How to Soften Canvas Carhartt Overalls

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Carhartt canvas overalls are among the most durable and popular work overalls manufactured. Nonetheless, new Carhartt overalls are extremely stiff and can be scratchy against the skin and cause chaffing and discomfort, particularly the Carhartt unlined overalls. This is because when canvas or denim is made, the fibers or threads are heavily coated with a starch, called "sizing," which prevents the fibers of the fabric from shrinking and gives stiffness to the cloth, making it easier to sew. The sizing usually is not removed from the garment during manufacturing and remains in the fabric of the final product sold.

Things You'll Need

  • Washing machine
  • White vinegar
  • Liquid fabric softener
  • Clothes dryer
  • Clean tennis shoe

Method 1

Place the Carhartt overalls in the clothes washer. Do not add additional garments. Do not add soap.

Set the controls of the washer on the smallest water volume, or load, cycle, with cold water wash and rinse. Fill the washer with water.

Add 1 cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle water. Let the wash cycle agitate the overalls for a few minutes to mix the water and vinegar and to allow the mixture to penetrate the overall fabric. Then stop the washer agitation.

Allow the Carhartt overalls to soak in the vinegar and water from an hour or two to as long as overnight.

Finish the wash cycle after soaking the overalls. Place the overalls in a clothes dryer set on air dry for 15 to 20 minutes.

Method 2

Place the Carhartt overalls in the washing machine with no other garments.

Set the washing machine on the smallest load capacity, with a cold water wash and rinse cycle. Fill the washer with water.

Add 1 cup of liquid fabric softener to the water, and let the wash cycle continue to agitate. Do not add soap.

Stop the wash/agitation cycle before the water begins to drain, and reset the dial back to the start of the agitation to repeat the agitation cycle.

Repeat the agitation cycle with the fabric softener and water 4 or 5 times before allowing the washer to continue the wash and rinse to the finish.

Place the overalls in a clothes dryer that is set on air dry for about 20 minutes.

Tips & Warnings

  • When you dry Carhartt overalls in a dryer set on air dry, add a clean tennis shoe. As the shoe tumbles in the dryer, it will "beat" on the fibers of the overalls, which will soften them.
  • The official Carhartt site advises not to use fabric softener on their flame-resistant clothing items, including some Carhartt overalls. The canvas fabric of the Carhartt flame-resistant apparel is treated with chemicals that will break down if washed using a non-phosphate detergent or fabric softener, particularly in hard water. The combination creates calcium carbonate which cancels out the flame-resistant chemicals.
  • Vinegar, on the other hand, will not harm the flame-resistant treatment of Carhartt flame-resistant clothing. In 1972, a newspaper column, "Mind Your Money," by Peter Weaver, stated that a mild washing with white vinegar revives the flame-resistant properties.
  • Canvas, like denim, is usually made of 100 percent cotton and will shrink, even in cold water washing. Shrinking can occur for up to three washings.

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