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Making clothes fit and look new

Q&A: What’s the best way to wash jeans?

Q&A: What’s the best way to wash jeans?

Can freezing jeans really kill bacteria? Does machine-washing shrink them? Can you even clean selvedge denim? Getting stains (and smells) out of denim can feel like a minefield, so we tested a few patches of dark denim to see which washing technique worked best.

But wait, how often should I wash them?

Obviously you can freeze-clean jeans as often as you'd like without damaging the denim. But if you're hell-bent on washing your jeans in a machine, wait four to six months if you can stand it, says Fraser Trewick, founder of denim line Hawksmill. Why wait? "Washing jeans too often weakens the fabric and makes them more likely to tear or lose their shape, whether they're pre-washed or raw." (Wondering what type of jeans you have? See below.)

 

Waiting between washes sound gross? Here's why it's not

We started our washing experiment (above) by trying to get the denim patches to smell awful before we washed them so we could see if freezing really did eradicate smell.

So we proceeded with a rather disgusting experiment: we had willing(ish) participants wear patches of denim next to their skin during intense exercise. But after nine cumulative hours of being soaked with sweat—and five days of stewing in plastic bags with other exercise clothes—the squares were remarkably odorless. Which ruined our experiment but proved how hardy your jeans are. 

"Jeans originated as workwear," Trewick says. "They're strong and don't fall apart, but they're made of natural fibres so they still breathe. They can go for months without needing to be washed."

And also ... the difference between the three major types of jeans

Pre-washed jeans: Most jeans fall into this category, which means they were treated and washed in a factory so they'll feel soft and won't shrink too much when you wash them. (If jeans are not described as raw or selvedge, they're probably pre-washed.) These are the easiest jeans to care for.

Raw jeans: Not pre-washed, meaning they're darker and stiffer than pre-washed pairs. Guys can easily get obsessed with them because they're as much of a project as they are a pair of trousers: they mould to your shape and develop fade marks that are unique to each wearer. (Five minutes with a raw-jean obsessive and you’ll be ashamed for even looking at pre-washed denim.) 

Selvedge jeans: Raw jeans that are made on decades-old looms rather than modern mass-production looms. Because these old looms are rare, almost all selvedge jeans are made in North Carolina or Japan. Selvedge jeans are usually distinguishable by the red thread stripe on the inside hem.