How to soften stiff fabric

Updated May 23, 2018

You've been carrying a paint swatch for months looking for the "perfect" fabric for a coordinating pillow. You find a colourful and beautifully woven fabric, but, upon closer inspection, you realise it is stiff and coarse, and you don't want to risk a head abrasion after resting your head against it. So do you forego the fabric and continue your search, or do you take on this toughie and attempt to soften it? With two common household products, you can make fabric soft enough for a baby to rest on.

Sew a line of stitching around the entire perimeter of the fabric to ensure it doesn't fray while in the washing machine or dryer.

Put 240 ml (1 cup) dry, nonfat milk in your washing machine in place of your usual detergent or wash solution. Set the machine for a warm wash and cold rinse cycle.

Pour between 120 and 240 ml (1/2 to 1 cup) white vinegar in the washing machine at the beginning of the first rinse cycle. As a general rule, use about 120 ml white vinegar for every metre of fabric; for example, if you are working with 3 metres of fabric, add 360 ml (1.5 cups) of vinegar.

Put the fabric in the dryer instead of hanging it to dry. The tumbling action of the dryer helps soften fabrics while letting the fabric hang dry will only make it stiff again.

Toss in a fabric softening sheet as an extra softening agent, if you choose.


Be careful as you measure the white vinegar, but rest assured that using a little more than called for will not harm your fabric.

Things You'll Need

  • Sewing machine
  • Dry, nonfat milk
  • White vinegar
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About the Author

With education, health care and small business marketing as her core interests, M.T. Wroblewski has penned pieces for Woman's Day, Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal and many newspapers and magazines. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northern Illinois University.