Decoding Denim Care: Insights from Experts on How Often to Wash Your Jeans

January 5, 2024 - Reading time: 5 minutes

In the realm of personal care and hygiene, social media has been abuzz with varied opinions, especially regarding how often one should launder their denim jeans. This topic, more than most, garners a wide spectrum of responses.

Benjamin Talley Smith, a renowned denim expert, advises washing jeans as infrequently as possible. Supporting this view, laundry specialist Patric Richardson suggests cleaning them every nine to ten wears, usually when they start to show stains or carry a sweat odor.

Contrasting habits exist where some individuals launder their jeans after every use, employing different methods ranging from machine wash to hand wash, and varied drying techniques.

Amidst these varying practices, Charles Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss, has offered his perspective, which initially sparked controversy in 2014. Bergh's rare washing routine—once a year—stems more from environmental concerns than personal hygiene.

In his LinkedIn article "The Dirty Jean Manifesto", Bergh explains his stance, emphasizing Levi’s commitment to quality, durability, and sustainable production. He argues that jeans don't require frequent washing. Highlighting the environmental impact, Bergh notes that an average pair of jeans consumes approximately 3,500 liters of water over two years if washed weekly. This amount equals 6,700 glasses of drinking water.

Given that denim manufacturing often occurs in water-scarce regions like India, Pakistan, Mexico, China, and parts of California, Bergh's approach is environmentally conscious.

Maintaining Your Jeans: A Comprehensive Guide

Denim, a fabric known for its durability and versatility, requires proper care to maintain its quality. While jeans can often be worn multiple times before needing a wash, they should be laundered in a washing machine when necessary. This approach helps preserve their color and reduces wear and tear.

For jeans that aren't heavily soiled, washing them less frequently is beneficial. However, if more frequent cleaning is required, washing in cold water with the zippers closed and turning them inside out can minimize fading and protect the fabric.

Step-by-Step Guide to Washing Jeans

  • Gentle Washing Cycle: Despite denim's tough appearance, it's best to use a delicate or gentle cycle with cold water. This prevents shrinkage and color loss. Use a mild detergent, particularly one designed for dark clothes if your jeans are blue or black.
  • Washing Jeans Inside Out: To preserve the external fibers and prevent fading, turn your jeans inside out before washing. New jeans, known for dye bleeding, should be washed separately initially. If mixing with other clothes, group with similar colors.
  • Drying Method: Avoid exposing jeans to direct heat in the dryer, as it can cause shrinkage, fading, or yellowing, especially in stretch denim. Opt for air drying by hanging the jeans while they are still damp, stretching out the seams for a natural shape. For machine drying, use a low or no heat cycle.

Special Care for New Jeans

New or lightly-soiled jeans benefit from a soak cycle. Fill a tub with water, add a gentle detergent, and let the jeans soak for 30 to 45 minutes. Rinse thoroughly until the water runs clear. This method can also be replicated in a sink or basin.

Frequency of Washing Jeans

The need to wash jeans varies based on their usage and environmental conditions. Jeans used for heavy-duty work or in humid climates might require more frequent washing. For less strenuous use, less frequent washing supplemented by spot treating stains and airing out the jeans for 24 hours between wears is sufficient. Always consult the care instructions from the manufacturer.

Caring for Black and White Jeans

For black jeans, follow similar guidelines as for dark denim. Wash them with a gentle cycle in cold water, preferably separately or with other black clothes. White jeans, on the other hand, should be washed separately or with other whites, using cold water for lightly-soiled pairs and warm water for heavily-soiled ones. Choose an extra rinse option to ensure all detergent is removed.

Avoiding Bleach and Fabric Softener

Avoid using bleach with jeans to prevent yellowing or fabric damage. Similarly, fabric softeners can leave a residue that dulls the fabric. Opt for air drying or a low/no heat dryer cycle.

Handling Raw Denim

Raw denim, known for its lack of pre-shrinking or color setting, requires special care. Wash raw denim only in cold water and separately or with similarly-colored denim to prevent shrinking or color bleeding. Avoid wringing them out after hand washing; instead, gently squeeze out excess water and hang to dry.

In a discussion with CNBC's Christine Tan, Bergh elaborated on his cleaning method, which involves spot-cleaning for minor stains and, if necessary, washing jeans in the shower while wearing them, an image reminiscent of a classic cowboy cartoon.

This debate on jean maintenance raises a crucial point for consideration: our water usage and environmental footprint should be a significant factor in deciding our laundry habits.

DW Staff

David Lintott is the Editor-in-Chief, leading our team of talented freelance journalists. He specializes in covering culture, sport, and society. Originally from the decaying seaside town of Eastbourne, he attributes his insightful world-weariness to his roots in this unique setting.