Freezer? Washer? None of the Above? Here’s How To Clean Your Jeans

how to wash jeans
Image Courtesy of The Laundress

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Nothing divides denim nerds quite like the question of how to clean your jeans. Some swear by freezing jeans to kill germs, while others prefer a good old-fashioned cycle in the washing machine. One thing is for certain: you shouldn’t wash your jeans too often. Jeans are low-maintenance garments that simply don’t need to be washed every couple of wears. But you also shouldn’t walk around with dirty jeans, and definitely not smelly ones. Avoiding overwashing is a better choice for the environment, but it’s also a good way to keep jeans looking good. And a lot of the advice for jeans can go for your clothes in general.

Drastic, pronounced fades on the thighs, back pockets and behind the knees are one of the most desirable aspects of owning raw denim — these fades make the jeans look more unique and personal than pre-distressing can ever achieve. But machine washing your jeans can cause fading and whiskering to be less pronounced, which many denim nerds want to avoid. Plus, overwashing can weaken the fabric of clothing over time, shortening the overall lifespan of your denim. If preserving raw denim is very important to you, then you might want to skip the washer entirely and hand wash your jeans. Many raw denim enthusiasts recommend wearing them for a few months before washing, so the fades can start to develop. For regular jeans, tossing them in the washer is just fine, but there are a few important steps to take beforehand. Here’s what to know about how to wash your jeans.

Tim Chan
4 years
That's a great point! Though these days, some denim "purists" believe in keeping their jeans stiff and...
J. Knoble
4 years
Why are you sending folks off? Or is this just the way to sell these unheard of...

  

 Method 1: The Washer

BEST FOR REGULAR JEANS

The washing machine is a good method for cleaning jeans that are not raw denim. But it’s not as simple as just crumpling your Levis into a ball, tossing them in the machine and then turning to the dial to whatever the hottest setting is.

Tim Chan
4 years
That’s a great point! Though these days, some denim “purists” believe in keeping their jeans stiff and…
J. Knoble
4 years
Why are you sending folks off? Or is this just the way to sell these unheard of…

Before throwing them in the hamper, you should assess whether you actually need to wash your jeans. You don’t need to wash your jeans weekly, or even every couple of weeks. The best way to determine if they need to be washed is to trust your instincts. If they seem kind of grimy, maybe it’s time to clean them. And of course, if they actually smell or are stained, you should definitely wash them.

  • First, your jeans should be turned inside out. This helps protect the color of the fabric.
  • Like most clothes, jeans are best washed on cold, not hot. This helps prevent shrinkage, reduces damage to the fabric and cuts down on energy usage.
  • You can also use a detergent that’s specifically formulated to protect darker fabrics. If you’re washing light wash or white jeans, you can stick to a regular detergent.
  • Hang dry your jeans inside or outside instead of using a tumble dryer. Line drying extends the life of your clothes and saves energy.
  

1. Woolite Darks Detergent

Woolite is a popular option for a variety of delicate items. You might not think of jeans as delicates, but if you’re looking to keep them for longer, it can be good to treat them as such. This detergent is formulated for dark clothing, it won’t cause indigo jeans or black jeans to fade.

Woolite Darks Detergent, how to wash jeansImage Courtesy of Target
  

2. The Laundress Denim Wash

Despite the fact that pretty much everyone has a few pairs of jeans in their closet, there are surprisingly few widely available washes that are formulated specifically for jeans. The Laundress’ denim wash is designed to clean and soften, without fading colors. It’s expensive, yes, but it’s a highly concentrated formula.

The Laundress Denim Wash, how to wash jeansImage Courtesy of The Laundress
  

Method 2: Hand Washing

BEST FOR RAW DENIM

If you’re looking to take care of raw denim, you might opt to wash them by hand instead of using the washing machine. This can help preserve the fades in your denim and can make your jeans last longer. The steps for handwashing are pretty similar to those for machine washing. Here’s what you need to do. With raw denim, you might opt to wait longer before hand washing your jeans to allow whisker, honeycomb and other desirable patterns to develop.

  • Turn your jeans inside out.
  • Fill a bucket, sink or tub with enough cold water to submerge the jeans.
  • You can use a mild detergent or a detergent specifically formulated for dark clothes or denim. You can even use plain distilled white vinegar instead of detergent. It’s remarkably effective at removing odors, and your jeans won’t smell like vinegar once they’ve dried.
  • Soak the jeans in for 15 minutes to half an hour.
  • Hang dry them. They’ll be much wetter than if they came out of the washing machine, because there’s no spin cycle. You might want to hang them in the shower, outside on a balcony, or anywhere where dripping jeans won’t be an issue.
  

1. Target Room Essentials Dishpan

There’s no need to spend a lot of money on a bucket. This simple option from Target is actually designed for dishes, but the 15″ x 12″ tub is a good size for a pair of jeans. The jeans will fit with just a couple of folds, but the bucket won’t take up too much space.

Target Room Essentials DishpanImage Courtesy of Target
  

2. Target Rubber Wood and Stainless Steel Drying Rack

You can simply hang your jeans from a pants hanger on a doorframe or showerhead to dry them, but this drying rack from Target makes it easy to hang dry multiple items of clothing. It’s made from wood and stainless steel, so it’s sturdier than other folding drying racks in this style. You can lay the jeans across the top so they’ll air out and dry more quickly.

Target Rubber Wood and Stainless Steel Drying RackImage Courtesy of Target

  

 

Other Methods: Freezing Your Jeans

ICE COLD?

A few years ago, the idea of not washing your jeans went from a suggestion you’d see on niche denim forums to something that was actively discussed by major, non-denim-focused publications. The reason? Levis CEO Chip Bergh’s admission that he doesn’t wash his jeans, and that he recommends others do the same. One alternative that’s been touted is sticking your jeans in the freezer.

More recently, Bergh said that he doesn’t recommend freezing your jeans, saying simply “It does not work.” Bergh is a businessman, not a scientist or even necessarily a denim expert. But the science seems to agree with him. Smithsonian Magazine asked some experts, and the essential conclusion was that the freezer isn’t really going to kill bacteria or get your jeans clean. It might be some denim nerds’ preferred method, but we’re sticking to water.