How to Soften a Stiff Martial Arts Belt

A brand new martial arts belt is stiff and that can make it difficult to tie. Here’s how to break in your brand new belt to make it more flexible.

Step 1: Soak it in vinegar.

The acid in vinegar can help break down and soften cotton fibers. (However, if your belt is made of polyester or another synthetic fabric instead of cotton, you can skip this step as the vinegar likely won’t have an effect.) I’ve not done any scientific studies to determine how long it needs to soak; I would wait at least half an hour and no more than one day.

Step 2: Wash it in the washing machine.

The next step is to wash it in a washing machine. The tumbling and spinning will help loosen the fabric a bit more. If you don’t have a washing machine, you can just rinse out the vinegar and hang it to dry, but don’t let it dry out completely just yet.

If you have liquid fabric softener on hand, you can add some, but this is optional and some people feel washing a belt with fabric softener makes it come untied more easily. However, in my experience this has more to do with the type of knot you use than whether or not you wash your belt with fabric softener. If you use this type of knot your belt will stay tied much longer than if you use this more traditional knot.

Step 3: Roll it up into a tight coil.

Starting at one end, coil your belt until the entire thing is a tight circle. Then, unwind it and coil it starting from the other end. After you do that, go back to the first end and coil it again, but this time bend the belt opposite from the way you coiled it the first time. Repeat again starting from the other end.

Close up photo of hands coiling a stiff Jiu Jitsu belt
Rolling my Jiu Jitsu belt into a coil

Step 4: Tightly twist The belt.

Starting at one end, twist the belt tightly in both directions, then let go and move up a few inches, then twist it at that spot. Keep working your way up the belt twisting and releasing to help make the belt more pliable.

Close up photo of hands twisting a martial arts belt
Twisting my Jiu Jitsu belt

Step 5: Tumble Dry.

After you’ve worked the belt in your hands for several minutes, dry it in the dryer. Again, the tumbling will help break it in.

Step 6: Wash your belt often.

Some people don’t wash their belt due to superstition, and others are horrified at this lack of hygiene, but one thing is certain: if you wash your belt often, it will soften and become less stiff and more flexible much more quickly.

Step 7: Train Often.

I’ve heard people say that in the old days colorful belts weren’t awarded for rank promotions; you just kept training until your belt became so stained with dirt and blood that it eventually changed color. Whether or not this is true, there is truth in that the best way to break in a martial arts belt is to use it. Over time, whether or not you follow any of the other steps on this list, the fabric will become soft and begin to show signs of wear.

My instructor’s black belt

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One Comment

  1. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER wash your obi (belt) – it will soften after years of practice which is as it should be. This is the old school way of doing things.

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