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I have a dark secret I must confess: I went through a bad jeans phase.
There are countless unfortunate photos of me strewn across social media in faded, worn-out jeans—all because I used to unceremoniously shove them into a washing machine after a single wear and follow it up by smashing the "high heat" button on my dryer. The result was a drawer full of denim that looked eight years old after just eight weeks of wear.
There's a ton of misinformation out there about taking care of jeans, and now I feel like I must atone for the fashion sins of my past by setting the record straight a little.
By making the effort to properly care for your jeans, you'll extend their lifespan, and maybe even spend less money on jeans in the long run. Maybe. (Let's be honest—buying new pants is fun).
How often should I wash my jeans?
Ah, the age-old question. Some folks say once every six months, yet others will tell you never.
Personally, I recommend listening to your jeans—or, more accurately, smelling and feeling your jeans. If you're denim's getting kind of dank or they're sitting a bit slouchy, you might want to give 'em a wash. I'm in no position to tell you how to decide when enough's enough, but your jeans certainly are.
Raw denim owners typically wait longer than the rest of us to give their jeans a soak, because raw denim hasn't been treated, washed, or distressed. 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.
And, typically speaking, when raw denim owners soak and hand-wash their fancy pants in a tub or sink rather than tossing them in a machine for a spin cycle.
But that doesn't mean you can't put your favorite pair of Levi's in the washing machine—just make sure these cleanings are few and far between. I can usually get through six to ten wears before a pair needs a wash, but your mileage really depends on your lifestyle and how much your body tends to sweat.
How do I wash my jeans in a washing machine?
In all seriousness, you'll have to make a little more effort for your denim than you do for your basic tees 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.
When it comes to washing machines, I 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—they actually make a big difference! My go-to choice is Woolite Darks. If you're 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.
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 amount of detergent you'd ordinarily use for a full load of laundry. We recently tested the effect of too much detergent on laundry, and the results might surprise you.
As for the washing machine settings, repeat after me: delicate and cold. Use the machine's least aggressive agitation setting and stick to cold water, since a lower temperature will do 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.
Should I hand-wash my jeans?
If you want to be as careful as possible, washing your jeans by hand takes a little more time and effort, but will go in 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, I recommend investing in an affordable wash basin, like this $17 tub from Amazon. It's equipped with handles for easy carrying and the plug at the bottom makes draining it a cinch.
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.
Now, let's talk about drying.
How do I dry my jeans?
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 denim that's been cut down in its prime. Sad! In fact, even tumble-drying your jeans on the lowest possible heat setting could spell trouble for your trousers.
We recommend air-drying your jeans, either indoors or outdoors (weather permitting). If you're like me and don't have a clothesline, there's a couple of things you can invest in to make the drying process hassle-free.
These wooden hangers from Tosnail aren't just classy looking, they're also sturdy enough to hold even the heaviest, soggiest pair of jeans. At just $15 for a 10-pack, you really can't go wrong.
Alternatively, this $20 foldable drying rack from AmazonBasics 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 from Household Essentials), but the collapsable design makes it easy to stow away when it's not laundry night.
Can I freeze my jeans?
Some people swear that stashing a stack of denim in the freezer eliminates bacteria and all of the odor that comes with it. I hate to burst everyone's bubble, but your freezer isn't that effective when it comes to keeping your jeans fresh.
Freezing your jeans might temporarily relieve them of their funk, but 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.
If, for some reason, you're already in the habit of sticking your pants in the freezer, far be it from me to try and get you to stop. By all means—follow your bliss. Just don't expect this ritual to actually rescue your jeans from the naturally occurring ickiness of your own body.
So, to recap:
1. You don't have to clean your jeans frequently, but recognize when the time comes to give them a wash.
2. Hand-washing your jeans is ideal, but if you use a washing machine, be sure to turn them inside-out, stick to cold water, and use a delicate cycle.
3. Skip the dryer altogether and air-dry your jeans on a clothesline, a clothes hanger, or a drying rack.
4. Freezing your jeans might buy you a couple of hours of freshness, but it won't actually clean the fabric.
Please go forth and wear your jeans with confidence.