When it comes to washing your jeans, there are no set rules, but rather groups of conflicting philosophies. The most extreme practise is to never wash your jeans, or only wash them when absolutely necessary. This may result in more interesting fades, but can also result in a blown-out crotch and potentially some unpleasant odours.
Before doing any washing or soaking there is one thing you want to make sure; whether or not your jeans are unsanforized/Shrink To Fit.
The Unsanforized Bath Soak:
Sanforized readers may skip this initial shrinking procedure, although should note that all denim will experience at least some minimal shrinkage during the first wash. The amount varies depending on a number of factors, such as the type of cotton used, the weight and density, and a few other variables in the weaving and production process. When in doubt contact the store or brand from whom you purchased your pair of raws.
- Fill the bath with warm water.**Important – The temperature of the water and time submerged will affect the amount of shrinkage. Hotter water + More time submerged = Greater shrinkage. Enter a bath wearing jeans. (Yes, you really do want to wear your jeans while soaking. During this time the denim will shrink to form around the shape of your leg, customizing themselves as you bathe. There is no chance of over-shrinkage occurring as the fabric cannot shrink past your body. Stay in the bath for 30min – hour. Exit bath. Continue to wear jeans until dry/almost dry. Hang inside out to complete drying if needed.
The Basic Pre-Soak
This washing technique can help alleviate the discomfort of the raw denim break-in. The purpose here is to extract the excess dye and starch, doing so will also set the dye. Once set, the dye in your jeans will fade more slowly and won’t rub off onto light-colored objects as easily (such as socks, shoes, shirts, and furniture). The reason behind this is two-fold, firstly, after the dye is set it will be more resilient to abrasion, washing, and general friction. Secondly, the starch and excess dye present in the raw material actually increase the friction within the fabric, causing points of wear to lighten faster, by removing the starch and dye the friction is lowered and a more uniform fade and break-in are possible.
- Fill bucket/bath with cold water. Turn jeans inside out. Submerge in water (You may need weights to keep jeans fully submerged). Leave for 30min – two hours. (More time will mean a softer hand feel, but also more dye loss) Exit water. Roll jeans in a towel to partly dry (this WILL stain the towel). Either hang dry OR start wearing immediately. (This will speed up the stretching process and help compensate for any shrinkage).
A lot of raw enthusiasts argue that pre-soaking your jeans will lower the contrast of your fades. However, the reduction in friction will also mean that you are less likely to blow out your crotch in the early stages of the break-in. With that, you must choose either high contrast + crotch blowouts or lower contrast + longevity. Considering that soaking your jeans can make them stronger for longer this may actually help achieve those jaw-dropping long term fades.
For any jean that is not a raw jean, you can easily wash them as you do most of your other clothing that you care dearly about.
- Set washing machine – Coldwater and slow spin cycle. Add a minimal amount of your favourite detergent. Woolite Lite is a denim connoisseur go-to Wash jeans separately inside out. Hang dry inside out.
*A Note on Tumble Drying: DO NOT put your jeans in the dryer. The high temperatures and agitating movement can shrink and/or warp your jeans. If your jeans contain elastic or synthetic fibres drying can be especially damaging as elastic becomes brittle under intense heat, causing fraying and premature damage.