinegar smell as possible. Don’t worry if some remains. Vinegar evaporates and the smell will go with it. Leave your jeans to dry naturally.

Don’t Use Your Dryer

Although one of the methods on this list involves using a dryer, you should try to avoid using them with jeans. Sometimes it’s the process of drying jeans too quickly that causes denim to become scratchy. Dryers can also lead to denim shrinking.

As we’ve seen earlier in this article, the cotton fibers in denim react to heat. They’ll start to retract away from the source. Unfortunately, because they are in the dryer, the fibers can’t escape the warmth, so they will harden and shrink, pulling the fabric with them.

It’s this shrinking effect that creates stiffness in your jeans, leaving them inflexible. If you must use the dryer, always make sure it is set to its coolest setting. Adding a tennis ball will agitate the denim fibers and help keep them soft. Watch the time, though. The longer you leave your jeans in a dryer, the more chance they’ll come out stiff and inflexible.

The best way to dry jeans is naturally, either outside on a clothesline or hanging on the back of an internal door. Make sure to check on the jeans regularly, especially on a hot summer’s day. Too much heat from the sun will also roughen jeans. For best results, combine the dryer with the rolled-up jeans method above.

How to Soften Stiff Jeans With Salt

We’ve looked at Epsom salts as a natural softener, but did you know there’s another everyday household salt you can use? It’s probably sitting on your dinner table next to the pepper pot. That’s right, it’s table salt.

Fantastic on fries and capable of melting the snow on your drive, table salt is yet another natural product you can use in the laundry room. Follow our step-by-step guide to find out how to use it to soften your jeans.

You will need:

  • Your jeans
  • 1 cup of table salt
  • Washing machine
  • Your usual laundry detergent

Step 1

Add your usual laundry detergent and 1 cup of table salt to your washing machine. Turn your jeans inside out and put them in the drum. Set the washing machine to a cold setting and wash your jeans on their own.

Step 2

Remove the jeans from the washing machine when the wash cycle is complete. Hang on a clothesline to air dry naturally.

How to Make Jeans Softer Without Washing

We’ve looked at ways to soften jeans that require washing your denim. Jeans are a garment that fairs better the less often it’s washed. With that in mind, this next section focuses on softening jeans without exposing them to water.

As with any remedy for stiff jeans, make sure you read the care label in your denim before committing to a full treatment. Test a small inconspicuous area first to make sure the method you choose doesn’t harm any special finish on your jeans.

Steam Your Jeans

Electrolux Portable Handheld Garment & Fabric Steamer, 1500 Watt, Quick Heat Ceramic Plate Steam Nozzle, 2-in-1 Fabric Wrinkle Remover and Clothes Iron, with Cloth Brush and Lint BrushWhile steam comes from boiling water, this method doesn’t require water in the liquid form to touch the jeans. Nor does it involve direct heat.

Steam is hot, so you should watch your fingers, but it gets cooler the further away from the source it gets. You can use either a clothes steamer or a steam iron for this option.

You will need:

Step 1

Either hang your jeans on a clothes hanger from the back of a door or lay them flat on an ironing board. Set your steam iron or hand-held steamer to a setting suitable for cotton.

Step 2

Hold the iron or steamer above the jeans and let the steam blast over the surface of the denim. The steam will remove the creases and wrinkles that can lead to stiffness.

Heat With a Hairdryer

This method works best for small areas of stiffness. So if your hem has become stiff and bent after a washing session, you may find a short waft of hot air from a hairdryer will work wonders. Similar to steam, it’s not direct heat, so it shouldn’t cause any shrinkage.

You will need:

  • A hairdryer
  • Your jeans
  • Clothes hanger

Step 1

Set your hairdryer to it a medium setting. Either lay your jeans on a flat surface or hang them on a clothes hanger.

Step 2

Aim the nozzle of the hairdryer at the part of the jeans you want to treat. Gently heat the area as if you were drying your hair. Keep the hairdryer at least 6 inches from the fabric of your jeans to prevent burning it. Work with the grain of the material. You need to go straight up and down, not side to side.

Hit Jeans With a Baseball Bat

This one might sound a little bit extreme, but it works! It’s also a great frustration reliever. So you can work out your built-up tension and soften your jeans at the same time. That’s what I call a win-win!

You will need:

  • A baseball bat
  • Your jeans

Step 1

Lay your jeans flat on the ground. Grab your baseball bat and pummel your jeans with it. You can use any kind of bat for this. Cricket bat, tennis racket, whatever hard object you have close to hand will work. You could even throw your jeans repeatedly against a hard surface like your stairs.

Step 2

Keep pounding the living daylights out of your jeans until you are happy they are soft enough. By beating them, you’ve helped loosen those shrunken, stiff fibers. As long as the ground or whatever you hit them with was clean, there’s no need to wash your jeans after this method.

Wear Your Jeans

How to soften denim

The oldest remedy known to soften jeans is by wearing them. This one is tried and tested and has been used by generations of jeans wearers since the early days of waist overalls and 501s.

Denim is a tough fabric, but it can be tamed. Jeans were meant to be worn. Often and in hard working conditions. The more you wear them, bend in them, and generally move about in them, the softer those rigid denim fibers will get. This is why old jeans are so comfortable. They’ve been worn in.

Of course, wearing your jeans as a way to soften them takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight, which can be a problem.

Depending on the quality of the denim in your jeans, you may find before you’ve had a chance to wear them in, you’ve worn them out. This is particularly true with cheaply made or bargain-priced trendy jeans designed to last one season.

Before attempting to wear your jeans in to soften them, check the fiber content and quality of the denim. For this option to be worth doing, you need to have a usable pair of jeans at the end of it.

Sand Your Jeans

Another drastic solution is to sand your jeans. Again, check the quality of the denim first. You want to soften your jeans, not rub holes in them. Unless you want to soften them and get the distressed look at the same time, in which case, go for it!

You will need:

  • Sandpaper, pumice stone, or a pair of scissors
  • Your jeans
  • Flat surface
  • Hairdryer

Step 1

Turn your jeans inside out and lay them out on a flat surface. Warm them up slightly using your hairdryer. This will make the fibers more pliable.

Step 2

Next, you want to scrape the inside surface of your jeans. You can use fine-grain sandpaper or a pumice stone for this. You can even use one of the blades from an open pair of scissors. Just be careful you don’t cut your fingers in the process. Whatever item you use, rub it back and forth across the jeans in a scraping motion. Work with the grain of the jeans. It runs straight up and down from the waist to the leg hem. Don’t go side to side.

Step 3

Give the jeans a shake when you’re done. This will remove the loose fibers you’ve scraped off. The jeans will now feel a lot softer against your skin.

Conclusion

Knowing how to soften jeans is essential to keeping them comfortable to wear. The easiest way to soften them is to wear them as much as possible. There are quicker ways, from beating the denim with a baseball bat to a table salt soak. You can also use fabric softener or shampoo.

To keep your jeans soft, stay away from excess heat. Always wash them on a cold setting and keep them out of the dryer.

I hope you liked today’s article. Have you tried any of the methods above? Do you know a different way to soften jeans? Let me know in the comments.