Let's face it. Finding the perfect pair of jeans that look good is only half the battle—they have to feel good, too. If you've (finally) found your perfect-fitting denim match but they still feel stiff and uncomfortable, or if your favorite pair isn't as pillowy-soft as it once was, don't hit the reset button just yet. Thankfully, there are things you can do to break in your new jeans and soften your old ones—sans chemicals. The result? You'll feel more comfortable wearing them (and be more likely to keep them on rotation). Stiff blues will soon be a thing of the past.
The following tips can be used to soften any type of jeans, from white jeans to colored rinses and dark wash denim. Keep in mind that anything you do at home to treat the fabric of your jeans may change their look and feel, so you may want to experiment with a less expensive pair of jeans before trying these techniques on more pricey, designer versions.
Keep reading to learn our step-by-step, eco-friendly, all-natural guide to softening stiff denim fabric.
What You'll Need
- Jeans you want to soften
- White household vinegar
- Plastic bucket or tub
- Small square of fine-grit sandpaper
- Four clean tennis balls
- Clothes washer and dryer
Remove Clothing Tags
First things first, cut off any manufacturer's tags from the inside of your new jeans using sharp, pointy scissors. Be very careful to snip close to the threads but not directly on top of them, to avoid puncturing the pants fabric. Pop the tags in your pants drawer in case you need to refer to special washing instructions later.
Turn Jeans Inside Out
Turning jeans inside out before washing them—especially when you're going to be purposely aggravating the fabric to manipulate its feel—will help preserve their look. This is important if you want to avoid fading on a pair of a darker wash, or don't like the look of distressing. Of course, if you find distressed and abraded details charming on denim, you can skip this step entirely.
Soften With a Vinegar Soak
White vinegar is a natural softening agent that can soften denim fabric. Make a softening solution for your jeans by combining eight cups of hot tap water with one cup of regular, white household vinegar (like this one from Heinz, $9) in a clean bucket or plastic tub. Place jeans into the solution, making sure to fully immersing the fabric, and soak for several hours or overnight. A vinegar soak not only softens denim, but it can also help to preserve the color in dark rinse jeans and help prevent dye bleeding, especially when the jeans are brand new.
P.S.: If you're worried about your jeans smelling like salt and vinegar chips, know that when your jeans dry, the vinegar scent will evaporate.
Put Jeans in the Dryer
You'll need to dry your jeans before continuing onto the next step in the softening process. (Don't worry, you'll be washing them again to get the vinegar out before you wear them). Throw your (still inside-out) jeans into the dryer and dry completely. If you're concerned about shrinking your jeans, you can use the lowest heat setting on the machine.
Roll Jeans Into a Ball
When your jeans are fully dry and still hot from the dryer, roll them into a tight ball. Start at the hems and roll tightly (just like you would a sleeping bag), working all the way up to the waistband. The goal is to get the jeans into the smallest, tightest ball possible. Then, use a bathrobe belt or a long piece of fabric to tie up the jean ball so it stays condensed, and leave it to cool for half an hour to an hour. Rolling your jeans this way when they're still hot from the dryer helps to stretch the denim, loosening the tightly knitted fibers of the fabric, for a softening effect.
Sand Your Jeans
To get that lived-in look without putting in the hours of wear, sand your jeans. To do this, unroll them and—while they're still turned inside-out—use a small square of fine grit sandpaper (like this one from 3M, $7) to gently scrape the surface of the denim fabric. Start at the top of the jeans and move the sandpaper square in horizontal strokes to scrape the fabric. Take your time scraping your way along the fabric (you can brush away the bits of loosened fiber that come off the jeans as you go), and move all the way down to the hems.
Wash Jeans in Warm Water
Next, place the jeans (still inside-out) into the washing machine. Wash jeans by themselves, without detergent, choosing the warm or medium temperature water setting on your washer. If you're laundering only one pair of jeans, go for a low-water setting (if your washer has one) to preserve water for smaller laundry loads. Wash the jeans alone—or only with other pairs of jeans—for optimal results.
Dry Jeans With Tennis Balls
Put your freshly washed jeans into the clothes dryer, adding four new (clean) tennis balls—these mini ones from Hyper Pet, $6, will do the job. The tennis balls will give your jeans a strenuous "massage" as they go through the dryer cycle, helping to soften the denim fabric for a worn-in feel. Be sure to set the dryer on low heat to prevent shrinkage, especially if your jeans have a high amount of stretch. Or if you don't mind a bit of shrinking, you can opt for the hottest setting, which will help to further soften the jeans.
Wear and Repeat as Needed
Wear your jeans often to soften the fabric and help it mold to your body. You should also wash them frequently, too, which will help to continue breaking down the fabric so that they feel worn out and softer against your skin.