Stiff Jeans – Friday’s Ask the Audience

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Dear Home-Ec 101,
First off I just have to say I love ur site, as a 27 year-old, first time parent it has been a lifesaver. Really wish they would teach these things like they used to in schools. Once had a friend throw away a brand new pair of pants because they and their mom couldn’t sew on a button, I mean really!

Anyway here’s my question:
My aunt gave me some jeans, for my husband. They are so starched from the cleaners that they really stand on their own. Can’t even get a leg through them. Tried washing them a bunch but still can’t seem to get the starch out. Called my aunt to see if she had any ideas, turns out she has been trying for months that’s why she gave them to me.  LOL Said she took them to the cleaners one day and that’s how she got them back.  Any ideas would be nice, hate to get rid of 12 or so perfectly good jeans.
Stiff-legged in Stillwater

how to get starch out

Heather says:

Your question is very interesting. Laundry starch should be water soluble. This means that it should dissolve in water.

Corn starch is actually more soluble in cold water than hot, it has to do with the structure of the starch chains and how that changes with temperature.

I talked it over with my good friend Jenn Fowler of Frugal Upstate and here’s what we brainstormed:

Wash the jeans in your washer on cold and add a cup of white vinegar to the rinse. Make sure you set the washer to agitate for as long as possible. Hopefully the combination of cold water and physical agitation will break up some of those long chains of starches, making the jeans more pliable.

Don’t overload your washer, only do a few pairs at a time, especially if these are jeans for a bigger guy, you want a lot of room for the jeans to move around. Also, leave the load setting on Large to ensure there’s a lot of water for the starch to dissolve into.

how to launder unusual items
Click the picture for more tips!

If you don’t have dryer balls (what am I 12? That just makes me giggle) toss a couple of tennis balls into your dryer and tumble dry. I know it’s not the greenest choice to use a dryer, but line drying does cause fabrics to feel more stiff.

I have seen suggestions to use cheap shampoo or conditioner on new jeans to help soften them, but I have not tried this although I can sort of see the theory behind the idea. I would only try this if the jeans were about to go in the donation or trash pile.

How about it, Home Ec Readers, what would you suggest?

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3 thoughts on “Stiff Jeans – Friday’s Ask the Audience”

  1. I am considering that you might not be dealing with starch: even the starchiest things have always washed out in my experience. You didn’t say if the jeans were 100% cotton. If they are a cotton blend, you might be dealing with melted synthetic fibers from having gotten too hot and partially melted in the steam press: I’ve had that happen with some polyester blends. There’s no cure for that, unfortunately.

    If what Heather and her friend suggested doesn’t do it, I would next suspect mineral buildup or a defective dye that has crystallized. You can try soaking in solutions of Borax or TSP (trisodium phosphate), or full-strength white vinegar in a bucket. One at a time! Don’t go mixing a lot of chemicals together. If that doesn’t do it, you can try citric acid and phosphoric acid (coca cola is a good source). I have used LimeAway on jeans stiffened from digging in caliche (calcium rocks), but it will lighten the fabric. Soak overnight and rinse in the tub or laundry sink before putting into the washing machine. Expect some color lifting with all but Borax and vinegar. You can use a clean toilet plunger to agitate the soaking solution if you want.

    There is also the possibility that when the jeans were cleaned, something soaked with silicone or oil got into the mix and chemically bonded to the fabric. Possibly the dry cleaner had just had their equipment worked on and the service person over-lubricated, or something broke in the machinery and spilled lubricant into the cleaning solution. This has happened a couple of times with my husband’s jeans when he washes them with an oily rag in the pocket. To test for this, get some WD-40 and Goo-Gone. Saturate a spot with each, scrub/flex, and blot dry with a paper towel. If the jeans become flexible at one or both spots, you know you’re dealing with oil. Then you get to decide if the jeans are worth using up a bottle of solvent and then soaking in a strong detergent solution to remove the solvent in order to resurrect them.

    It’s too late now, but whenever I get something back from the cleaners that is not as expected, I take it back and ask them to make it right or pay for the item. I will take equivalent credit toward future dry cleaning, unless the place has messed up too many times, in which case I won’t be using them any longer.

  2. I would take them to the cleaners or call them and ask them. They would know about the chemicals and you also could ask them to “fix” one pair if you wanted. If you get too many solvents or oils in the mix… you could start a fire in the dryer unless you wash them about five times with soap and five with alternating hot and cold water to get everything out.


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