We get it. You like hygiene. You like it when your clothes smell and feel fresh. As a self-proclaimed germaphobe, I can speak to this better than anyone. Our jeans tend to get extra spin cycles in the washing machine because they’re our go-to pants. They’re comfortable, they’re stylish, and they’re versatile. We wear them a lot, so we wash them a lot.
But you’re doing your jeans more harm than good.
Experts at The Clothes Doctor have taught the Internet that denim jeans should be washed once a month. But jeans are so versatile that there are experts everywhere – whether they’re laundry-busy housewives to NYC-based designers – and they all say wait six weeks to a month before washing. If they’re raw denim, wash them even less.
Jeans were originally made for laborers by Levi Straus in 1873 for people who needed pants that could take a beating and last long after. It all started with the California Gold Rush of 1849, when miners digging for gold in the rivers and mountains of the West needed tough, durable clothes. Known as “dungarees” or “waist overalls,” the blue jeans consisted of metal rivets in trousers made of denim. Throughout the first half of the next century, the dungarees were the go-to workwear for laborers like factory workers, farmers, and cowboys. It wasn’t until Hollywood dressed on-screen cowboys in Levi’s that the garment became mainstream.
James Dean's iconic look in 1955's 'Rebel Without a Cause' caused a huge demand for denim & sky rocketed sales among teens & young adults pic.twitter.com/9KzbNQbLj7
— Hart N Dagger (@HartNDagger) November 6, 2016
By the 1930s, jeans were no longer the dungarees for rustic cowboys but rather “Western chic” (thank you, Vogue), and by WWII, they were a staple for women factory workers. In the coming decades, they represented rebellion and sex appeal when worn by youth celebrities James Dean, Brigitte Bardot, and Marlon Brando. Worn by anti-war protestors, women activists, and civil rights marchers, jeans were synonymous with counterculture by the 1960s.
View this post on Instagram
This ultimate style of self-expression is the popular garment of choice to this day. But when you wash them too much after your many wears, you diminish that self-expression little by little. So what do you do if they stink and they absolutely need to be cleaned? I’ll let you in on a secret. You don’t have to wash your jeans to get rid of days-old body stank. Just fold them up, seal them in a Ziploc, and toss them in the freezer overnight. Freezing your jeans, and not dilapidating the quality of the fabric with frequent washes, will get rid of the smell (although it doesn’t really kill germs and bacteria).
But what about dead skin cells, oils, and stains? Yes, you might feel a little gross sharing your jeans with something other than your butt, but there are no health hazards associated with some grease.
So a month has passed, and it’s time to give your jeans a good old-fashioned wash. Whether you’re washing them in the machine or by hand, always use cold or cool water (86 degrees F, 30 degrees C machine-wash). If you’re going by hand, let them soak in that cool bath for 30 minutes with gentle, bleach-free detergent. Are they in the machine? Before closing the lid, be sure to read the label inside the jeans as the dye can bleed into other clothes when contacted with soap and water.
And let them air-dry; baking them in the dryer only destroys the fabric, causes shrinkages, and shortens its lifespan. It’s important to remember the microfibers that maintain the quality of your jeans. Don’t douse them in detergent; just a drop, a gentle spin, and underloading the machine goes a long way.
View this post on Instagram
Okay, so you’re washing your jeans less, you’re using cool water, and you’re freezing them before you whip out the detergent. What are the benefits? Well, research has shown that by reducing the number of times you wash your jeans, you not only help your wallet but you help the Earth. When you wash jeans less, you reduce water, carbon, and overall waste footprints by 20-30% each.
Also, what makes jeans your jeans? It’s your style footprint, the imprint you leave on them that shows the world that you wear them. Whether this is self-made wear and tears, scratches, or fabric patches, jeans are the ultimate expression of style. And there is no greater roadblock to obtaining this state of jean nirvana than too many washes.
So love your jeans a little more by giving them the freedom to get down and dirty. The fabric, and the uniqueness of your outfit, will thank you.
Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!