How to Soften Cotton Sheets: 4 Quick Steps To Getting It Done

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When it comes to bed linen, cotton sheets are hard to beat. They are cool, durable and usually one of the softer choices you can make. However, some people find that after they have done all the hard work of shopping for the best cotton sheets, and have paid what was not an inconsiderable sum for them, when they come out of the packaging their cotton sheets are not as soft as they had hoped.

In this post, we will reveal how to soften cotton sheets, and, perhaps more importantly, why their pricey bedsheets feel stiff in the first place? These, and other questions, are what we are going to take a closer look at here.

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Why are My Cotton Sheets Stiff?

A well made bed with white fitted sheets, white pillow cases and white duvet and blanket

Before you start wondering if you have been conned and your cotton sheets are not the high quality sheets you were expecting, you need to understand that the manufacturing and processing, and even the packing, processes your cotton sheets have been through on their way to you often has a lot to do with how stiff your cotton sheets feel when they are new.

Often, manufacturers add certain chemicals to cotton sheets in the manufacturing stage that are designed to make them look brighter and feel crisper, as it’s that hotel quality shine and crispness that most people were looking for in the first place.

Your cotton sheets may also have been ironed before being packaged, to ensure that even through the plastic packaging they look pristine and there isn’t a wrinkle in site. This too, will of course, make them feel stiffer.

Almost all sheets – whether they are cotton or not – come with package instructions that advise you to wash them before first use. This is an annoying step that many people skip. You bought new sheets, and you want to sleep on them now!

However, by skipping that initial trip to the washing machine you will not remove the traces of those chemicals, and you won’t undo the effects of any ironing your cotton sheets underwent, or simply the fact that being folded up into a plastic package for weeks (or probably months) on end will make even high thread count cotton sheets feel stiff!

[Also Read: How To Soften Low Thread Count Sheets (Easy Hack)]

How to Soften Cotton Bed Sheets

White vinegar and baking soda cleaning essentials for white bedding and getting rid of smells and bacteria

The good news is that often just that first wash solves any stiffness problems, and your new cotton sheets emerge from their first trip to the laundry feeling as soft as you had expected.

There is a good reason that the manufacturer’s care label instructed you to wash them before first use, and this is exactly what it is: they won’t feel the way they are supposed to until they are washed.

However, some people find that their cotton sheets are STILL too stiff for their liking.

This can be common if your sheets have been created using a percale weave.

There are two basic ways that cotton is woven to make sheets: a percale weave or a sateen weave. Both have their pros and cons, but percale weave cotton does tend to be stiffer than sateen, which is something to keep in mind as you shop.

Weave Types
Weave Types / Image Source: The Hotel Sheet

However, even percale cotton sheets can be softened by making use of a very simple, and very inexpensive, trick when you wash them. If you are wondering how to soften bed sheets, however new or old they are, try this:

What You Will Need

  • Cotton bedsheets
  • A gentle laundry detergent (we suggest Seventh Generation)
  • A box of household baking soda
  • A bottle of white vinegar
  • An all natural dryer ball (optional)
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How It’s Done

  • Take your new cotton bedsheets (or your old, stiff ones) and place them in your washer.
  • Add the gentle laundry detergent of your choice, along with a cup of baking soda and a 1/2 cup of white vinegar.
  • Wash the sheets on the cycle recommended by the manufacturer. Most high quality cotton bedsheets are best washed at higher temperatures, but check the label, as shrunken sheets are no fun to sleep on even if they are softer!
  • If you are drying your sheets in the dryer, adding an all natural wool dryer ball will make them even softer, while also removing any piling that might have built up if the sheets are older.

Are Some Cotton Sheets Softer Than Others?

White, soft bed sheets

Some people love a crisper cotton sheet, as they have that hotel feel that can seem rather luxe and especially cool in the summer. Others prefer a soft sheet they can wrap up and snuggle under and feel extra cozy.

Softening your cotton sheets as we described above is one way to get a cozier, softer sheet. Another is to shop for a softer option from the start. Sateen weave cotton is usually softer than percale weave. It is also often the more expensive choice, but as they are very durable when cared for properly the additional expense is often well worth it.

If you want a high quality bedsheet that starts out soft and only gets softer every time you wash it, you may want to skip cotton and choose linen sheets instead.

Linen is sourced from the inside of the flax plant, and while the fiber itself is very tough – making linen sheets very durable, that is more easily broken down over time than is the case for cotton fibers, resulting in a super soft feel that, while it may be too soft for some, is perfect for others.

Another option rising in popularity are organic cotton bedsheets since these are 100% natural in which no synthetic chemicals are used during the manufacturing process. Besides the health benefits of sleeping on chemical-free bedding, you’ll also be live more sustainably.

NEXT READ: What Sheet Material Is The Softest?