How To Soften Stiff Cotton Fabric

When you buy clothing made of cotton, you might realize that it is stiff from the get-go or after a couple of months it stiffens. Thus is because of chemicals, dirt accumulation and even soap build up in between the fibers of the cotton fabric. Cotton fabric is inherently one of the softest textile materials in the world, with its fibers occurring naturally from the cotton plant. So when it starts to stiffen or get rough, it means something isn’t right within the cotton fabric. But how do you soften stiff cotton fabric? Let’s find out.

Table of Contents

What Stiffens Cotton Fabric In The First Place?

Not every “100% cotton” fabric is indeed one hundred percent made of cotton. Some cotton fabrics are instead blended with tough synthetic fibers which then makes the cotton fabric stiff as well. However it is worth mentioning that other synthetic fibers actually enhance the properties (softness, smoothness) of cotton fabric by far. Stiffness on cotton fabric can be a result of poor weaving of the cotton fibers from the factory where they’re manufactured.

  • A good cotton garment or fabric should be very soft because cotton fiber is a natural fiber that also happens to be very soft. This is due to the large amount of cellulose that makes up the cotton fibers. The fibers also have a small percentage of water in the make up which contributes to the soft and smooth feeling of the cotton fibers. When chemicals are used to enhance or treat the cotton fibers to have a longer lifespan (which most organic materials do not have) it tends to temper with the natural make up of the cotton fibers, causing the fabric they’re made of to die out and lose their natural properties. Another reason as to why cotton fabric may stiffen up is because of the fabric it will be blended with. This can drastically affect the quality of the fabric as mentioned above. But it also may be that the plant (cotton plant) where the cotton fiber was harvested from didn’t receive the correct amount of nutrition in order for it to produce good quality cotton fibers.

Ways To Soften Stiff Cotton Fabric

  • Vinegar Washing – This method of softening works best on cotton fabrics with 100% cotton fibers all around. With a combination of vinegar and baking soda, you wash your stiff cotton fabric in warm water to soften it up. The agents in both of these solutions helps to break down dirt and soap build up that may be present at a microscopic level on the cotton fabric.
  • Salt and Brining Solution – This method of cotton fabric softening works best with cotton blended fabrics. Usually when two different types of fabrics are blended, they become a stronger (and more stiff) end fabric. With this solution, you simply place the fabric or clothing into a warm wash and leave it to soak. (Making sure to add the salt and brining solution when pouring the warm water into the wash.)
  • Tumble Drying – When you leave your cotton fabrics to air dry, they’re more likely to become stiff when they do dry than with tumble drying. Tumble drying will help your cotton fabric retain its soft and comfortable feeling even after long periods of time.
  • Scouring Pads – These are items you can buy at your local grocery store in the detergent aisle. Scouring pads help create a soft and smooth feeling for cotton fabrics. You place them directly into the washing drum, so that when the machine is spinning, the pads are rubbing against the cotton fabric clothing, softening it as it goes.
  • Borax (Boric Acid) – When diluted into water, this solution softens the water first, breaking away all the molecules in the water (like lime) that may cling to the cotton fabric and in turn make it stiff.

These are fairly easy methods to use or incorporate, what you cannot find in your house, you can go and purchase at a store and that’s convenient. All of these ways or methods help soften your stiff cotton fabric with ease. All that you need to do is add the solution(s) in moderation.

More On Cotton Fabric

  • Cotton fabric is one of the most popular and beloved fabrics, this has lead to it being available in various kinds of textures and styles. Cotton fabric has a high tensile strength, which makes it very strong (even on its own) and less likely to be subjected to tear.
  • There are mainly seven types of cotton fabric and each one carries its own varied subdivisions of fabrics within it. They are; seersucker fabric, cotton drill, brushed cotton, cotton poplin, cotton jersey fabric, cotton lawn and chambray. These cotton fabric all vary in stiffness, softness, thickness, strength, weight, maintenance and many other important aspects to consider when looking for or dealing with fabrics. But when dealing with softening them up, the solutions are usually more or less the same. This is because they’re all fundamentally made up of cotton fabric.
  • When dealing with stiff cotton fabric, you can also use dryer sheets (when using a tumble dryer) to effectively soften the cotton fabric. Running the tumble dryer as you normally would.
  • When rinsing your clothes, always use a fabric softener (the function is in the name) this is because it contains chemical agents that prevent static cling (which can also lead to stiff cotton fabric) and makes the fabric softer and smoother to the touch.


Most people prefer cotton as soft as can be, but due to factors listed (and many more others) it can lose this especially unique and worthwhile attribute. Stiff Cotton is not very user friendly (wearer friendly) but if you follow the ways to soften it as summarized above. You’ll be sure to take care of your cotton fabric clothing for long periods of time without having to worry about them stiffening up. Not only will you feel comfortable in your soft cotton clothing but you’ll also feel safe knowing you’re doing good for the environment.