How to Wash Your Denim


This is a Step-by-Step Guides for hand washing and machine washing Jeans.
Image: Good Housekeeping
Before we get started, if you don't wash your jeans yourself or like to throw your denim in the wash every few wears with all your other clothes, this article is not for you. Denim bleeds my man, and it needs to be washed on its own.
Who, what, when, where, & how. So many questions and so many confusing answers on what is the right way to wash your jeans. I've been working in the clothing industry almost all my life, and I'm just looking to give you the most straightforward and most convenient methods to hand wash and machine wash your jeans based on my personal experience and client feedback.
 

Denim 101 

I can tell you first and foremost that you need to know what your jeans are made of and learn a little about how they are woven. By identifying these critical features based on personal wear, identification tags, and research, you can make the right choice for your needs and find the right desired result. Let's start with the basics. Fabrication.
You need to think of your jeans as a living, breathing fiber. Even though denim is one of the most sturdy fabrics on the planet, we can't paint a picture that everything is made of the same quality because it's all denim. Take some time to learn about the brand you're about to purchase, their philosophy, and what's important to them before you pick up a pair of those blues. Not everything nowadays is made with deliberate, detailed thought and care, so we have to do some research and  try to understand how those fibers will react in the wash based on how those blues are made. If you're looking for a heavy fade, then you can most definitely wait six months before you wash your jeans. The different treatments and finishes that denim goes through require other washing techniques. Right now, we are seeing trends of One Wash denim coming out of the Japanese market, and my thoughts are this is a resounding response to taking the guessing out of the shrink ratio and allow for you to make the right choice when you are shopping. All in all, this gives you a more premium experience that allows you to try brands and products that most of the time seem intimidating. In turn, it allows for them to showcase their goods to a larger market segment.
Image: Blue Owl 
Now One wash sounds so simple but don't get it twisted; each maker has his way of doing it to get the result they want with that specific blend of cotton and weave. Right now, we see a predominant wave of One wash from the Japanese market on a lot of exciting slubby, nappy, broken twills & hairy weaves. These unique weaves give so much character to the denim, but they all change dramatically when you get them in the wash. It's almost like they have a mind of their own, seeing how each one stretches, shrinks and reacts differently than the other, and the unique fades don't even get me started on this. To top it all off, these denim types are standardly coming weighing 15 to 25 ounces, making them feel like you're putting on a suit of armor, but over time it molds to your body. I love this feeling as it something that you can't mass replicate. I know that these bad boys are going to be in my rotation for a good while. Due to these specialized proprietary weaving techniques, they're able to get unique softness and comfort that is not of the natural nature of these denim weights in the past. This allows these Japanese brands to modernize into North American and European markets with a more modern cut that these regions are used to.
 

Pre-Washing  

Soaking

Ok, ok, I digress back to basics. Washing your jeans, hmmm, let's follow the kiss method. Do you see stains? Put them close to your face. Do they smell ok? Maybe it's time you put them in the wash? First and foremost, let's do a touch feel test. Stiff as a board and still smell like Sulphate?? Well, you must have bought a good old pair of unsanforized jeans. Most people will say to you to pre-wash these, so if you haven't done that yet, this is your chance. Pre-washing. I always soak my RAW UNSANFORIZED denim before I start working them in, which removes starch and makes them softer. And that certainly means they'll last a bit longer. It also means the fades can get a bit less pronounced. But I'm ok with them losing a little bit of indigo if it gives me a few more years. This is the moment where you can stop your crotches from blowing out. It's allowing for the chemicals to escape which in turn will dramatically increase the lifetime of your denim.

 

Hand Washing

Hand Washing

Image: Heavy Denim Kings

When the jeans get dirty, starting to develop a smell, or if they haven't been washed for a while, you can hand wash them.

The 8 Steps of Hand-Washing Jeans

  1. Turn the jeans, pockets inside out, and unfold cuffs too!
  2. Fill your bath or a sink with lukewarm water.
  3. Add a little detergent designed to preserve colors like Woolite Darks Liquid Laundry Detergent or Tide Studio Darks and Colors. They have ingredients that help fabrics hold onto dyes and to deactivate the chlorine in the water that can fade colors. Blend it in with the water to make sure it's evenly distributed.
  4. Additionally, you can add ½ cup of white vinegar* to the washing machine's rinse cycle compartment. [Optional]
  5. Washing the jeans for a few minutes and gently remove any spots without excessive rubbing. Then let them soak for 30 minutes, move them around and let them sit for another 20 minutes.
  6. Drain the water and rinse the jeans, make sure to wash out pockets, and get all the detergent out of your denim.
  7. Put the jeans in a towel and pat dry to remove excess water. Do not crash any wrinkles into them, as this will affect the fade over time.
  8. Turn the jeans right-side-out and line dry if you'd like. Alternatively, you can lay the denim flat to dry. Do not tumble dry*****. (If you find the jeans have stretched out dramatically, you could dry in the sun for more shrinkage, but i don't always recommend this)

Washing by hand is the most gentle method. It's great to keep the denim dark and as close to the 'raw' state as it usually doesn't remove a lot of dyes from the denim (although that depends on the denim in some cases).

Machine Washing

Machine Washing

Image: Tide

Now, its been more than 6 months of frequent wear and the jeans are starting to smell like sweaty uncle it might the time to bring out the big guns, machine-washing. It requires less effort than hand-washing but it's a little harder on the denim. But a delicate cycle on a high-quality washing machine will compare to hand washing.


One thing to consider before machine-washing is that it will generally removes more indigo from the denim compared to hand-washing. So if that is not the desired effect you are looking for, try the handwashing technique on your first wash.

The 5 Steps of Machine-Washing Jeans

  1. Turn your jeans inside out! Pockets, too and unfold your cuffs!
  2. Throw them dirty boys in the washing machine and select a 'delicate' setting with a 900 rpm*** or less spin cycle.
  3. Add a little detergent designed to preserve colors like Woolite Darks Liquid Laundry Detergent or Tide Studio Darks and Colors. They have ingredients that allow fabrics hold onto dyes a little bit better while deactivating the chlorine in the water that can fade colors. Blend it in with the water to make sure it's evenly distributed.
  4. Additionally, you can add ½ cup of white vinegar* to the washing machine's rinse cycle compartment. [Optional]
  5. Once washed, please take out the jeans immediately, turn them right-side out, straighten out any wrinkles and set them out to line dry. Do not tumble dry*****.

 

 

Notes to Both Washing Methods

*Vinegar prevents colors from fading. Indigo is a so-called unstable dye. So is Sulphur, used to make black and colored denim. When washed, the color of unstable dyes can bleed as the dye is releasing pigments of the mineral compounds. Vinegar absorbs this and neutralizes these minerals while working as a biodegradable fabric softener. And it can kill bacteria too.
**Use a detergent for delicates or black specialty mix and always without bleach.
***The high rpm from a spin cycle will add creases to your jeans, which can lead to unwanted vertical faded streaks.
****The spin cycle will cause a slight indigo loss and give the jeans a 'rinsed' look over time. To make your denim stay as dark as the original raw state as possible, avoid this.
*****The dryer will always shrink your jeans and dulls the color. I would never recommend doing this.
 

Article like this is always handy when you're in doubt about how to wash your new jeans. And if you work in a retail store, this is something you should know if you're giving advice to your clients or selling denim. Take a little time and do the research, and you will always get the desired result.