Think you know how to wash your jeans? Read this
Keep your denim in top form
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One item in the closet that will never go out of fashion are jeans, although their style may change—straight-cut, skinny, boot cut, flare, or “mom” jeans. Jeans are different from any other article of clothing in that they’re uniquely woven to create a sturdy fabric and age with grace the more you wear them.
When it comes to how to wash your jeans and take care of them, there is a ton of misinformation. When should you wash them, how to wash them, and how to dry them are among the most commonly asked questions.
By making the effort to properly care for your jeans, like any piece of clothing you'll extend their lifespan. It may also lighten the hit to your wallet, since you’ll spend less money on jeans in the long run. Maybe. (Let's be honest—buying new pants is fun).
Here’s how to wash your jeans the right way.
How often should I wash my jeans?
Ah, the age-old question. There has long been a debate about how often jeans should be washed. Some prefer washing after a couple of wears, while others—like Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss—prefer to wash them only when absolutely necessary, per his Dirty Jeans Manifesto.
We recommend listening to your jeans—or, more accurately, smelling and feeling your jeans. If your denim's getting kind of smelly, or they're sitting a bit slouchy, you might want to give them a wash.
Those who wear raw denim can typically wait longer than the rest of us to give their jeans a soak—that’s because raw denim hasn’t been treated, washed, or distressed in any way. The daily wear-and-tear of everyday life causes raw denim jeans to fade and wrinkle in a way custom to the person wearing them.
How to wash your jeans in the washing machine
In all seriousness, you'll have to make a little more effort for your denim than you do for the rest of your laundry if you want them to come out of the washing machine looking fresh. Luckily, the extra effort doesn't involve straying too far from the routine you're probably already used to.
Prep your laundry correctly
When it comes to washing machines, we recommend either washing all of your dark jeans together, washing your dark jeans with other dark clothes, or washing them separately.
If your jeans are a dark color, choose a detergent that's formulated specifically for dark clothes, like the Woolite All Darks detergent—these actually make a big difference.
If your jeans aren't dark, use an effective all-purpose detergent, instead. If you need help narrowing it down, check out our list of the best laundry detergents you can buy.
Flip your jeans inside out
An important step that's often overlooked is turning your jeans inside-out before tossing them in the washing machine. Flipping your jeans allows the dirtiest side of them to get the most exposure to the soapy water. It also protects the outside of the jeans from getting worn out by the machine's agitation.
If you're only washing one or two pairs of jeans in a single load, be sure to avoid using the same amount of detergent you'd use for a full load of laundry. We recently tested the effect of too much detergent on laundry, and the results might surprise you.
Use a gentle setting
Use the machine's least aggressive agitation setting and stick to cold water. As for the washing machine settings, repeat after me: delicate and cold. A lower temperature does a better job protecting your dark jeans' color from bleeding and/or fading.
For denim that's pretty badly soiled, you can opt for a warmer temperature, but whatever you do, avoid hot water.
Consider hand-washing your jeans
If you want to be as careful as possible, washing your jeans by hand takes a little more time and effort, but goes a long way in preserving the integrity of your denim.
When it comes time to hand-wash some laundry, most people plug up their tub or sink. However, if you're squeamish about washing clothes in your sink, we recommend investing in an affordable dishpan or wash basin.
To hand-wash your jeans, turn them inside out and submerge them in cold water, adding a small amount of detergent if you so desire. Next, let them soak for up to an hour, gently massaging stains or problem areas with your hands.
Once the water's been drained, resist the temptation to wring out the excess moisture in your jeans—doing so could wear down the denim and make them look more run-down over time.
Wash your jeans right after you buy them
Brands like Lee recommend washing a new pair of jeans right after buying them. This prevents any of the added dyes from transferring to the rest of your laundry or rubbing off on your skin during your first wear.
The exception to this rule is raw denim, since it isn’t treated or dyed in any way.
Air dry your jeans when possible
The quickest way to ruin a fresh new pair of jeans is to toss them in the dryer, especially if you use a medium-to-high heat setting. The heat from the dryer—combined with the machine's tumbling action—breaks down the fabric very quickly.
The result is a worn-down, faded pair of jeans that's been cut down in its prime. Even tumble-drying your jeans on the lowest possible heat setting could spell trouble for your trousers.
Wooden hangers aren't just classy looking, they're also sturdy enough to hold even the heaviest, soggiest pair of jeans.
Alternatively, this foldable drying rack is the type of investment that will totally change the way you do laundry. It's not as premium-looking as some of its contemporaries (like this wooden drying rack, but the collapsable design makes it easy to stow away when it's not laundry night.
Use caution with a dryer
Using a dryer can quickly result in shrunken jeans or a change in your once soft denim pants. If you’re in a pinch and absolutely need to use a dryer, use a low- or no-heat setting with a few dryer balls.
Avoid freezing your jeans
Some people swear that stashing a stack of denim in the freezer eliminates bacteria and all of the odor that comes with it. Hate to burst everyone's bubble, but your freezer isn't that effective when it comes to keeping your jeans fresh.
The sub-freezing temperature only keeps odor-causing bacteria in stasis for so long. Once they're back on your body, the jeans will gradually come back up in temperature—and so will the germs.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.