How to Soften Brown Sugar

By: Bob's Red Mill | October 11 2022

If you’ve ever wondered how to soften brown sugar, we have four simple methods that do the trick. To quickly soften brown sugar: place the sugar in a microwave safe bowl and cover it with a damp paper towel for about 20 second, or use a food processor to loosen the brown sugar. If you aren’t pressed for time, use a slice of bread or an apple in an airtight container with the brown sugar for 24 hours.

One of the most frustrating things about baking is getting halfway through your recipe, preheating the oven, and almost tasting that delicious dessert in your mouth, only to realize that your brown sugar has gone rock hard. While lumpy brown sugar may be upsetting, it doesn’t have to be the end of a great recipe.

There are many ways to soften hardened sugar, and you could purchase a terra cotta brown sugar saver or use ingredients you already have in your pantry. The four methods to soften brown sugar can actually save that brown sugar in time for those cookies to still bake perfectly. With a little help from baking experts worldwide, we've explained some of the top, most effective ways to soften up brown sugar and get your baked goods back on track!

The 24 Hour Method: Using a Slice of Bread

While this method takes a full 24 hours to work properly, it is one of the best ways to revive your brown sugar. All you need is a slice of soft bread and your lumpy brown sugar.

To restore your brown sugar, place hardened brown sugar in an airtight container. After transferring it to the brown sugar container, slice a piece of bread and lay it sliced side up on top of the sugar. Once the bread is in with the sugar, close the lid tightly and let it sit for at least 24 hours. The moisture in the soft bread will work to soften the sugar, and by the next day, you'll have a perfect and moist brown sugar ready for all your baking desires. This method works on light brown sugar too.

It’s important to note that while adding moisture, the sliced bread also absorbs some of the molasses in the process. This absorption may cause the top layer of the sugar to look lighter than the rest. Not to worry, just discard that top layer of sugar and the rest of the batch will be just as flavorful as before!

An Apple a Day Keeps the Brown Sugar Ready

Much like the sliced bread method, an apple can be used to bring hardened brown sugar back to life. Just add a few apple slices to an airtight container and let it sit for 24 hours to loosen the brown sugar.

The advantage of using an apple slice over bread is that when the apples provide the brown sugar with moisture, they also transfer a little of their flavor, giving the sugar a fruity taste. This method works great when you're baking fall treats that could really use that extra bit of flavor!

Don’t have 24 hours to wait around for your brown sugar to be ready? Don’t worry, while the methods above may be the best ways to soften up hardened brown sugar, there are faster methods that will help you save that cookie batter waiting on your counter.

The Microwave Method for Softening Brown Sugar

While this method piggybacks on the previous methods, it moistens the sugar in a much shorter amount of time. Put the hard brown sugar in a microwave safe bowl or container and place a dampened paper towel on top of it. Then, microwave for about 20 seconds and break it up with a fork as you go. The moisture from the paper towel should help get the brown sugar soft. If needed, heat for another 20 seconds, but be careful not to melt it.

Loosen the Brown Sugar by Putting It in a Food Processor

Sometimes a round in the food processor simply does the trick. Place your lumpy sugar in a food processor or blender and begin blending. Always begin at low second intervals and make sure the brown sugar isn't so hard that it damages your blender. When done properly, this is the quickest way to soften brown sugar! Now you can bake and enjoy our Brown Sugar Banana Bread aka The Best Banana Bread EVER!

Have any other tips for how to soften hard brown sugar? Share your favorites in the comments below.


  1. Charlotte
    It's not on their site, but this is what CH Sugar sent me in an e-mail on April 3 when I was totally frustrated on April 2 because two new boxes of their brown sugar with an expiration date still 17 months in the future were both rock hard. (I did include the expiration date in my original e-mail, but their "consumer affairs" person didn't pay attention & lengthily explained expiration dates at the beginning of her e-mail.)

    To retain highest quality, the product should be stored under proper conditions. Sugar does not “spoil” but is susceptible to hardening and lumping over long-term storage. Therefore, our packages now display a "Best By" or "BB" date, which is strictly related to lumping or hardening--not spoilage.

    Following are some storage hints we hope will be helpful:

    Granulated sugar/Baker's Sugar should be stored in a cool, dry area away from moisture and humidity. Moisture causes granulated sugar to become hard and lumpy, and unfortunately, there is no way to adequately restore granulatedsugar when this has occurred.* Because our Superfine Sugar/Baker's Sugar is so finely granulated it is very susceptible to caking and hardening if exposed to moisture or humidity; we do recommend that this product be stored in an airtight container.

    With Powdered Sugar, there are a couple of concerns. If it gets moist, it will develop lumps, and a customer would certainly be aware of this when the package is opened. Powdered sugar should be stored in a cool, dry location. Simply because of its physical makeup, powdered sugar has a tendency to absorb strong odors, so it needs to be stored away from any strong-smelling product. It can absorb the odor through the packaging, and would be offensive when eaten.

    In order for Brown Sugar to retain its natural moistness, it should be stored in a cool area away from light and heat (and extreme changes in temperature) in an airtight container. Exposure to air will cause it to dry, and as you are undoubtedly aware, it does have a tendency to harden if not properly stored. We do not suggest storing in the refrigerator; however, if you expect to keep it for a particularly long time, you may want to freeze it. It will thaw and be ready for use between two or three hours. If ice crystals form after long freezer storage, stir the sugar as soon as it thaws, as pockets of moisture could be damaging to product quality.

    If the brown sugar does harden and you are unable to purchase a fresh package, these methods may help to temporarily restore moisture to the product:

    Microwave Method. Place brown sugar is a microwave-safe container. Cover container with a wet (not dripping) white paper towel and then cover tightly with plastic wrap. Heat on high 1 to 1.5 minutes (as microwaves vary in power, you may need to adjust the cooking time). Use caution as the sugar will be hot. Stir. Use sugar immediately as it will harden again as it cools.

    Oven Method. Heat oven to 250 degrees. Place brown sugar in an ovenproof container. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Heat for 10 minutes. Use caution as the sugar will be hot. Stir. Use sugar immediately as it will harden again as it cools.

    Overnight Method. Place brown sugar in a container. Cover container with a wet (not dripping) white paper towel and then cover tightly with plastic wrap (alternative method: add an apple/bread slice (remove once sugar is soft/moist as it may develop mold) instead of wet paper towel). Let stand overnight at room temperature. Stir.
  2. Lynn Jarrett
    Please do not tell people to put bread in their brown sugar! This sabotages those of us who MUST be gluten free with unsuspecting bread crumbs in an otherwise gluten free dish!
    1. bev
      I have celiac. I put a slice of gf bread in my brown sugar and have done so for several years.
  3. Charlotte
    Just keep 2-3 large marshmallows in your brown sugar jar all the time and your brown sugar STAYS soft!!
  4. Louise
    You can also grate it with an old-fashioned box grater.
  5. Maggie
    The CH reply to Charlotte said that you can't restore white granulated sugar, but I did it once. I had a 5 lb. bag way back in the cupboard and it turned into a brick. When I found it, I didn't want to throw it away, so I dropped it on the floor a couple of times. It turned right back into those sugar crystals.
    1. Lynn Jarrett
      Lynn Jarrett
      LOL! I've done the same!!
  6. Judy
    Thanks for the great ideas to soften brown sugar. Looking forward to more helpful ideas.
  7. Dennis Nelson
    Good grief. Just put it in one of those big marble mortar and pestles and grind it up. This isn't brain surgery.
  8. Sharon
    I like the microwave best but I have also put a cracker in the sugar from day.. But now I just put it in the freezer when I buy it.. take it out when I take out the eggs and butter to soften.. I never have hard sugar now
  9. Sharon Wood
    My Mom, God rest her soul, ordered my husband to take the hardened bags of brown sugar into the cellar, where he pounded them with a hammer until broken up to her satisfaction. Sigh! :) It worked, but the suggestions on this page would have been helpful.
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      Haha, yeah, that is definitely one way of doing it!
  10. Takiyra
    Love it
  11. Andrea
    Add a small piece of lemon or orange rind to your bag of brown sugar and keep it in there. Replace as necessary. Works great to keep the sugar soft!!
    1. Joann
      Love this idea.
  12. Solveig Peck
    Solveig Peck
    This doesn't work in all climates (I've tried it in the desert ) but if you put a couple marshmallows in new brown sugar it stays soft much longer.
  13. Ann
    If you buy the brown sugar in the bag all you have to do is twist the bag until all the air is out and tie it with a twist tie as close to the sugar as you can. It will not harden at all.
    1. Carole Miller
      Oh, yes, it will! I store mine in a double bag, with air squeezed out of both bags. It still gets hard.
  14. Sherri Dick
    A large marshmallow works great.
  15. Peg Homer
    For gluten free people who cannot use bread gf marshmallows will also work.
  16. Linda Navarro-Perez
    I have used a cheese grader on the smaller side , hard sugar turns powder like
  17. Nancy
    Will be trying this out. I am single and usually end up throwing most of the box out and buying a new box, especially around the holidays. Between ham glaze and brown sugared yams, thats about all I've ever used it for, so most goes to waste
  18. marie
    I have put my brown sugar in an airtight bag, tied it, put an elastic band around it and still have a rock hard lump of sugar. Gonna try some of these other solutions as I would like to use the sugar RIGHT now.
  19. marie
    I've dropped the bag of hard white sugar on the floor for years. It works. Too bad it does for brown sugar.
  20. Lynn E
    The best idea I have come up with for softening brown sugar, it’s to store brown sugar in a glass or stainless steel container. If the brown sugar still gets hard(which can happen if there is a plastic lid on the jar),
    I set a little shot glass with about 1/4”-1/2” of water in the brown sugar & by morning should be perfectly soft again. Any large pieces of brown sugar will easily break up by slicing through with a butter knife.
    This way, the brown sugar does not pick up the odors from putting other foods in with the brown sugar.
    Otherwise just use granulated sugar & add 1-2 tablespoons of molasses to the recipe, depending on if you want a light or dark brown sugar affect your recipe. This way you don’t even have to keep brown sugar on hand. Brown sugar is just white sugar to which molasses has been added back in.
    1. Susan Bickler
      Thanks for the suggestion…I had a pound each of dark and light brown sugar that were hard as rocks. So, yesterday I softened them with apple and bread. Now they have absorbed the odors of those foods. Next I’ll try the water and marshmallow methods. Then try using the food saver sealed bags to save smaller quantities.
      Love this website!
    2. Ann
      Best idea yet. Thanks

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *