Expert Denim Care: Getting The Most From Your Jeans
Washing denim is one of the most contentious points of the designer world. There a dozen ways how to wash jeans without shrinking or losing color, but not all denim washing rituals were created equal!
In this article, we'll outline exactly how to wash your denim jeans the right way, with expert tips from over 50 years of garment care experience.
Remember: although denim fabric is very rugged and durable, the coloration is quite fragile. Dyes used in denim can bleed or transfer easily, and the cotton twill used to form denim wears thin more readily than many other textiles.
Considering that a great pair of jeans can run at least a couple hundred dollars, we want our jeans to last as long as possible. Use the tips below and keep your favorite pair of jeans with you for the long run.
Wash by hand in cold water. It’s best to use a tiny amount of gentle detergent (Woolite is available almost everywhere), or simply plain water. Remember to turn jeans inside out. Another trick is to use baby shampoo, but we prefer Woolite when specifically washing denim.
Dry cleaning is an easy way to preserve wear. Since dry cleaning is a chemical process, not water based, it doesn’t affect the indigo dye used in most jeans. It’s a surefire way to remove dirt without causing fading!
Air dry your jeans, even if you haven’t washed them. Denim loves to breathe, and airing out your jeans will help prevent them from getting funky. Coming home from a day of wear? Hang your jeans over a chair (not folded) or on a drying rack and keep the fabrics nice and smell-free.
Wait as long as possible to wash. Denim naturally deters a lot of the smelly issues you get with other fabrics, and is able to last extremely long without a wash. Besides, the longer you hold out, the better patina your jeans will develop. Trust us, no one will notice.
Repair damage prior to washing. Tears in jeans can spread quickly, and the agitation of washing will only make things worse. Unless, of course, that’s the look you’re after!
Check the care label. This is good advice for all clothing, but especially jeans, since you may not be 100% sure what the fabric content is (women’s jeans often feature lycra or other materials, for instance).
Spot clean. Cleaning just a blemish can cause areas of discoloration, so wash your entire jeans at once, unless you can live with a less than uniform appearance.
Machine wash. Using a washing machine at low temps won’t necessarily ruin your jeans, but if you really love them, don’t take the chance.
Tumble dry. Never, ever, put your denim jeans in the dryer. They will shrink.
Wash too frequently. It’s not necessary to wash your jeans after every wear, and some denim enthusiasts go for months between cleanings. Even gentle, at home cleaning will remove some coloring.
Forget to care for all your denim, not just jeans. Remember denim shirts, jackets and vests are cotton denim too, and require delicate care.
Store improperly. It’s important for denim to breathe, so make sure you don’t pack it too tightly in your closet. Like all garments, denim should be stored away from light, extreme temperatures, and never put away soiled.
Know Your Denim
Dry Denim is the term for dark, unwashed denim. Also referred to as raw denim, this is usually sold in deep, monochromatic shades. Unlike jeans that have been distressed or pre-treated, these are sold almost straight off the loom
The advantage of buying dry denim is that the break-in process creates a personalized garment – no two jeans wear in quite the same way. As denim gradually ages it can go through many stunning shades of appearance. For the purists, this is the only kind of denim to buy.
Dry denim is harder to care for since it ages so noticeably, and slightly uncomfortable until broken in. It’s also prone to transferring dye on other (particularly light-colored) textiles and hides.
Prewashed denim is generally more comfortable and colorfast. The downside of pre-aged denim is that they are typically worn uniformly by machinery (sanding, stonewashing, bleach, etc) and therefore not particularly personal or unique. Also, since denim becomes thinner with use, prewashed jeans will wear out sooner, no matter how careful you are.
Cotton Serge. Traditionally, denim was made of pure ‘cotton serge,’ a term for the weaving pattern used to create denim on a loom. Today, jean denim is often blended with other materials.
Stretch Denim. Women’s jeans (and perhaps super-skinny men’s jeans) are often made of this denim blend, commonly 98% cotton and 2% spandex.
Selvedge: The word self-edge refers to the "self-edge" of fabric. In the photo below, you can see by the sharp lines of the cuff and hem. The selvedge trend is especially popular in Japan, where artisan culture is hugely appreciated and respected. For denim-lovers, selvedge represents the delicate nuance of denim weaving technique and the commitment to quality from the heritage mills.
Meurice Garment Care is a family-owned garment care specialist. We've been cleaning and restoring designer clothing for over 50 years and we're passionate about quality craftsmanship and enjoy sharing our knowledge with our readers.
If you're not satisfied with your denim care, or concerned about keeping its original condition, Meurice offers a comprehensive denim treatment, throughout both our unique dry cleaning and wet cleaning processes. We'll keep your jeans in perfect condition for years to come.