9 Steps to Soften Denim and Make Jeans More Comfortable

Your DIY Natural Guide to Softening Stiff Jeans

Finding the perfect pair of jeans can feel like a major achievement. Sometimes, though, even a perfect-fitting new jean can feel stiff and uncomfortable. If you have sensitive skin — or if your children do — a stiff denim fabric can irritate it and make you avoid wearing that pair of new jeans. The good news is, there are things you can do yourself at home to soften those jeans and make them more comfortable to wear, without the use of harsh chemicals. Just follow our step-by-step, eco-friendly, all natural guide to softening stiff denim fabric, so your blue jeans will feel better against your skin. 

Note: The following tips can be used on 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, however, so you may want to experiment with less expensive pairs of jeans before trying these techniques on more pricey, designer versions.

What You'll Need

  • Pair of jeans you want to soften
  • Scissors
  • White household vinegar
  • Plastic bucket or tub
  • Small square of fine-grit sandpaper
  • 4 clean tennis balls
  • Clothes washer and dryer

 

01
of 09

Remove Clothing Tags

Father holding baby quality time
Every body deserves to wear soft denim jeans. Porta Images/Getty Images

Scratchy clothing tags can irritate sensitive skin, especially for kids. 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. You can always save the tags as well, if you want to refer to any special washing instructions later.

Handy Tip: Keep snipped-off clothing tags in a dedicated place in your laundry room, with a note about which jeans they match up with, so you can easily access this information as needed.

02
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Turn Jeans Inside Out

Woman trying on jeans in fitting room
Take off jeans and prepare them for washing properly. PhotoAlto/Sigrid Olsson/Getty Images

Turning jeans inside out before washing them — especially when you're going to be purposely aggravating the fabric to manipulate its feel, as in this jeans softening tutorial — will help to preserve their look. This is important if you want to avoid fading on 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.

Handy Tip: Wash your jeans alone — or only with other pairs of jeans — for optimal results.

03
of 09

Soften With a Vinegar Soak

Bottles of Vinegar
Multi-bits/ Photolibrary/ Getty Images

White vinegar is a natural softening agent that can soften denim fabric, making it more comfortable to wear. Make a softening solution for your jeans by combining 8 cups of hot tap water with one cup of regular, white household vinegar in a clean bucket or plastic tub. Place jeans into the solution, fully immersing the fabric, and soak for several hours or overnight. A vinegar soak not only softens denim, it can also help to preserve the color in dark rinse jeans and help prevent dye bleeding, especially when the jeans are brand new.

Handy Tip: Don't worry about your jeans smelling like vinegar chips. When they dry, the vinegar scent will evaporate, leaving a clean and fresh scent behind.

04
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Put Jeans in the Dryer

Young man at washing machine
Wash your jeans right and they'll last you longer. Photo and Co/Getty Images

You'll need to dry your jeans before continuing onto the next step in the softening process. (Don't worry, you'll be washing your jeans again to get the vinegar out, before you wear them). Throw jeans (still inside-out) into the clothes dryer and dry completely.

Handy Tip: If you're concerned about shrinking your jeans, you can use the lowest heat setting on the machine.

05
of 09

Roll Jeans Into a Ball

Colorful rolled up jeans
Roll jeans into a ball. Imarchi Margarit / EyeEm / Getty Images

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, as you would a sleeping bag, working all the way up to the waistband. Make those jeans into the smallest, tightest ball possible. Then use a bathrobe belt or other longish piece of fabric to tie up the jeans 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.

Handy Tip: If you're rolling up several pairs of jeans, as an alternative to tying them up, you can fit them into a basket or other container where they're tightly packed in, to prevent them from unrolling.

06
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Sand Your Jeans

Person in jeans standing on a beach
Treat your jeans with sandpaper. Benjamin Egerland / EyeEm / Getty Images

Now you're going to sand your jeans, to give them a softer, lived-in feel, without putting in the hours of wear. Unroll your jeans and, making sure they are still turned inside-out, use a small square of sandpaper to gently scrape the surface of the denim fabric. Start at the top of the jeans, moving your 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), all the way down to the hems.

Handy Tip: Use fine grit sandpaper to achieve a softening effect.

07
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Wash Jeans in Warm Water

how-to-wash-jeans-spotlight.jpg
Get our top ten tips for caring for your jeans to make them last longer. White Packert/Getty Images

Place jeans (still inside-out) into the washing machine. Wash jeans by themselves, without detergent, selecting the Warm or Medium temperature water setting on your washer.

Handy Tip: When laundering only one pair of jeans, select the low-water setting (if your washer has one) to preserve water for smaller laundry loads.

08
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Dry Jeans With Tennis Balls

tennis balls
Put tennis balls in the dryer cycle with jeans. Russell Sadur / Getty Images

Put your freshly washed jeans into the clothes dryer, adding four new (clean) tennis balls. 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.

Handy Tip: 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 select the hottest setting, which will help to further soften the jeans.

09
of 09

Wear and Repeat As Needed

Street style pajama shirt and jeans
Wear your jeans often to wear them in well. Matthew Sperzel/Getty Images

Wear your jeans often, to soften the fabric and help it mold to your body. Wash them frequently too, which will help to continue breaking down the denim fabric so it feels worn out and softer against your skin.

Handy Tip: Get our latest tips on how to wear jeans stylishly.