Owning a denim shop dedicated to old school and raw denim, I’ve often had long discussions with customers about the question of washing jeans. Often customers are told not to wash for the first 6 months, and you also hear about some who put their jeans in the freezer for a couple of days to “clean” them. As a response to all the questions I’ve received, this article was written as a basis for a discussion on the how to maintain and care for your raw denim jeans. The guidelines provided in this article are subjective, yet they are reached through years of experience in the field. Nevertheless, I strongly encourage you to reply with your approaches.
It’s a simple rule of thumb that you should wear your raw denim jeans for 6 months before you wash them the first time. This will give the jeans your “signature” wear marks, and I’ve enjoyed successful results with this approach myself many times. However, there are other ways as well and as you may had read on the site earlier Thomas likes to soak his jeans before wearing. There’s no right or wrong just different approaches. What I really enjoy is to follow the process of how the fabric will change over time.
But is it by definition disgusting not to wash your jeans for a prolonged period of time with constant wear? Not necessarily, it all depends on how you use your jeans. If you wear them dry for 6 months of everyday biking, partying and dragging your jeans throw God-knows-what liquids every weekend it might become a bit disgusting.
The 6-months-rule-of-thumb does not automatically apply to all raw jeans. Instead, even before you start wearing the jeans you have to consider how much wear you’ll put into them, the quality of the fabric, and especially what result you are aiming for. For my part, I usually wear my jeans 2 to 8 month every day for 10 to 16 hours a day before I wash the first time. This is for instance what I did with the Lee 101S jeans in the pictures.
I have had customers in my shop who’ve told me that they have worn their jeans for years without washing them, and every time I’ve instinctively lifted my eyebrows and wondered. Often the rest of the story goes that the jeans have only been worn a couple of days a week, and maybe only for a few hours each day. That way it may take decades to get distinctive wears. Bottom line is; your jeans will not get worn from laying in your closet.
Another recurring discussion I’ve had with customers is the “freezer method.” It remains a mystery to me how below zero temperatures should be able to “kill” bacteria and thereby clean the jeans. Remembering what I learned in school many years ago, not all bacteria are killed by cold, and most of them thrive in moisture. If you’re reading this and have a professional knowledge of bacteria you are most welcome to comment on the matter so we can get the effect of this approach either denied or confirmed.
To postpone the first wash I mainly use the approach of airing the jeans if they have been exposed to odours from cooking or smoking. Also remember that after the first wash the denim will be less dirt repellent and the jeans will therefore have to wash more often. I have experimented a bit for instance with dry cleaning (e.g. with the Levi’s Vintage Clothing 1967 505s below), which has created some excellent results, but then again you cannot generalise.