Jeans Washing: The Type of Jeans and How to Wash It, Here’s The Answer

Step-by-Step Guides and the 3-Question Tool for Better Jeans Washing Guidance

To wash or not to wash? And how? These are the questions that many jeans shoppers are asking these days. And it’s hard to blame them with all of the confusing and sometimes contradictory information available. If you work in a store that sells jeans and do not provide your consumers with proper washing instructions, you could face serious consequences.

This is the second guide in a series about buying jeans. It provides step-by-step instructions for hand-washing and machine-washing your jeans. Teeanime have created the ‘3-question tool for better jeans washing guidance’ to help you evaluate what kind of washing instructions your consumers require.

When and How to Wash Your Jeans

My jeans were washed weekly as a kid. Before washing them, I wore them three or four times. No problem. But jeans don’t need to be washed often. The garment wears out with water, detergent, and spinning.

In 2007, when I started wearing raw denim, I was urged to wait six months before washing my jeans. That also didn’t work for me. If you wait too long to wash your raw denim jeans, the fibers get brittle and break.

Today, I’m in the middle. When to wash jeans is straightforward for me:

When dirty, wash.

I’ll wash my jeans if they haven’t been filthy for 2–3 months.

Like most denimheads, I love high-contrast fades. I only wash my jeans when they require it. I want them to last as long as possible, and I love how denim looks after a few washes. Even when they’re clean, I wash them every two or three months.

My washing routine is simple:

I soak my jeans before wearing them to eliminate starch and soften them. That extends their lifespan. The fades may also become less noticeable. I’m fine with that.

If the jeans are soiled or stinky, I hand- or machine-wash them. Machine-washing is my normal method. Otherwise, I handwash. It depends on my fading. For high contrasts, delay the first machine wash.

Step-by-step instructions are below.

The 8 Steps of Hand-Washing Jeans

  1. Change the way the jeans look!
  2. Fill your sink or a bucket with warm water.
  3. Add 1 dl (half a cup) of white vinegar (the clear kind). [Optional]
  4. Add a little liquid detergent that doesn’t bleach and mix it with the water. [Optional]
  5. Wash the jeans for a few minutes and rub any spots out gently, but don’t rub too hard. Then give them 30 to 60 minutes to soak.
  6. Pour out the water and give the jeans a good rinse.
  7. Put the jeans in the washing machine and use the “spin only” (900 rpm) setting. [Optional] ****
  8. Flip the jeans inside out and hang them up to dry. You can also dry the jeans on a flat surface. Do not dry in a dryer.

Hand washing is the most gentle form of washing. It’s ideal if you want to retain the denim black and ‘raw,’ as it doesn’t normally remove a lot of indigo (although that depends on the denim).

It’s also the greatest method for shrinking unsanforized jeans because it provides you more control than machine washing. Just remember to skip step 3 during the initial soak (do not add detergent).

The 5 Steps of Machine-Washing Jeans

  1. Turn your jeans inside out!
  2. Put the jeans in the washer and choose a “delicate” cycle with a spin speed of 900 rpm or less.
  3. Add the right amount of liquid detergent that doesn’t bleach.
  4. Add 1 dl (half a cup) of white vinegar to the washing machine’s rinse cycle. [Optional]
  5. As soon as the wash is done, take the jeans out, turn them inside out, smooth out any creases, and hang them up to dry. Do not dry in a dryer.

Hand washing takes more effort than machine washing. It’s a little harder on the denim, but a gentle cycle on a good washing machine is almost as good as hand-washing.

However, be mindful that machine washing often eliminates more indigo from denim than hand washing.

Notes to Both Washing Methods

*Vinegar helps to keep colors from fading. Indigo is classified as an unstable dye. Sulfur, which is used to manufacture black and colored denim, is also toxic. The color of unstable dyes spills when washed because the dye releases colored mineral components. These minerals are absorbed and neutralized by vinegar. It is also a biodegradable fabric softener. It also destroys germs.

**Use a detergent that does not include bleach for delicate or dark fabrics.

***High-rpm spinning wrinkles your jeans, resulting in unsightly vertical faded streaks.

****The spin cycle may produce a minor loss of indigo, giving the jeans a ‘rinsed’ appearance. Step 7 of hand-washing should be avoided if you want the denim to stay as black and ‘raw’ as possible.

*****Tumble drying shrinks and dulls the color of your jeans. Only tumble dry if you’re okay with it.

When it comes to washing your jeans, this advice comes in helpful. And it’s something you should be aware of if you work in a jeans store. But how did people’s laundry habits become such a hot topic in the news?

How Jeans Washing Guidance Became Clickbait

Since blue jeans were invented, consumers have needed to know how to wash them. Sales clerks 150 years ago advised you on how to wash your jeans for practical reasons.

Before 1930, all jeans were shrink-to-fit. Today’s unsanforized jeans shrink up to 10%, so size up. Sell shrink-to-fit jeans? Tell customers.

Shrinkage is rare today because most jeans are pre-shrunk. We still discuss washing jeans—or not. The Guardian and Business Insider have reported on people who don’t wash their jeans in recent years.

In 2011, a tale of a man not washing his jeans for 15 months made headlines. Josh Le, a University of Alberta student and denimhead, found that even after 15 months of wearing his Nudie raw denim jeans without washing, there was still regular bacteria on them. Like washing them weekly.

In 2014, Levi’s President and CEO Chip Bergh advocated against machine-washing jeans, garnering attention. It outraged mothers and everyday Joes and disrupted denimhead washing.

Besides the apparent icky element that draws clicks online, why does a mundane domestic duty get people so worked up? Why should jeans sellers know how to wash jeans?

Today, washing jeans is more about style than function. Because washing jeans affects their appearance, we discuss it. Especially raw denim.

Raw Denim Made People Question How to Wash Their Jeans

A look at Google Trends reveals more information about the interest in denim laundry.

Since 2004, the term “how to wash jeans” has been on an upward trend. Interest peaked in the United States in October of 2013. There have never been more searches for the term globally than at the time of posting this article (October of 2016).

So, what is the source of this increased interest?

Searches for ‘raw denim’ peaked in the same month as searches for ‘how to wash jeans’ peaked. When you say ‘raw denim,’ you also mean ‘fade,’ and the fade is heavily influenced by how you wash your jeans.

The spike in interest in raw denim in the autumn of 2013 caused more individuals to wonder how to wash their jeans. Especially when they were warned not to wash their jeans by retail employees.

The problem with this advise is that most people are unaware of the dangers of not washing your jeans, other than them being dirty and stinky.

The Problem With Not Washing Your Jeans

My 18-year-old brother-in-law acquired Nudie’s Steady Eddie, fashioned from their now-famous 13.5 oz. Kaihara denim, in August. I was recalling about denim’s joys and frustrations while helping him soak and wash the jeans to make them last.

Nudie got me into raw denim. One of my earliest “fade projects” was Average Joes in their slightly tinted Kaihara denim. I wanted to wear them daily for six months without washing. I couldn’t wait anymore at 145 days (nearly five months). Washed at 60°C. They faded well. The wash showed many honeycomb breaks.

I felt cheated. No one warned me that high contrasts reduced durability! After five months, these jeans broke? WTF?!

I questioned the wait-six-month method then. It doesn’t ask the wearer what his ambitions are or if he’s prepared to trade jeans’ lifespan for high contrast fades.

After realizing that excellent fades may shorten denim life, I started soaking my jeans before wearing them. I also encouraged people to wash their jeans more often.

Denimheads today know that if you don’t wash, you’ll get crazy contrasts but also more crotch blowouts and cracks in the denim creases. The oversimplified no-wash mentality seems to be changing.

What about the 99.9% of non-denimheads? Denim washing advice? My 3-question tool provides better jeans washing advice.

The 3-Question Tool for Better Jeans Washing Guidance

This tool was created just for persons who sell jeans. It’s intended to help you answer your customers’ questions about how to wash the jeans you just sold them.

The correct response is dependent on the type of jeans in question. It depends on the cloth and whether or not it has been washed. And it is dependent on the customer and his requirements.

You should offer washing advice once you’ve helped the consumer choose the perfect pair of jeans. When done correctly, it is an excellent method to establish your credibility and present yourself as an expert. This leads to repeat consumers and referrals, therefore it’s important to prioritize.

I’ve broken the tool into three separate questions that you must answer. I’m purposefully exaggerating to make the point clearer and to make it easier for you to practice each of these abilities. Once you’ve internalized these lessons, you’ll rapidly begin acting on instincts in real-life circumstances.

Question 1: How Much Does the Customer Know About Denim?

The first thing to consider is how extensive your guidance should be. This will be evaluated by the customer’s prior knowledge of denim. The fewer specifics you give in your washing instructions, the less your customer knows (and wants to know).

The initial evaluation is based on your encounter with the consumer. If this is your first interaction with the consumer, or if you haven’t discussed denim care with him in previous interactions, consider how the customer reacted when you informed him about how the jeans are created or described a specific feature. Was he actually interested? Or did he appear to wish you’d stop babbling so he could get on with his day? You might also consider what kinds of questions he asked. Or if he spoke any denim jargon?

The guy whose girlfriend or wife—or mother—told him to get “new pants” is at the bottom of the spectrum. It concludes with the uber-nerd who can beat you at Denim Jeopardy any day of the week. The level of detail you can provide depends on where your customer falls on the spectrum.

Question 2: What Does the Customer Want From the Jeans?

The second question asks how the consumer wants the jeans to look in months or years. Jeans lose their color over time as you wear and wash them. Fading is one of 22 important denim words. Washing greatly affects fading.

Asking your customer what fade they want is easiest. How should the jeans fade? Would he rather they never fade? Maybe he merely “needs a pair of jeans,” which means “I don’t care how they fade!”

Ask him if he likes high contrasts when choosing raw denim jeans, especially if he’s new to fading and washing. Will he wash the jeans?

When Selling Raw Denim Jeans, a Pro Tip for Retailers

A worn-in and washed pair of your most popular raw denim styles helps customers visualize how the jeans will age.

It can fit differently. A denim jacket may also work.

If the buyer wants high contrast fades, they should wash the jeans less and wear them more. You must warn customers that denim becomes brittle and breaks faster when worn without washing.

If the consumer wants “vintage fades,” wash the jeans often.

Tell the consumer that denim fades owing to its construction if he doesn’t want the jeans to fade.

Question 3: The Type of Jeans and How to Wash It

The response to the third and final question allows you to provide customized washing instructions based on what you learned about the customer’s needs in steps 1 and 2. To do so, examine the sort of jeans you’re working with.

Unsanforized, raw sanforized, black, and industrially-washed jeans are the four varieties. When it comes to washing, they’re not all made equal. Let’s take a look at each type and how to clean it.

How to Wash Unsanforized Denim Jeans

I love unsanforized jeans; they’re pretty much the only thing I wear. However, determining which size to purchase can be difficult if you don’t know how much the denim shrinks.

Because denim shrinks up to 10%, unsanforized jeans are also known as shrink-to-fits. It’s notably obvious in the length since the legs don’t stretch as much as the waist and thighs—and also because the warp yarns are longer, so 10% shrinkage equals more centimetres in relative terms.

Buy shrink-to-fits a bit too big in the waist and a lot too long if you intend to wash them (which I always recommend). Soak the jeans before you start wearing them (a hand-wash without detergent). The greater the shrinkage, the warmer the water. After the first soak, wash the jeans whenever necessary, either by hand or machine. If you want strong contrasts, avoid machine washing as much as possible.

Buy a size that fits if you intend to never wash a pair of unwashed jeans. However, be aware that an unanticipated wash may result in a pair of jeans that don’t fit. That’s especially terrible if you’ve been fading them for months. You should also be warned that if you don’t shrink unsanforized jeans before fading them, the honeycombs may not sit properly after you wash them.

How to Wash Sanforized Raw Denim Jeans and One-Wash Jeans

Sanforization is a shrinkage-free cloth finishing procedure. Because sanforized raw denim jeans don’t shrink much, you should buy a size that fits right away. The same is true with one-wash jeans, which have been washed once and shrunken down in the manufacturer before shipping.

This means that you don’t have to soak or wash sanforized raw denim or one-wash jeans before wearing them.

However, for sanforized raw denim jeans, I would still recommend a pre-wear soak (hand-washing without detergent). However, keep in mind that this may result in fewer prominent contrasts in the fading.

High contrasts, like unsanforized denim, result by delaying machine washing as long as possible and wearing the jeans as much as feasible. Just keep in mind that the end result is less durable denim.

How to Wash Black Denim Jeans

Although black denim is defined in this wash guide as’sanforized raw denim dyed with sulfur instead of indigo’—in other words, ‘black sanforized raw denim’—it requires its own washing instructions because customers typically do not want their black jeans to fade.

Avoid washing your black denim jeans as much as possible if you don’t want them to fade. When you must wash, do so by hand and remember to add vinegar every time!

To avoid color loss, you can omit the pre-wear soak in this scenario, even if the jeans are raw. Just keep in mind that the denim will not last as long if you soak it.

Finally, when your jeans begin to fade—and they will—you may re-dye them black with household dyes such as this one from Dylon.

How to Wash Industrially-Abraded Jeans

When you buy jeans that have been industrially abraded, they are already faded. The method is technically known as ‘garment finishing,’ but the jeans are also known as ‘prewashed jeans.’

Garment finishing refers to a variety of treatment processes that mimic what happens when you wear and wash your own jeans. Shrinkage is usually not an issue with industrially-abraded jeans because they are often washed in the factory and/or manufactured from sanforized denim. And they’ve already lost some indigo after being washed. This means that there will be no discernible change in color.

There’s no reason why you can’t machine-wash your industrially abraded jeans. However, because they have already been washed and/or abraded, they will not survive as long as raw or one-wash jeans. If they have rips when you acquire them, you should expect the rips to grow.