how to wash your jeans

The Main Ways To Clean Your Jeans Guide

The question of how to take care of your pair of jeans is coming along many times. And to be more precise, how to wash you your jeans? Retail staff are asked this many times when selling jeans. Also on forums, denim blogs, and on social media channels, this is a hot topic. Good to zoom in to see what are the options. But, to be short, there’s isn’t just one main golden rule.

The Three Main Ways

To start with, everyone wants to enjoy their pair of jeans as long as possible. So, knowing that you could say that taking care of your jeans is important.

If you sum up the options shortly, you can say that there are three main ways to wash your jeans:

  • 1) machine wash
  • 2) handwash
  • 3) dry-clean.

But, next to these three, there are many other options as well to clean your jean. Also, without using any water you can still refresh your jeans. But the most recommended is to wash your jeans regularly to really get rid of the dirt.

Next to that, washing your jeans every now and then also strengthens the fibers of the denim fabric, this will last your jeans way longer. Talking about sustainability. In case you don’t do this, the dirt on your jeans will affect the fabric and result in cracks and holes earlier.

how to wash your jeans

Wash Your Jeans When They’re Dirty

The short answer on how to clean your jeans is to wash them! But, you don’t need to wash your jeans after each wear day of course. Next to that, washing in a machine costs also a lot of water and energy, and thus money. An average washing machine uses around 50 – 60 liters of water each time (depending on the washing program). To save water and energy, the best is to wash your jeans when they’re dirty. This sounds maybe super simple, but the reality shows different. You’re probably doing the same with your (winter) jacket or sweater. You clean them when they’re dirty, and not earlier. And if they smell, you can easily hang them outside for airing. The same is advised to do for your jeans too.

The Statement Of Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh

Around 10 years ago, Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh revealed that he hadn’t washed his jeans in more than a year. This is to save energy and water usage. He made the following statement:

“We learned that an average pair of jeans consumes roughly 3,500 liters of water, and that is after only two years of use, washing the jeans once a week,” Bergh says. “Nearly half of the total water consumption, or 1,600 liters, is the consumer throwing the jeans in the washing machine. That’s equivalent to 6,700 glasses of drinking water!”

When Wearing A Pair Of Unwashed Jeans

A lot of true denim enthusiasts prefer to wear a pair of unwashed, so-called rigid, or raw pairs of jeans. This means that these jeans aren’t pre-washed yet in a denim factory. They’re untreated and therefore the most authentic to wear. Just like all jeans back in the day.

Most denim brands that sell these unwashed jeans recommed to wear them first for at least 6 months before washing. This advice is given by the fact that most people want to achieve high fading contrasts on their jeans. But, washing your jeans earlier can achieve also the beloved fade wear pattern in the end. It will only take a bit longer. It all depends on your personal preferences.

Rigid jeans can be washed whenever you think it’s the right time. Some people prefer to rinse their rigid jeans before the first wear day. This is to lose some of the indigo and the starch on the threads so that it is less stiff when they start wearing it.

Some people never wash their rigid jeans as they want to preserve the original color as long as possible. In case you’re wondering if this is unhygienic, a Canadian student did a research project 10+ years ago about the difference between wearing a pair for 13 days or 15 months. The outcome was that there wasn’t any difference in the bacterial carriage between both. And, most of the bacteria present on the jeans came from his skin and were not harmful at all.

The Usual Cleaning Ways

If you do want to wash your jeans, here are some options that you can use. In the end, it’s all about what routine feels the best for you. There’s no good or bad in the end. But, let’s sum up the most common ways to wash your jeans!

As said, the most usual cleaning ways to freshen up your jeans are machine washing, handwashing, and dry cleaning. Let’s highlight these three first.

  • Machine wash

Most people are washing their jeans in a regular washing machine, like their other clothes. If you use this method, the best is to turn your jeans inside out. This preserves the original color, but the dirtiest part, the outside, will get more exposed to water and detergent. You can use special detergent for darker, and white/ecru jeans. It’s always important that you don’t use detergent with bleach to keep the original color as long as possible.

When using a machine wash, select the short 30-degree washing program with a gentle cycle (or delicate cycle, depending on your machine). And do not forget, choose the coldest water option to avoid shrinkage. When your washing program is finished, hang (air) dry the jeans afterward, so skip the dryer as it requires unnecessary waste of energy.

The machine wash method can be used for all different jeans types, whether it is raw, factory-treated, or stretch.

how to wash your jeans

! Turn your jeans inside out first when putting the washing machine.

  • Hand wash

The most authentic way is to wash your jeans by hand. This will save a lot of energy and take only a bit more time. The result of washing by hand will be the same of course. The method is also the same as washing with a machine, so flip your jeans inside out, and put your jeans in a sink or bathtub. Fill it with lukewarm water and add a small amount of detergent without bleach and rub to remove the dirt. Some people prefer to add salt and vinegar too, to set the dye and prevent fading.

Let them soak afterward for 30 – 60 minutes. When you think they’re ready, wring your jeans out, and hang dry it afterward. When you want your jeans to be ready to wear faster, hang them in your garden or balcony outside. This will speed up the drying process.

how to wash your jeans guide

how to wash your jeans guide

‘I love my jeans’ detergent powder by Montega.

  • Dry cleaner

If you don’t want to use a washing machine or to wash your jeans by hand, then this third option can be used: dry cleaner. A dry cleaner can clean your jeans like your suit or special dress. The term dry cleaning is a little misleading, as the process isn’t completely dry. Instead of using soap and water, dry cleaning employs chemical solvents that remove dirt and grease and eliminate stains. This process is mainly used for clothing that cannot be washed with water, but you can use it for your jeans too.

Alternatives To Make Your Jeans Fresh Again

Next to the three main washing options described above, there are other ways to make your jeans fresh again. There are way more options, but here are other ways to use for your jeans.

  •  Airing outside or taking a shower

If you want to avoid washing your jeans with a machine too often, you can also refresh them by airing them outside (overnights). Airing your jeans (or denim jacket) outside will keep them fresh naturally, but it won’t make it that clean as washing of course. It’s a good method when your jeans aren’t really dirty, but want to make it fresh after a night out for example to get rid of the smell. Especially, when it’s freezing outside this is a good option.

how to wash your jeans

Airing your jeans or denim jacket outside, like this Long John x Blue Blanket collab jacket.

  • Take a shower

You can also take a shower and keep your jeans on. When you’re wearing your jeans when showering, it’s easy to take some soap and rub it on your jeans. It’s like doing a handwash, but then when still wearing it. Another more easy option is to steam it when showering. You can simply hang your jeans in your bathroom or shower and the steam of the hot water gives your jeans a sort of dry clean treatment. It’s an easy, and eco-friendly method.

  • Snow wash

The snow wash option is actually a more fun thing to do than really cleaning your jeans. You need snow in the first place, this is out of the question for most people. You can bury your jeans under the snow for one of a few nights. It gives your jeans a sort of refreshing, but not really cleaning your jeans. At least the pictures look great ; )

how to wash your jeans guide

A pair of Lee 101 gets a snow treatment.

  • Freezer

Same as the snow wash, putting your jeans in the freezer is an alternative to the snow method. Some hardcore denim heads put their jeans in a freezer (you can use a bag) as they want to keep their jeans original as long as possible. So, they put them in the freezer next to your pizza, bread and vegetables. The freezer is good to emerge from the deep freeze odorless, but as soon as you put them on and your body heat makes contact with the material, all the bacteria and odors will be reactivated again.

how to wash your jeans

  • Sea wash / rinse

Another fun experiment to get rid of some (heavy) dirt is to wash your jeans in the sea. This method is actually more a rinse instead of washing. When you rinsed your jeans a few times in the sea, you need to rinse your jeans in a sink or bathtub afterward to get rid of the salt in the water. The salt of the seawater will affect your denim fabric and result in faster breaking. As said, it’s fun to experience, but not really meaningful as it is more work in the end.

how to wash your jeans guide

Sea washing a pair of Grivec Bros. jeans.

  • Soap nuts

You can also use soap nuts to clean your jeans. These nuts contain a natural soap. Also called Saponin. They have a very nice smell. The Saponin will be released when the nutshells absorb water when put in a tub, this results in a soaping effect. As Saponin is mild, 100% natural, and biodegradable, it’s an excellent alternative to chemical detergents.

Soap nuts are dried shell that comes from the soapberry nut. These nuts come from the Sapindus Mukorossi tree. They grow mainly in the mountainous region between Nepal and India. These nuts are dried berries and perfect to use for people who are allergic to nuts.

how to wash your jeans guide

how to wash your jeans guide

Soap nuts delivered with each pair of MTTR jeans.

  • Denim spray

In case you want to postpone washing (in a machine or by hand), you can use a denim spray. Most of these denim sprays are made to clean, refresh, and prevent stains from settling in your denim. It will remove odors and clean your jeans on a microscopic level. They’re environmentally friendly and biodegradable too, but will not remove stains in the end.

how to wash your jeans guide

Denim Refresh spray by Mr. Black.

Washing Experiences From Denim People

As you can read here above, there are many ways to wash your jeans. Or better said, to clean your jean. Recently, some denim people were asked to share their receipts for their cleaning routine. A few are highlighted here below, also to show that everyone has their own method that works the best for them.

 ‘’I really love to keep my jeans as dark as possible, therefore I always use the bathtub method. I put my jeans in it for about 30 minutes with cold water, salt, and vinegar.’’ 

 ‘’I always like to soak all my jeans in water for 30 minutes a few times a year. When they’re dirty, I rinse it with plenty of water.’’

 ‘’Different pairs mean different approaches. I always ask myself the question, what kind of fades do I want to achieve. When I desire more vintage fades, then, I soak and wash them very frequently. Do I prefer more high contrast on this pair? Then I postpone the first wash or soak as long as possible.’’

”I would never use the dry cleaner as it doesn’t work for me. I prefer to use a denim spray instead.”

 ‘’The best way to refresh your jeans without washing is to freeze them for me, it removes all the odors and works perfectly for me!’’

 ‘’Just put your jeans in the washing machine when it is dirty. Easy and simple is that!’’

 ‘’Before I start to wear a new pair of jeans, I always like to rinse them first.’’

Leave Feedback In The Comments

To learn about all the different ways to clean your jeans, leave comments here below under the article to share each other experiences on this hot denim topic! Now, clean your jean!

Written by Wouter Munnichs
I'm the founder of Long John. Next to running this daily magazine, I'm working as a freelance denim specialist for the industry. Titled as 'Denim Influencer 2020' by Rivet 50. Celebrated my 10th anniversary with Long John in 2021.