There are a lot of myths concerning the proper way to care for your jeans. Never wash them, throw them in the freezer, jump in the ocean - the opinions are endless. And ultimately, that's all they are, opinions. The important thing to remember is that denim, like any fabric, will deteriorate over time, especially when it's not cared for properly (i.e. washed). Dirt, oil, and grime build up every day and if left unchecked, can cause the fibers of the denim to disintegrate. This is why we recommend routine washing of your jeans. While over-washing (e.g. routinely washing more than once a week) can also cause the denim to wear faster than normal, washing your jeans is necessary and will actually prolong the life of the denim.
We've put together a guide to help you understand how to care for your jeans. Honestly, there's no single right way to care for you jeans and that's half the fun. Play around, experiment, and see what suits your personality the best. This is exactly how the jeans become a part of your life and unique to you.
Before you get started, here are a few things to remember when washing and caring for your jeans:
1. Turn your jeans inside out. This minimizes the amount of indigo loss during the washing process, thereby prolonging the character of the denim. It also exposes the inside of the denim fabric so that the oil and sweat from your body can be more effectively removed from the jeans. This makes them cleaner and thus, last longer.
2. Pre-soak your jeans. This one's a bit controversial, and many denimheads will cringe just at reading those words. But pre-soaking your jeans before the first wear can have multiple benefits. First and foremost, pre-soaking will remove starch, loose fibers and any dirt from the production process, essentially refreshing and gently cleansing the fibers of the denim. Secondly, it gives you a chance to dial in your fit right off the bat. The hotter the water and the longer you soak the jeans, the more they'll shrink. Conversely, the colder the water and the shorter the soak time, the less they'll shrink. Hang them up to dry and put them on slightly damp and they'll instantly conform to your body. Lastly, it simply makes the jeans more comfortable and shortens the break-in period. Don't worry, you'll still get some pretty amazing fading as the indigo loss is minimal despite now seeing your bathtub full of blue water. If the jeans are tight right from the start and you don't want to risk any shrinkage, go ahead and wear them for a month or two, let the jeans stretch out (as all denim does), and then go ahead and give them a quick cold water soak. That way you're giving the jeans a quick refresh and gentle cleaning without losing the fit you love.
3. Avoid the dryer. Heat from a dryer, especially high heat, can prematurely break down the fibers in denim. In the same way that one should not heat leather in order to dry it (doing so causes cracking and over-drying of the leather), it's best not to use heat to dry denim. If you can, let them air dry and even better, let them air dry naturally in the sun.
4. Spot clean. Rather than throwing your jeans in the wash every time you spill some of that morning cup of coffee on them, just take a damp cloth and dab the area until the spot is removed. This saves you from having to wash your jeans and still keeps them looking respectable.
5. Air out your jeans. Quite possibly the most underrated tool in your arsenal to keep your jeans wearable longer. At the end of the day, don't fold your jeans up and tuck them into a drawer. Try to find a spot to hang them - over the back of a chair, in a rack with your shirts, outside on a lamp post. Letting your jeans get some air helps them naturally get rid of odors, like the smoke from the campfire you were at last night. And hanging the jeans out in the sun exposes the jeans to UV radiation which kills the bacteria that causes odors. Now you've got one less item of clothing you have to fold and your jeans stay fresher longer. It's a win win situation.
The Average Joe
The easy, no muss, no fuss method. Turn the jeans inside out, throw them in the washer by themselves with very little detergent, use cold or warm water and you're all set. Pull them out of the washer and choose your method of drying. Air drying is best, but if you're partial to using a dryer, we recommend drying on low. Some people think this method is tantamount to denim murder. It's not. In fact, denim is one tough fabric and can take years of beating from washers and dryers. Just be sure to avoid extremely hot temperatures in both washing and drying. If you follow these guidelines, your jeans aren't going to win any fading contests, but what you will have is a solid pair of classic blue jeans that will last for years.
Like jumping off cliffs? Skydiving? This method might be the one for you. Head out to a beach on a nice hot day and jump in the water with your jeans on. Swim around, fend off sharks and when you're all done, lie on the beach soaking up the sun with your jeans on. As the jeans dry, they'll conform to your body creating an even more personalized fit. We can't verify how clean this method will actually get your jeans (and we still recommend finding time to eventually do a proper wash), but you'll have some cool stories to tell along with a bad ass pair of salt-washed jeans.
This is the careful, mindful person, who wants to preserve as much of the indigo as possible, create amazing fades, and still keep the jeans clean and lasting long. This is a balance between long periods of wear and gentle cleansing/soaking. A good time frame is anywhere from 6-9 months in between washes, although you might be able to get longer depending on your level of activity and how you wear your jeans. Then when it's time to clean them, give them a soak in the tub with a gentle cleanser and hang them up to drip dry.
This is the badge of honor among denimheads. Simply never wash or soak your jeans. We don't recommend this (for the multitude of reasons given above), but it will yield some of the most incredible fades. While the jeans as a whole will soften up and conform to your body over time, the oil and sweat from your body combined with the starch in the denim will create stiff areas of abrasion (e.g the backs of the knees). So when you walk, move, sit, etc. the indigo from the jeans gets worn off more quickly, and creates the really contrasting fading you often see. So if you're looking to win a fading contest, this might be the way to go.
Chris - I do my own combination of the methods above. Depending on the initial fit, I may pre-soak my denim or skip the pre-soak and wear them for 3 months straight. Regardless of how I start out wearing my jeans, I'm pretty strict about washing at least once every 3 months. For me, it provides the right balance of relatively long periods of wear and routine cleaning, so that my jeans still fade really well and stay clean.