Stop ruining your jeans: the right way to wash your denim
Skip the washer, save your Levi's!
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Jeans were originally designed to withstand the rigors of the blue-collar workday, but in today’s society, they’re also high fashion. That means you need to treat your Levi's like Versace if you want them to continue to look their best.
The best way to do that is to keep your denim out of the washer and dryer. Trust me on this one.
Ultimately, not washing your jeans isn’t just about looking sharp—it’s also a way to cut back on water usage. Levi's pointed out that washing your favorite denim products regularly can use up to 870 liters of water. When you consider the popularity of everyone's favorite pants, it adds up to a huge amount of water being wasted, washing something that often doesn't need to be washed.
If you've invested in some premium denim, follow these four tips to get the most out of your beloved bottoms.
1. Soak your denim in vinegar
Whether you paid chump change for a pair of black jeans or spent half your paycheck on indigo-dyed selvedge denim, the goal is to keep the original color. Water itself will wash away your denim’s dye over time, and soap will only hasten the process.
Try soaking your jeans in cold water and vinegar instead of washing them. Yes, vinegar. Add one cup of distilled white vinegar to a cold water bath and soak your jeans for about an hour. Hang or lay flat to dry, and don’t worry about smelling like vinegar—the odor goes away after your pants dry. This technique locks in the dye’s color, keeping your jeans dark and your furniture clean.
If you must use a washing machine, toss in a cup of vinegar on a hand-wash setting—but please, no detergent. Detergent does not play nice with your jeans.
2. Give your jeans a light steam shower
Water, both warm and hot, not only fades your denim—it causes shrinkage. If you’re barely able to squirm into your skinny jeans, a hot bath is the last thing they need. Even if you don't use a dryer, hot water will cause fabric to expand and then shrink.
Besides, unless you've been playing in mud, your jeans probably aren’t very dirty. A quick way to freshen them up is to hang them in your bathroom while you shower. Steam from your shower will soon have your dark blues smelling new, and a small amount of water vapor won’t make the fabric swell.
3. Hang your pants outside
Your dryer poses just as much of a threat to your denim as the washer. High temperatures will make your jeans shrink, and all the tumbling leads to unnecessary wear and tear.
If it’s a nice day outside, hang your favorite pair outdoors. Having your jeans air out gives them a rejuvenated scent—just make sure they’re out of direct sunlight. The bright star we refer to as “the sun” can bleach your jeans faster than you'd think.
4. Freeze your jeans
Got an impromptu date and need to quickly freshen up your luscious raw denim? Stick your pants in the freezer for a few hours to temporarily eliminate odors.
Raw, or "dry" denim is denim that hasn’t been washed after dye is applied. The appeal of these jeans is the unique way their aesthetic develops over time. The rule of thumb for raw denim is to not wash them for six months. Washing will fade the dye too quickly; wearing them for an extended period of time will naturally fade certain areas and distress others. In other words, given enough time, raw denim becomes totally you.
Since water is the last thing you want to touch these types of jeans, you can freeze them for a quick refresh. Freezing kills some bacteria, and bacteria are the prime cause of unpleasant odors. This isn’t a sure-fire fix, though—plenty of other bacteria must be heated if you want them to go away.
This article was originally published in November 2013, but has been updated with new information. October 27, 2016