How to Wash Jeans
Learn how to wash denim to protect its color and fibers.
Denim is extremely durable and its fibers can last a long time. You may even have jeans that are more than a decade old hanging in your closet! It goes to show that a little bit of love goes a long way and your jeans can — and should — last a long time. But when it's time to wash your jeans, do your best to preserve the fibers and the dye so that the garment lasts as long as intended.
Many people are quick to include their jeans with their routine load of laundry, unaware that they're damaging the fibers slowly over time.
To demystify some common chatter around washing jeans:
- No, you don't have to wash jeans after every wear! Aim to wear your denim 10-12 times between washes.
- Yes, airing out your jeans helps extend the time between washes. Avoid folding them back up tight in your closet and give them space to breathe. You can also run them through a no-heat cycle in the dryer to get air circulating around the fibers.
- Yes, you can put your jeans in the dryer. But be aware that the heat from the machine can cause the dyes to fade, tighten the cotton fibers of the denim and damage any elastic fibers with time.
- Yes, jeans should be washed inside out. This helps preserve the dyes.
How to Hand-Wash Jeans
You can prolong the life of your jeans and preserve the dyes by hand-washing denim. Jeans with tears and other intentional, manufactured distressed areas should also be hand-washed to avoid agitating and further distressing those already weakened fibers.
It may seem like a tedious chore, but hand-washing your jeans is very easy. Just use your kitchen sink!
- Plug the sink and fill it with cold water and a few tablespoons of detergent. Small sink? Use 1 tablespoon. Large sink? Or, are you using your bathtub instead? Add 2-4 tablespoons of detergent instead.
- Agitate the water to distribute the detergent. Make it nice and bubbly.
- Spot-treat any areas that are dirty with a dab of concentrated detergent. Massage it into the fibers with your fingers. Using a bristle brush can cause the dyes in that area to lighten.
- Turn your jeans inside out and submerge them in the water. Only wash one pair at a time so you can thoroughly soak and rinse the denim.
- Gently agitate the jeans in the water. Massage and squeeze the fibers to ensure the detergent soaks into the fibers.
- Soak the jeans. Leave the jeans alone, submerged, for 10-20 minutes.
- Drain the sink. Squeeze excess water from the denim but avoid twisting and wringing the material.
- Fill the sink with clean, cold water. Fill the fresh water high enough to cover the denim. Allow the jeans to soak in the clean water for 10 minutes.
- Drain the sink again and run the jeans under fresh cold water. Now, you'll finish rinsing the detergent out. You can roll the jeans to help expel suds but avoid twisting and wringing the fabric.
- Finish rinsing. By now, you will have removed most of the detergent from the denim but keep rinsing the denim by running the sink water through the fibers until no more detergent or bubbles are in the sink.
- Hang-dry your jeans. We don't hate the dryer, but if you're trying to go gentle on your denim by hand-washing it, you may as well also let your jeans air-dry on a clothesline. The dryer can fade the dye, too!
How to Wash Jeans in a Washing Machine
Is it your first time washing the denim? Before putting them into the washing machine, you can help preserve the new dyes by soaking the jeans in a cold-water bath treated with a cup of white vinegar. Then, send them through the wash by themselves following these next steps.
- Turn the jeans inside out. This reduces fading caused by agitation in the washing machine.
- Launder in cold water on a delicate setting. Wash the denim all by itself; since its dye can bleed, it's best to exclude other garments. To protect black jeans and dark dyes in the denim further, choose a delicate detergent formulated for colors and dark fabrics.
- Dry the jeans. Move the jeans to the clothes dryer or straight to a clothesline for air-drying. Using the dryer is okay, but it does put stress on the fibers (especially if your denim contains Lycra). If you are going to use the dryer, consider only half-drying them by machine. Allowing them to air-dry the rest of the way is a safe tradeoff.
How to Remove Tough Stains From Denim
- Treat ink stains by soaking the stain in rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer. Blot at the stain using a light cotton cloth to lift and absorb the ink.
- Eliminate oil stains using detergent. Concentrated detergent alone is enough to help treat an oily stain on your denim. Apply a dot of detergent to the affected area to pretreat the stain before laundering.
- Remove water-based or latex paint stains from jeans with dish soap and water. Start by soaking the stain in water under the sink. Then, use a sponge and dish detergent to loosen the stain. Avoid using aggressive scrubbers, as it can fade the color of the denim.
How Often Should You Wash Jeans?
If you can go a dozen wears between washes, that's a great goal.
Washing your jeans too often can rinse out the dyes and make fibers brittle. You should, of course, take personal circumstances into account. If you wear your jeans while doing yard work or other heavy-duty tasks, you may find yourself washing more often. The jeans you wear to your desk job? You can probably get away with laundering them less frequently.
Why Do Jeans Get Tighter After Washing?
Washing jeans in hot water and cycling them through a hot dryer can contract fibers and elastics, making them feel extra snug. Cold washes and a low-heat tumble dry are the best ways to launder jeans without shrinking them.
If the jeans were shrunk by accident, you may still be able to reverse the damage. Launder them again in cold water or hand-wash in cold water in the sink. Once the fibers are wet, you'll be able to stretch at them gently to manually fix areas that were previously too tight.
If you're trying to learn how to shrink jeans to achieve a better fit, spot-shrink for best results. Dampen the area you want to address, whether it's the waist, the hips or the length. Then, lay the garment flat and apply a hot iron to the wet fabric. The heat will shrink the fibers as it dries.