The Care and Cleaning of Denim

by Erin Klabunde March 27, 2019
ReadThe Care and Cleaning of Denim Photo by Ivana Cajina

My dad always jokes that my brother washes his jeans so infrequently that they stand up on their own. While that may sound like an exaggeration, Levi’s CEO actually recommends washing your denim just twice a year—at which point, I suspect, the jeans would not only stand up but also walk themselves straight to the laundry room.

If you’re like me, you’re probably hesitant to enact such an extreme scaling back of laundry practices. But, the truth remains that washing denim infrequently is a well-known way to extend its life. But, it’s not the only way. Turns out there are tons of easy tricks to help your favorite denim last and last.

Instructions for washing denim

Before wearing for the first time, set the color. Just add two tablespoons of table salt to the wash. This will keep your dark denim dark.

Wash sporadically

As we’ve already covered, the Golden Rule of Denim Care is washing only a few times a year. Between washings, be sure to spot clean any stains right away. If you drop food on your denim, use that ol’ thumbnail to scrape the residue off and then spot clean.

When you do wash your denim, always use cold water. Never subject it to warm or hot water, which will cause the denim to shrink and fade. Always wash in cold water and on the gentle or delicate cycle. Add detergent sparingly, and make sure to turn the item inside out before adding it to the machine. This helps prevent the dye from running in the wash, helping to preserve that color.

Choose your detergent wisely

Make sure you’re washing with a laundry detergent designed for colored fabric. Other detergents contain optical brighteners, a chemical that enhances whites but saps colored laundry of its saturated hues.

Or wash by hand

This is the gold standard of denim laundering—and it takes hardly any work! Fill a sink with cold water and add half a teaspoon of mild detergent. Then turn your jeans inside out and submerge them in the water. There’s no need to scrub—just leave it there for an hour. Rinse with cold water and hang dry (put an old towel under your drying rack to avoid getting indigo dye on your floor).

Air dry

Step away from the dryer. Air drying helps your denim keep its shape. Hang indoors, away from sunlight. If the fabric feels stiff when it’s dry, stick it in the dryer for a few minutes to soften it up. Just make sure the fabric is completely dry beforehand and set the machine to the lowest heat setting possible.

Dark denim=longer-lasting denim. Not only does dark denim look good, but it also lasts longer than the distressed, stonewashed, and faded styles. That’s because those styles are treated with chemicals and subjected to other other harsh conditions in order to get that look. I’m not saying that buying new distressed denim is basically like buying it secondhand—but I am saying the quality of that denim is already compromised.

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