How To Wash Your Denim Jeans So They Last Forever

There's nothing as wonderful (and comfortable) as a well-worn pair of denim jeans that fits you like a dream. As many of us will know, the search for the perfect pair can be a taxing and difficult one, often yielding less than ideal results — a waistband that's a little too low, legs a little too wide, and a shade of blue that's not quite right.
So, when we happen upon a pair of jeans that just fits us perfectly, it's a cause for great celebration (I mean, they made a whole entire movie about a really cool pair of jeans that perfectly fit four friends, so we know the dream-jean thing is a big deal).
But there's a lot of talk out there about how to best take care of and wash our jeans, and it can all start to get a bit confusing. Denim can be a fickle material, susceptible to fading, tearing, shrinking and stretching — and we know that when we've found our all-time favourite jeans, we'll want to do everything we can to make sure they stay in peak condition, for as long as possible.
We went looking for answers; read on to find them.

How should you wash your jeans?

It's the ultimate question. We're all used to washing every other kind of garment we own after one use but the folklore around denim is that the less you wash, the better. It's easy to be stumped when it comes to how you should clean your jeans because most people will want to wash them from time to time. But apparently, there is no hard and fast rule.
"There is no official way to wash your jeans — it just comes down to personal preference," Paul O'Neill, Design Director of Collections at Levi Strauss & Co., tells Refinery29 Australia. "Some people choose never to wash their jeans and go to all sorts of lengths to avoid washing, like spraying them with vinegar or putting them in the freezer." (More on the 'freezer' theory later.)
If you do want to wash your jeans, a hand wash or washing machine will do just fine, but there are a few things to keep in mind. According to O'Neill, a good practice is to wash your jeans turned inside out and on a cold wash setting, and then hang them out to dry in fresh air. A few things that are a definite must when you put your jeans in the washing machine is to put them on a gentle cycle with no spin, and never stuff them in with a large wash.

How often should you wash your jeans to make them last?

"It depends on how often you wear them and in what conditions," O'Neill says. And it's certainly true that when and where you wear your jeans will impact their durability, on top of any washing you might be doing.
If you're just wearing them to the office and around the house, they're less likely to wear down. But if you're doing any kind of labour or physical movement in them, that's something to factor when it comes to how often you wash them, as they'll already be going through it.
As for how long you can stand to wear pants you haven't washed in a while, that will come down to how comfortable you feel and how long you can hold out before you really need to give them a clean. "I could wear a pair over 20 times before washing them, but that's my personal preference," O'Neill muses. "On average, I wash my jeans every so often, maybe every six months. Although, I rotate my jeans a lot so I don't tend to wear the same pair for extended periods."
O'Neill also reminds us that how often we wash them is linked to how dark we want our shade of denim to be. "Of course, the more you wash them, the lighter they will become, as they’ll lose indigo with every wash," he notes.
This is something to keep in mind if you've got a pair of jeans that you actually wish were a little lighter, as washing them more often might actually help you achieve your ideal denim look. But if your jeans are the perfect shade and you don't want to mess with them, washing them less might be a good way to help protect the colour.

Does freezing your jeans actually work?

Ah, the fabled freezer method. If you're not aware, it's said that putting your jeans in the freezer (as opposed to washing them) can kill any bad smells and bacteria living on the fabric, without compromising the indigo — particularly on rigid, raw denim jeans. Sounds like a perfect solution, but, does it really work?
According to the latest online journals of denim lovers and household experts alike, the science behind the freezer thing doesn't really hold up, so perhaps it's one method we can give a miss.
"Some people swear by it, however, it’s not something I’ve tried," O'Neill admits. "This method [might work] for someone who wants to keep their jeans as dark as possible, to achieve the most dramatic wear pattern or aged look." And he's right that even if the freezer doesn't actually keep your jeans clean, the lack of washing will certainly retain the colour and shape of your denim, so that's something!

Can jeans ever go in the dryer?

Short answer; no! Never, ever put your jeans in the dryer! "Please avoid it at all costs, as it can change the cast and colour of the denim," O'Neill says. Hanging them out to air dry is the best and really, the only, good way to dry your jeans.

Is there a difference in how you wash specific types of jeans?

The rules we discussed above will likely apply to every pair of jeans you own and every kind of denim, with one notable exception. 100% raw or rigid denim is a bit trickier, so if you ever opt to purchase hardcore jeans like these, there are a few things you should know.
"If you buy jeans like the Raw or Rigid 501s, they are going to shrink considerably, which needs to be taken into account when purchasing," O'Neill explains. "At Levi’s Vintage Clothing, we typically recommend three different approaches to this, depending on how you plan to treat your 501s."
Depending on what kind of jeans you get and how you're going to wash them in the future, there are a few things you should know before you just opt for your usual size — as it turns out that your preferred method of washing is going to impact what size you should buy in the first place.
Washing them in the washing machine
If you plan to wash your rigid jeans in the machine, O'Neill recommends that you buy them at least two inches bigger in the waist and two inches longer in length to allow for the inevitable shrinkage.
Soaking your jeans in the bathtub while wearing them
This might seem like a weird thing to do, but in some cases and with some denim, doing this method might actually help you achieve the perfect fit.
If you plan to try this method, O'Neill recommends that you buy your jeans true-to-size in the waist and two inches longer in length. "Soaking in the bathtub with your jeans on might sound unusual, but it allows the jeans to shrink perfectly to your body," he explains. "It also helps set the creases in the right places, giving you a personalised fit like no other. I’ve done it myself many times!"
Note that, thankfully, you don't have to wait around for them to dry on your body — peel them off and air dry them as you usually would.
Never wash them
If you plan on never washing them, O'Neill suggests purchasing a pair one inch smaller in the waist and true to size in length, to allow them to naturally stretch out.
While a bold choice, O'Neill promises the work will be worth it. "They will age with you, become your favourite jeans and you will never stray!"
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