Don’t wash your raw denim jeans for at least 6 months!”
You’ve probably heard this piece of advice. But this flawed rule of thumb for raw denim care only focuses on the upside; the great fades you get.
The downside of wearing raw denim for months without washing it is that you wear through the denim—especially in the crotch area and at the honeycombs and whisker—much quicker than what you might expect.
Why we’re told NOT to wash our jeans
According to the 2013 Levi’s life cycle assessment, the water used by consumers to wash their jeans amounts to 23% of the total water consumption in the lifetime of a pair of jeans. Washing your jeans less is obviously a perfect way to save resources.
But that’s actually not the (main) reason we’re told to wash our raw denim jeans less.
The main objective of washing raw denim as little as possible is to get high-contrast fades by preserving the colour of the fabric in some places while wearing it off in others.
The problem with NOT washing your jeans
Raw denim jeans are the kind that haven’t been washed when you buy them. Since they don’t already have that soft touch and the lived-in look, you have to create it yourself by ‘breaking in’ the jeans.
As you break in raw denim jeans, they mold to your body and the denim starts fading in the areas that’re abraded. The faded creases the thighs are called whiskers, and those on the back of the knees are called honeycombs.
When you wash raw denim, most of the creases are straightened out, and the colour from the areas that are not abraded bleeds a little onto the rest of the fabric. That’s one of the main reasons to hold off with washing raw denim.
But here’s the problem: When you wear raw denim for a long time without washing, and the creases that form become sharp. And it’s not only the colour you’re wearing off, you’re effectively wearing down the denim.
Infrequent washing of raw denim (that you wear a lot) makes the fabric brittle and overly prone to tear in places where it’s faded.