Carhartt specializes in manufacturing some of the most durable workwear on the planet.
This includes entire outfits such as overalls, shirts, pants, heavy coats, and possibly their most popular product jackets.
Though these jackets are some of the toughest on the planet, designed to withstand everything from abrasion to fire, this leaves them tough and unworkable.
The only way to solve this is to take the effort to soften and break it in, and that is what we will show you how to do.
To soften a Carhartt jacket, start by washing it with fabric softener, which helps break down stiff fibers. For a more natural method, soak the jacket in a mixture of vinegar and water before washing, as vinegar is a natural fabric softener. After washing, tumble dry the jacket with a few tennis balls or dryer balls, which will beat the fabric and help soften it further. Repeating this process a few times can significantly reduce the stiffness of the jacket, making it more comfortable to wear.
One of the best ways to break in a CarHartt jacket is to use a machine washer and vinegar.
This will soften the jacket and get rid of some of its stiffness without damaging the leather or fire-retardance. So, let’s get right to it.
Step 1: Preparation
The very first thing you should do to prepare is to remove any stickers or tags and clear the jacket’s pockets.
Next, make sure all fasteners are attached, and this includes any buttons, zippers, and hooks.
Next, prepare the washer by first setting it to the smallest setting. After all, you will only be washing the jacket this time.
Make sure it is on a cold wash setting. This is important because the fire-resistant material can be easily damaged by heat.
To maintain the fire resistance, the material should not be exposed to water temperatures in excess of 160°F (70°C).
This, in addition to preventing shrinkage, is why it is recommended to use cold water unless shrinkage is desired, in which case just keep the temperature below this limit.
Also, do not use chlorine bleach, hydrogen peroxide bleach, starch, or fabric softeners in washing.
Step 2: Washing
Run the washer until it fills with enough cold water to soak the jacket. Add the jacket as well as 1 cup of plain vinegar to the filled washing machine.
Let the washer proceed to run until the agitation cycle. Wait for this cycle to nearly complete, and right before it finishes, stop it.
Now, it’s time for a wait. You should leave the jacket soaking in vinegar and cold water for several hours.
Once the times up, let the cycle complete and give the jacket a whiff. If the jacket still smells, turn on an extra rinse cycle to clean it off.
Keep in mind to never use any detergents or fabric softeners at any point in washing the jacket. This can damage the leather and any flame or water-resistant coatings.
Step 3: Drying
If you would like to avoid the risk of shrinking, you can simply hang up your jacket for drying in a well-ventilated location.
On the other hand, if you would prefer a little shrinkage, place it in the clothes dryer on a low or no heat, fluff setting.
No matter which option you choose, wait for the jacket to completely dry before trying to wear it.
Once the jacket is dry, you should try it on to check the size and stiffness. If the jacket is still too stiff but is completely dry, place it in the dryer with a clean shoe on the no heat fluff cycle.
Run the complete cycle and check the jacket again, and if it still is too stiff, continue to find more ways to break it in.
Other Break-In Methods
Sometimes the above method may not get the leather as soft as you would like it. If this is the case, then don’t worry; we have other methods you can use to try and break in the jacket if you would like.
Milk Powder Bath
This method could hardly be simpler. Just add 1 level cup of nonfat milk powder to the washer instead of your regular soap, then run a cold wash.
Afterward, let the jacket dry on a no-heat cycle in your dryer before wearing it.
A colorless shoe polish makes for a great leather softener for your Carhartt jacket. Just apply a little polish to a clean towel and rub it evenly over the surface of the jacket until you have covered everything. Now repeat several times.
Make sure not to rub too hard as this can damage the leather exterior of the jacket. Additionally, always use a colorless polish as others can stain the jacket’s surface.
Alcohol & Vaseline
Soak a cotton ball in alcohol until thoroughly damp and rub it thoroughly into the leather jacket’s surface.
Wait for the jacket to dry; next, take the Vaseline and apply it to the CarHartt jacket’s entire surface. After some time wearing the jacket, it will become soft again.
Coconut oil not only acts as an amazing moisturizer for your skin but it can also actually be used as a powerful softener for your leather CarHartt jacket as well.
Apply coconut oil thoroughly over the leather surface of the jacket and leave it for the entire night.
Afterward, wipe off the excess oil and enjoy the soft, smooth surface.
Take a clean rag and soak it with some olive oil. Now rub it over the entire surface of the jacket. Wait for a little bit, and the surface will soften.
Manual Leather Softening
To do this, you will take a soft, smooth striking implement such as a baseball bat or rubber stick and use a regulated amount of force to strike the entire surface of the jacket.
This will gradually soften the jacket the same as you would tenderize a piece of meat.
This method should be done carefully to prevent damage, especially to metal parts such as zippers or clasps.
As you strike the surface, attempt to avoid seams and change your movement as you go.
After finishing a section, take the leather in your hand and pull it. You need to stretch the material in every direction, and it will slowly become softer.
For this technique, take a spray bottle and fill it with water. For the best results, use distilled water to avoid any potential stains or mineral accumulation in regions with hard water.
Tighten the spray bottle cap thoroughly and spray the CarHartt jacket’s entire surface with water until it begins to bead up.
As the water sits, it will penetrate the leather and break hard grains. To make the jacket mold to your body shape, it can be a good idea to wear it and move around while it’s damp.
Make sure that the water does not set and stagnate. This can cause the leather to crack or become discolored.
Also, try to keep metal parts as dry as possible throughout the process.
After it is all done, it is a good idea to use a high-quality leather softener. This will help restore moisture and create a protective coating over the jacket, helping to prevent the leather from drying out, cracking, and crumbling.
Leather is made from animal skin and has properties similar to our own skin. By applying moisturizing cream to your jacket, you can help soften the jacket a lot during this process.
Take a soft cloth and apply some moisturizer to it before rubbing it all over the surface of the jacket.
Then, use your hand to squeeze the leather and work it in more. After doing this, at least one more time, it is time to heat the jacket.
Take a hairdryer and turn it to the medium setting to ensure the leather does not get too hot. Extreme heat can cause considerable damage to the leather.
You should also hold the hairdryer approximately 15 cm away from the jacket’s surface throughout the process as well.
Slowly move the hairdryer back and forth over the entire surface, never holding one position for long.
Afterward, you can take a soft cloth and wipe the entire surface of the jacket to help brighten the leather.
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CarHartt jackets are some of the most durable workwear on the planet, but this does not mean they have to be rigid and uncomfortable.
With a little bit of effort, you can break in the jacket without having to wait through months of wear.
These techniques can leave the jacket soft and supple without ruining your jacket’s protective coatings.
So, try out one or more of these methods to break in your CarHartt jacket and enjoy your new jacket to the fullest.
My name is Keren Tayler. I am a stay-at-home mama to three lovely girls, Sarah + Rachel + Hannah. Prior to becoming a mom, I had a successful career in the accounting field, steps away from becoming a CPA. I decided to give up on my career in order to raise my own kids (as opposed to letting a nanny do it, no judgment here :)) I learned a lot and I love sharing it with other moms. Along the way, I also became a Certified Food Handler.