There's a time and place for crisp, starched denim – but slipping into a pair of worn, butter-soft jeans definitely feels more comfortable. It doesn't really matter how great your Levi's look if you dread wearing them because the fabric is stiff and chafing. Like other brands of denim, Levi's don't soften up overnight. There's no simple DIY hack that will immediately transform a pair of stiff jeans into the perfectly soft Levi's of your dreams. This process is all about being patient and using proper denim care to get your Levi's into exactly the condition you want.
Give Your Levi's a Workout
The best way to soften jeans will also help you get your daily steps in. Pull on your Levi's and get active. Wear them to ride a bike, do squats, jog up and down stairs and stretch out with some yoga. Or just wear them as you do your everyday activities like running errands or chasing after kids and pets. It's not a quick solution – but every time you take a step or bend your legs, the friction helps the denim get softer and become more molded to your body. The more you can stretch and move in your jeans, the better.
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Resist the Urge to Overwash
Washing and rewashing new Levi's won't soften the fabric. It may, however, cause them to stretch out and become more and more faded over time. And jeans may feel stiffer after they're washed if any detergent residue remains on the fabric. Levi's suggests washing its jeans no more than once every 10 wearings or so. Always use cold water to prevent shrinking, and hand wash denim if you can.
That said, getting Levi's soaking wet may be useful when you're breaking in a new pair. Some people swear by sitting down in a tub full of warm water wearing their new jeans. Soak for 20 minutes, then let the pants dry. It may feel weird to sit in a bath wearing jeans, but this trick should help soften new denim and help them mold to your body.
Skip Traditional Fabric Softener
When you do wash your jeans, how you dry them is very important. Full disclosure: Levi's calls dryers "the natural enemy of jeans" because the heat and agitation breaks down the denim fibers and can cause jeans to shrink. The company suggests that Levi's jeans be turned inside out and line dried in a shady place. But the tradeoff with air drying is that jeans tend to feel stiff when you pull them off the clothesline.
Running jeans through the dryer occasionally should help the denim feel softer. But don't use traditional fabric softener or dryer sheets. They'll leave a thin chemical coating on the denim that may actually make it feel stiffer in the long run. If you're going to dry your jeans in the dryer, put them in with several dryer balls instead. As they bounce around during the drying cycle, dryer balls will disperse static electricity and create friction that helps soften fabric without using any chemicals.
Try Sandpaper (With Caution)
Using fine grit sandpaper to manually soften Levi's is certainly something you can try. Just be mindful that rubbing your denim with sandpaper might lighten the dye in those areas and could even cause holes to form. It's a great strategy if you want to give your jeans a distressed look but not if you want your denim to retain its current appearance. If you want to try it, experiment with fine grit sandpaper on a spot near the hem to see if you like the look and feel this gives the denim.