How to properly wash denim is a hot button issue in the style world. Ask anyone and you're likely to get answers that range from "in the laundry machine after each wear" to "are you crazy? Never wash them!" While we won't presume to tell you what's right for each man and his dungarees, here's a helpful guideline for cleaning your jeans.
The first step in deciding on your laundering path is to answer these three questions:
Are they pre-distressed or have a "wash" from the manufacturer?
If your jeans already have a "wash," that means they've already been worn-in and been washed by the manufacturer. As such, you should see little to no shrinkage or fading regardless of the washing method you utilize.
Are your jeans raw, dry
or single wash?
If your jeans are raw or dry, it means that the denim fabric has never been washed and the indigo dye is not set. It also means, depending on your goals for the jeans, you'll want to wash them differently. If you see the term "single wash," that indicates you're holding a pair of raw jeans that's been soaked in cold water once to make them less rigid (it also sets the indigo).
Are they sanforized?
Sanforized refers to a process of treating denim during its production to minimize shrinking. If they're "unsanforized" or "shrink to fit" they will be several inches larger than the tagged size (i.e. a 32 inch tag measures 34 inches), so you'll want to draw a bath and soak these to bring them down to the tagged size. The longer you soak them and the hotter the water, the more they'll shrink. When you're satisfied with the size, hang them inside out to air dry.
How do you know when its time to wash your denim? There are three ways to go here:
The waist, seat and knees
begin to stretch out.
This can apply to any type of denim. You won't be able to miss this. The seat will sag, the knees will look misshapen, and your waist will be loose.
Set your own time for a personalized look.
To maximize the fading and whiskering, most denim heads swear by a minimum of 6 months to a year.
Wash them whenever (and often).
It's the worst for your jeans and pretty unnecessary, but if it really bothers you, go for it Mr. Clean. Just know that you're shortening the life of your denim.
Fill the bath or sink with cold water (for least amount of shrinkage and indigo loss) or warm water for more shrinkage and fading. Add a small amount of a gentle soap like Woolite Dark, Dr. Bronner's or Orvus WA Paste (a tip we recently learned from Put This On). Let them soak for 45 to 60 minutes, occasionally agitating them by hand. Turning them inside out will keep them darker. Then remove them from the water and hang outside until completely dry. The less launderings you do, the longer your denim is likely to last, and the more individual character it will take on.