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How to Soften Carhartt Pants? (Ultimate Ways)

Fact checked by Andrew Carnegie

how to soften carhartt pants

You can break in stiff-new pants just by wearing them daily, but this method can be uncomfortable. Below, we gathered the four most effective strategies on how to soften Carhartt pants that you can try at home.

Rest assured, this guide’s laundry and cleaning supplies are safe for the fabrics that Carhartt use to make their pants. However, be sure to spot-test the product in a hidden area to check for discoloration.

Ways to Soften Carhartt Pants

1. The long way: Wash with mild detergent and fabric softener

While this tutorial is intended to break in Carhartt pants, you can also try this if you want to soften stiff cotton fabric from other brands, specifically:

  1. Duck
  2. Jeans
  3. Pure cotton
  4. Canvas

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 teaspoon of mild detergent
  • 1 teaspoon of fabric softener
  • 1 teaspoon of water
  • ¼ cup vinegar

Step 1: Check the care label


Although the steps to soften stiff pants slightly deviates from the manufacturer’s washing instructions, there are rules that we cannot break.

For starters, hot water can temper tough pants, but it can also shrink fabrics made of natural fibers like cotton. Meanwhile, fabric softeners can damage the flame-resistant coating.

Your first and most crucial task is to determine the composition of the trouser’s fabric and whether washing it with hot water is allowed.

If the care label explicitly instructs you only to use cold water, do not defy it.

Step 2: Soften Carhartt work pants


Pour the water, mild detergent, and fabric conditioner into a bowl. Mix them well, then transfer the soapy solution to the washer’s dispensers.

Then, choose the settings on the washer based on the manufacturer’s recommendation.

As mentioned earlier, only run the washer on “warm” or “hot” if the care label instructs it. In any case, the purpose of Step 2 is to get rid of the chemicals on the fabric.

Once the cycle is over, repeat this step. This time, pour ¼ cup of distilled white vinegar in the last rinse.

Step 3: Dry the pants


Again, follow the manufacturer’s drying recommendations. This means you’ll need to air-dry your pants if tumble-dry is not permitted.

If that’s the case, hang your pants on the clothesline and shake them in 20-minute intervals until dry.

If tumble-dry is an option, use low heat. Halfway through the process, remove the semi-wet pants from the dryer and put them on.

It may sound silly, but you’ll have to wear those pants until they dry to soften stiff cotton pants.

Fabrics tend to relax more after this step. But if not, proceed to the next step.

Step 4: Put the pants back into the dryer


Do you have a clean pair of sneakers lying around? Zip them up in a mesh laundry bag and toss them in the dryer along with the stubbornly stiff-new pants. Alternatively, you can use three tennis balls.

Run the machine on a regular cycle. This method can “tenderize” the trousers as the sneakers collide with the fabric.

Are you still unsatisfied with the results? Continue to the next step!

Step 5: Use the iron or steam iron

Place a damp cloth over the trousers on the ironing board, then iron them with low heat. This should help minimize the hardness as the fibers loosen up a bit.

Alternatively, you utilize a steam iron to soften canvas material. Set the appliance to minimal heat to prevent damaging your pants. Run the iron along the trousers with one inch between them.

2. Shorter ways to relax your Carhartt pants

If you don’t have the time to do all 5 steps shared above in the previous tutorial, try out the strategies to soften stiff thick jeans and other types of work pants below.

Strategy #1: Using cold water


Leave your pants in a tub full of cold water to rinse away the chemicals on the fabric at night. Sleep through it and check the fabric the following day when you wake up. Rinse and dry afterward.

To improve the results, you can add distilled white vinegar to the water, following a 1:8 ratio. In the morning, remove your pants, flip them inside out, and wash them like you normally do.

Strategy #2: Baking soda


Instead of using detergent, dilute ½ cup of baking soda in water, then pour it into the washing machine’s detergent dispenser.

This is one of the most effective tricks to soften Carhartt duck pants or any piece of clothing you have.

Strategy #3: Roll the pants into a tight ball


As soon as the pants are out of the hot dryer, roll them in a ball as tight as you can. Then, use rope (or a long strip of fabric) to keep the ball in its position. Afterward, let the pants cool on their own.

You can put several hot pants into a basket to keep them hot for longer, as the heat will loosen the fabric.

Common Mistakes to Avoid and Tips to Fix

  • Softeners cannot be used on some fabrics, especially if the pants contain elastane or flame-resistant properties.

If your pants feature a flame-resistant coating, use vinegar to soften them instead.

  • You don’t need to execute all strategies above to soften canvas material, denim, or ducks.

Note that most of the instructions above involve laundering. You can easily deteriorate your pants when you over-wash them.

After doing one or two, you can wear your pants, even if they still feel slightly tough. Know that the more you wear them, the more the fabric eases.

How to Keep Carhartt Pants Soft After Washing

  1. Adding vinegar to the last cycle of washing will break down any chemical residues from detergent and fabric softener, effectively keeping the pants soft.
  2. Shake your garments before hanging them to circulate air between the fabric and loosen up the fibers.
  3. Occasionally cleaning the washing machine after washing, as the built-up scales can harden the fabric once you put the pants into the appliance again.


We can’t emphasize this enough, but you only need to follow one strategy on how to soften Carhartt pants to see the results. Although washing them once may not relax the fabric entirely, getting your garments laundered way too often can also harm the colors and fibers.

Finally, we also want to remind you that checking the manufacturer’s washing instructions on the care label should precede any of the tutorials. This way, you can determine which products to avoid so you won’t damage your new Carhartt pants.

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