How to make rough sheets soft again – say hello to a cozier night's sleep

Adopt these laundry practices and you can look forward to softer, more comfortable sheets after every wash

How to make rough sheets soft again?
(Image credit: The Secret Linen Store)

Whether your new sheets are stiff, or after a few washes you notice your sheets gradually losing their soft feel, using tried-and-test tactics to ensure they remain comfortable can improve your sleep and prevent skin irritation.

When washing bed sheets there are a few reasons why they may not be as soft as you would like, including some bedding laundry mistakes and missed opportunities for pre and post-wash care that can contribute to making your sheets soft and silky. 

We asked laundry and bedding experts how to make rough sheets soft again. They recommended these simple laundry hacks to incorporate into your cleaning routine.

How to make rough sheets soft again

Regular use and proper care can naturally soften bed sheets over time. Adopt these laundry practices, and you can look forward to softer, more comfortable sheets after every wash:

Pre-soak with vinegar

Pink bedsheets

(Image credit: The Secret Linen Store)

Pre-soaking sheets before a wash is a great way to protect them and keep them soft. One method is to dissolve around 1/2 cup (120 g) of baking soda in warm water and let your sheets soak in this solution for a couple of hours. Once the soak is done, wash them. They should come out of the washer feeling refreshed and soft. Then hang them out to dry.

Another natural way to soften your sheets is to use Epsom salts, such as these, from Walmart, which relax the fibers. Pour around 1.5 ounces of Epsom salts into a tub of cold water, and mix thoroughly. Give your sheets a full night's soak, then rinse and hang to dry.

Petya Holevich, a cleaning and laundry expert at Fantastic Services, adds: 'One of my favorite ways to treat stiff sheets is to add a cup of white vinegar to the wash during the rinse cycle to help break down any mineral deposits and detergent residues that make sheets feel stiff. You can also entirely substitute fabric softener with this kitchen ingredient.' 

Petya's simple laundry hack is also perfect for making towels soft again,

Use baking soda and vinegar

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'The most common cause of rough sheets is using harsh detergents and artificial softening agents in the washing or drying cycle,' says Parima Ijaz,  textile expert and founder of Pure Parima. 'If you are looking for ways to bring back their softness, you can try incorporating natural household items like baking soda or vinegar into their next wash cycle.'

Parima Ijaz bedding expert
Parima Ijaz

Parima Ijaz is the founder of Pure Parima. Its ethos is to ensure customers can receive accessible luxury, authenticity, and softness. She honors her middle eastern heritage through her color choices and collection names and honors her father, whose 30 years of experience in this industry has guided and inspired her, leaving a legacy they both can feel proud of.

'These natural softeners help remove dirt, odors, mineral buildup, and residue while balancing water pH for better detergent effectiveness,' explains Jacky Chou, founder of interior design company Laurel & Wolf. The combination of baking soda and vinegar helps to get rid of any chemical residue that might be making your sheets rough, and for new sheets, this can help loosen any lingering chemical buildup from the manufacturing process.

To use this method:

  • Start by putting the stiff sheets into the washing machine, then, add one cup of baking soda and 1/2 cup of vinegar to the machine. You don't need to use your regular laundry detergent. 
  • Run the washing machine on a regular cycle with warm water. 
  • After the cycle is complete, remove the sheets and rinse them to ensure that all the baking soda and vinegar are washed away. 
  • Depending on your preferences, you can air dry the sheets or put them in the dryer on a gentle, low heat setting. 
  • To add a pleasant scent to your sheets, consider adding dried lavender or a few drops of essential oil to the baking soda (provided it won't stain your sheets). You can test the solution on a small, inconspicuous spot on your sheets before doing this. Mix the baking soda and fragrance together and let it sit for at least 15-30 minutes to let the baking soda absorb the scent before using it. We recommend this HBNO lavender essential oil from Amazon.

Opt for a longer wash cycle

Black bedroom with bed, artwork and shelving on walls

(Image credit: Lulu and Georgia)

Sometimes, the reason your sheets may feel rough is insufficient washing time, which means your sheets have less time to agitate and soften up.

If your sheets still feel rough after a regular wash cycle, try setting your washing machine for a longer cycle. 

Add wool dryer balls


(Image credit: The Secret Linen Store)

'You can toss a couple of dryer balls or clean tennis balls into the dryer together with your sheets to help fluff and separate the fabric, which will prevent them from stiffening,' recommends laundry expert, Petya Holevich.

XL Wool Dryer Balls | $23.99 at Amazon

XL Wool Dryer Balls | $23.99 at Amazon
Use three laundry dryer balls for small/medium loads, and five to six for large.

Plastic Dryer Balls | $7.79 at Amazon

Plastic Dryer Balls | $7.79 at Amazon
These plastic dryer balls are suitable for use in any tumble dryer. 

Use less detergent and softener


(Image credit: Sweetpea & Willow)

'Be mindful of the amount of detergent or fabric softener you add to your laundry, and don’t overuse them. These products can leave a residue that reduces absorbency and damages the fabrics of your items,' warns Petya Holevich.

Instead, you could opt for half the usual amount (around 1/4 to 1/2 cup) or switch to a mild, natural product, such as baking soda and/or vinegar.

Avoid overloading the washing machine.


(Image credit: Sweetpea & Willow)

'We're all guilty of occasionally overloading our washing machines,' says Petya Holevich, laundry expert. 'But you should try to avoid doing this as it can prevent proper rotation of the laundry items inside.' 

Overloading your machine results in a less effective clean and can also cause friction between the sheets, contributing to them feeling rougher. To be cleaned properly, sheets need space to move around. So, next time you wash your sheets and towels, separate them into smaller loads.

Air-dry your sheets where possible


(Image credit: The Secret Linen Store)

A gentler approach to drying sheets is always a winner when aiming to keep them soft.

'If you can, air-dry your sheets in the sunlight because sun exposure has a natural softening effect and can also help eliminate any unpleasant odors,' says Petya Holevich. This method allows the sheets to air dry naturally, which can help maintain their softness and prevent any shrinkage that might occur with high heat from dryers.

Use proper storage techniques

how to make a bedroom darker, earth bedroom style with textured ochre wallpaper, curved headboard, neutral bedding, green and ochre cushions, plant, modern black side table and wall light, artwork

(Image credit: Gunter & Co)

Once your bedsheets are dry, fold or store them as soon as possible to prevent dust and dirt from settling back onto them.

'Store bed linens loosely in a cool, dry place to maintain softness. Avoid folding sheets too tightly or excessive stacking, as these actions can compress fibers and cause creases,' says Jacky Chou, interior designer. 'Additionally, you should iron sheets on a low or medium setting to relax the fibers and make them more pliable and comfortable.' Remember to avoid ironing embellishments or embroidery.

Invest in quality sheets


(Image credit: The Secret Linen Store)

'The best way to avoid rough sheets altogether is by investing in natural, quality sheets that will actually become softer overtime, including many washes,' says Parima Ijaz, Founder of Pure Parima.

Lower-quality sheets, typically made with short-staple cotton fibers, tend to be rough and prone to pilling. Higher-quality sheets and luxury bedding made with long staple cotton fibers are generally softer and more durable. High-thread-count cotton sheets especially become softer with each wash.

'Materials like Egyptian cotton are soft to begin with and will remain soft for years with proper care,' continues Parima. 'The extra-long staple cotton fibers create a more durable and soft fabric that can withstand those routine washes for bedding you can rely on.'

If you follow these methods, your sheets should retain their softness over time. However, if you've tried these methods and your sheets are still rough, it may be worth considering replacing them with a higher-quality option.

Lola Houlton
News writer

Lola Houlton is a news writer for Homes & Gardens. She has been writing content for Future PLC for the past six years, in particular Homes & Gardens, Real Homes and GardeningEtc. She writes on a broad range of subjects, including practical household advice, recipe articles, and product reviews, working closely with experts in their fields to cover everything from heating to home organization through to house plants. Lola is a graduate, who completed her degree in Psychology at the University of Sussex. She has also spent some time working at the BBC.