Refresh Your Denim: How to Clean Jeans With & Without Washing
Blue jeans are an everyday wardrobe staple and an icon of American culture. Who doesn’t own a pair of jeans? These classic denim pants are found in most people’s closets.
In the late 1800s, Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss started producing durable brown riveted trousers (or “waist overalls”) for miners and other working-class laborers. Soon after, they’d create pants in blue denim. Over time, what started as men’s workwear became a mainstream choice for comfortable and casual outfits.
Whether you wear denim jeans for fashion or function, you need to know how to take care of your britches. Your favorite jeans are like an old friend. With proper attention and care, they’ll be in your life for years to come.
Learn more about how to clean your jeans so they’ll be with you for every adventure.
- How often should you wash jeans?
- Should you put jeans in the freezer?
- What's the best way to clean jeans with a washing machine?
- Should you air dry jeans?
- How do you clean jeans without washing?
How Often Should You Wash Your Jeans?
Most people wash their denim too often. Translation: Stop washing your jeans after every wear! If your jeans aren’t visibly dirty or smelly, you can consider them clean.
Denim is a tough natural fiber, but machine washing can damage it. The more you machine wash jeans, the more you expose them to abrasion from rinsing, spinning and tumbling. Washing jeans more often can also cause them to fade. For small stains, it’s better to spot clean versus throwing your pants in the wash.
Typically, you can get eight to ten wears out of your jeans before they need a wash. In fact, Levi’s® recommends washing your jeans as little as possible. Fewer washes are better for your jeans and the environment. (Plus, it reduces your weekly laundry load!) Jeans made of 100% cotton can be worn for longer periods of time between washes.
Myths About How to Clean Jeans
There’s a lot of advice out there about how to clean your jeans. Let’s break down some cleaning myths before you set your favorite pair of jeans beside the frozen chicken.
Don’t: Put Your Jeans in the Freezer
Sticking your jeans in the deep freeze? No, thank you.
Despite what you may have heard, freezing your jeans doesn’t kill all of the bacteria on them. The freezer’s cold temperature may eliminate some odors and germs, but they’ll return after your body heat warms the jeans again.
(Only freeze your britches if you want to cool off on a hot day!)
Do: Wash Less
Washing your jeans less is better for them. Using a washer and dryer damages denim fibers over time, slowly breaking them down. You can get away with washing your jeans about every ten wears or whenever they start to smell.
Worried about oil and dead skin cells? One Canadian college student put not washing denim to the test. Josh Le wore the same pair of jeans every day for 15 months without washing them. He and his professor found little difference in the bacteria levels between the jeans he wore for 15 months straight and the jeans he wore for only 13 days.
When you need to wash your jeans, keep them separate from your other laundry, turn them inside out and wash them in cold water. If you have raw denim jeans (100% untreated cotton), they may be dry clean only. Always check clothing care tags before doing anything to your jeans.
Don’t: Wear Your Jeans in the Bathtub
Washing your jeans by hand doesn’t mean you have to wear them into the bathtub. Taking a bath with your jeans won’t help them maintain their structure. If you are worried about fit, soak your jeans first. Then, when they are only slightly damp, put them on and let them dry on your body.
Do: Use the Dryer When Needed
Some resources suggest never sticking jeans in the dryer. For the most part, we agree. Dryers can shrink, fade and harm your denim clothing. You should always lean toward air drying your jeans—unless your goal is to achieve more than just dry pants.
What if you also want tight pants? Stretched-out jeans can benefit from a short tumble in the dryer. Try ten minutes. The heat helps them return to their original shape. If you find yourself constantly pulling up your jeans, it may be time to throw them in the dryer.
How to Clean Jeans With A Washing Machine
Follow these steps when using a washing machine to clean your jeans. Before you throw your jeans in, make sure they’re ready for a wash. Are they visibly dirty? Do your jeans smell? Have you worn them several times since their last wash?
Your jeans are ready if you answered "yes" to the questions above.
- Read the fabric care label.
- Sort your load. Wash jeans separately from other items. If you have newer, dark-dyed jeans, wash those alone.
- Check your pockets.
- Turn the jeans inside out to reduce friction on their exterior.
- Place the jeans inside the washing machine. Do not overload the machine.
- Add a gentle, low-enzyme detergent.
Set the washing machine to its most delicate cycle.
What Temperature Is Best to Wash Jeans?
You should wash jeans in cold water. The cold temperature helps prevent dye from running or fading. Hot water can shrink denim jeans and leach them of color. Washing new jeans with vinegar helps seal the dye and kill bacteria.
How to Hand Wash Jeans
Sometimes, washing your jeans by hand is the best option. Washing by hand is a gentler method that avoids the abrasion caused by a washing machine. Denim with embroidery, beads or unique detailing should be hand washed.
- Fill your sink or bathtub with cold water. You only need enough to submerge the jeans.
- Add a denim-friendly detergent to the cold water.
- Submerge your jeans for a few minutes, moving them around in the water.
- Let the jeans soak for 30 minutes.
- Drain the sink or tub and fill it up again for a rinse. Work the jeans with your hands in the clean water for another few minutes.
Remove excess water by rolling the jeans up or folding and squeezing them.
The Very First Wash
The most important wash is the first one. After you purchase a pair of jeans, you need to wash them. It may sound counterproductive to wash jeans immediately after purchase instead of wearing them several times first. New jeans pose their own challenges.
Darker denim can transfer dye onto anything. Your cream couch. Your light car interior. Your new white bag or favorite pair of shoes. Washing jeans right away ensures their beautiful deep blue color doesn’t rub off on everything else. Often, dark denim jeans come with disclaimer tags.
New jeans can also smell bad. If you’re wondering why your jeans smell, it could be the scent of the dye or other bacteria-killing chemicals. Strong chemical odors may have you running for the washing machine. However, washing brand new jeans by hand may serve you better.
Hand washing eliminates any worry about dye transfer to other clothing, and it sets a precedent for how you will care for your jeans in the future.
The Infamous Dryer: Should You Air Dry Your Jeans?
You know how to wash your jeans. The next step is drying them.
Should you air dry your jeans? Yes!
Did you know that the broken fibers of your clothes make dryer lint? Your dryer is a harsh place for clothing. A few tumbles can fade and shrink your jeans.
Always hang your jeans to dry. Air drying protects the fabric and prevents shrinkage and fading. If you can’t hang your jeans up to dry, you can purchase a collapsible drying rack to lay them on.
If you line-dry your jeans outside, keep them inside out to protect them from the sun.
When you let air and time do the work, you save energy and lengthen the life of your jeans.
Between Washes: How to Clean Jeans Without Washing
We know what you’re thinking. If you only wash your jeans every ten wears or once a month, what do you do in between? How do you keep your jeans looking—and feeling—fresh?
The secret is to use denim refreshers to neutralize odors and spot cleaning hacks to remove minor stains. These techniques save your jeans from unnecessary wear.
Spot Clean Stains
Try these tips to remove common stains from your jeans.
- Red wine. Oh no! You spilled Merlot on your favorite jeans. Soak the area with very warm water and pour table salt over it. Let the salt sit for five minutes before brushing it off and rinsing the area with cold water. If the stain is fresh, try sprinkling baking soda on the stain and then pour boiling water over it.
- Grass. You came in from working in the yard only to find a large grass stain running down your pant leg. White vinegar to the rescue! Dab the stain with white vinegar and wash the jeans in cold water. Larger, set-in stains may require an overnight soak in vinegar.
- Coffee. Your morning pick-me-up became a morning spill. Don’t let a cup of Joe ruin your jeans. Dab the stain with detergent and wash it in hot water. Avoid using bar soap or powdered soaps on the stain.
- Tomatoes. That spaghetti dinner was great until you dropped acidic red sauce in your lap. White vinegar helps with tomato stains. Remove excess sauce sitting on the fabric and then soak the area in white vinegar. Rinse with cold water.
- Grease. Baking soda can help you remove grease, a tough stain to lift. Scrub the area with baking soda and a toothbrush. Then put dish detergent on the area and scrub it again. Afterward, wash the jeans as you usually would.
- Milk. Of all stains, dried milk stains probably smell the worst. Get rid of the dairy smell and crusty fabric feel by soaking the area in cold water. Soak for about ten minutes. If it's a set-in stain, gently scrape off the crusty layer and rub in a liquid detergent before soaking.
Use A Denim Refresh Spray
After you wear your jeans, it’s always a good idea to hang them up in your closet and let them air out. Denim refresh sprays go one step further. With a fine layer of mist, refreshers remove odors from jeans without washing. Denim refreshers neutralize odor-causing bacteria for a fresh, clean scent.
Our favorite denim refresher is from Railcar Fine Goods. This denim spray helps your denim last longer between washes, increasing the lifespan of your jeans.
Here’s how to use a denim refresher:
- Hang your jeans up.
- Spray them evenly and lightly.
- Let your jeans dry.
- Throw them back on!
It’s easy to spray your jeans right after wearing them. Then, they’ll be ready for you the next day.
Shop our best denim in-store or stop by to grab a can of denim refresher.
Boots, bullets, britches, bologna. That’s all you need.
Extend the life of your best britches with fewer washes, spot cleaning and a denim spray.