Jeans were first created as a durable material for laborers and miners in the American West. The comfort, performance, and durability were as much a hit then as they are now. Only, today we’re slightly more focused on cleanliness and fashion than people were in the 1800s.
So, what is the 21st century standard for cleaning your pants? Because your great, great (great, great, great) grandpa probably never told you, here’s the low-down on how often you should wash your jeans.
Are You Supposed to Wash Your Jeans?
Yes, you should wash your jeans. But not every time you wear them.
A student at the University of Alberta wore his jeans for 15 months straight without a wash, then tested the bacteria levels. He found that the jeans had just as much bacteria on them after 13 days of not washing them as they did after 15 months. A little gross, but in the name of science, as they say.
How Often Are You Supposed to Wash Jeans?
A good rule of thumb is to wash your jeans after every 3-10 wears, or when they start to smell. If you’re regularly active in your jeans (think: manual work, anything where you work up a sweat), wash them every 3 wears, but if you’re working at a desk, you can probably go through multiple wears without washing.
"The frequency of washing jeans is a contentious topic, with varying opinions. However, most experts agree that excessive washing is harmful to the denim's integrity. Stretch denim, in particular, tends to suffer from over-washing. The stretch fibers, while resistant to some extent, can lose their elasticity over time due to over-exposure to harsh detergents and hot water. I recommend washing jeans, including stretch denim, after about ten wears, or when they become visibly dirty or carry a strong odor. Remember to wash your jeans in cold water, inside-out, and allow them to air dry to preserve their fit and color. Your jeans are an investment, care for them wisely to ensure they last." - DUER EXPERT
According to Mashable, 27% of people wear their jeans about three times before washing them, 21% wear them 5+ times, and 8% of people wash their jeans every time they wear them. But some denim gurus say you should never wash your jeans.
Washing your jeans after every wear and never, ever throwing them in the wash are both pretty extreme. Landing somewhere in the middle of the spectrum has benefits for your hygiene, your jeans’ durability, and the planet. Not to mention, the fewer times you wash your jeans the longer they’ll last.
Factors that Affect How Often to Wash Jeans
Ultimately, how long you can go without washing your jeans depends on how much you sweat, how many times you wear them, what you do in them, where you live, and of course, how bad the odor gets.
Here are some of the most significant factors that affect the frequency of your denim washes:
- Type of Denim: Different types of jeans require different care. Raw denim or selvedge denim, for instance, is typically washed less frequently (or not at all for a certain period) to maintain its color and texture. Pre-washed or treated jeans, on the other hand, can usually withstand more frequent washing.
- Wear Frequency: How often and how long you wear your jeans can affect how often they need to be washed. If you wear the same pair every day, you may need to wash them more frequently than if you wear them only once a week.
- Activity Level: The level of physical activity you engage in while wearing your jeans can also impact how often they should be washed. If you're doing heavy labor or sweating a lot, your jeans may need more frequent washing.
- Personal Hygiene: Personal hygiene habits and standards can affect the frequency of washing jeans. Some people prefer to wash their clothes after every wear for personal comfort and hygiene, while others are comfortable wearing them multiple times between washes.
- Stains and Spills: If you spill something on your jeans or they become stained, you'll likely need to wash them sooner than you normally would.
- Odor: If your jeans start to develop an unpleasant odor, it's probably time to wash them, even if they don't visibly appear dirty.
Effects of Over-Washing Denim
Over-washing denim can have several unwanted effects on the fabric, appearance, and lifespan of your jeans.
Here are the primary effects of over-washing:
- Color Fade: Denim, especially dark or raw denim, can lose its color with repeated washing. Over-washing can cause the dye to fade and the jeans to lose their original appearance.
- Material Wear and Tear: The agitation and heat from frequent washing and drying can break down the fibers of the denim, causing the material to become thin, weak, and more prone to rips and tears.
- Shape Loss: Denim is designed to conform to the wearer's body over time. Regular washing can cause the denim to lose this shape, leading to a poorer fit. Particularly, jeans may stretch out or shrink in undesirable ways.
- Distressed Look: Over-washed jeans may develop a distressed or worn-out look, with the fabric becoming frayed or developing holes. While this might be desirable for some fashion styles, it's not ideal if you prefer your jeans to look new and clean.
- Reduced Lifespan: Overall, over-washing denim can significantly reduce the lifespan of your jeans. The combined effects of color fading, material wear, and shape loss mean you'll likely need to replace your jeans sooner than if you'd washed them less frequently.
Remember that some of these effects might be desirable, depending on personal preference. However, for those looking to preserve the original look and prolong the life of their jeans, minimizing washing frequency and using gentle washing methods are recommended.
The Right Way to Wash Your Jeans
No matter how long you go without washing them, you’ll eventually have to wash your jeans. And the best way to get your denim clean while extending its life and conserving water? A good old fashioned hand wash.
How to Hand Wash Your Jeans
Step 1: Fill your sink with cold water.
Step 2: Add ½ tsp of mild detergent.
Step 3: Use a spot treatment on any stains.
Step 4: Zip all zippers, button all buttons, and tie all ties. Dot all i’s and cross all t’s.
Step 5: Submerge your jeans in the cold detergent water.
Step 6: Let them soak for 10-20 minutes.
Step 7: Rub the stained and heavily soiled areas with a soft-bristled brush.
Step 8: Rinse thoroughly with cold water.
Step 9: Turn your jeans inside out.
Step 10: Hang your jeans up to airdry.
How long does to average pair of jeans last? When you wash them correctly, they can last 5-10 years or more. This hand washing method is best, but if you’re strapped for time, there are other easy options.
How To Machine Wash Your Jeans
If you need an easier and faster way to clean your jeans, you can rely on your washing machine to get the job done. Make sure you follow these tips to avoid damaging your jeans or your other clothes.
- Wash jeans inside out to avoid fading and fiber damage.
- Use the gentle or delicate cycle.
- Use a mild detergent and no bleach.
- Never use hot water, as it can ravage denim fibers. The first time you wash jeans in the washing machine, they may bleed some color. Make sure to wash them alone so they don’t damage other garments.
- After washing jeans once, you can then wash them with other dark clothing.
- Hang your jeans up to air dry so they don't shrink.
Tips for a Careful Wash
When it comes time to wash your jeans, you have options to preserve the longevity of your pair and prevent fading. Here are some practical tips that will guide you on how to treat your favorite jeans right:
- Turn Them Inside Out: This helps prevent the color from fading and protects the outer surface from getting damaged by friction in the washer.
- Use Cold Water: Cold water is gentle on the color and fibers of your denim. It also helps in saving energy and reducing the environmental impact.
- Go Gentle: Use a gentle or delicate cycle on your washing machine to avoid harsh agitation which can damage denim fibers.
- Use a Mild Detergent: Harsh detergents can break down the fibers of your jeans and cause them to fade. Opt for a gentle or specially formulated denim detergent.
- Avoid Bleach: Bleach can significantly alter the color of your jeans and weaken the denim fabric.
- Don’t Overload the Washer: Overcrowding can cause the jeans to wrinkle and not clean properly. Give your jeans plenty of space to move around in the washer.
- Air Dry Them: Instead of putting your jeans in the dryer, air dry them. The high heat in the dryer can cause denim to shrink and warp. Hang them up by the back belt loop to allow them to dry naturally.
Proper Jeans Care and Maintenance
Damaged denim fibres
If you want to extend the amount of time and wears between washing your jeans (and conserve water) here are some handy techniques. Try these tricks out:
- Hang them inside-out, in the sun - The UV radiation will help kill bacteria and the fresh air will help with odor. Just make sure you turn them inside out so the sun doesn’t discolour them.
- Put them in the freezer - This age-old trick isn’t as effective as some may think. Scientists say that your freezer isn’t cold enough to kill all odor-causing bacteria but we figure freezing jeans won’t hurt ‘em.
- Steam them - You can hang them nearby while you’re in the shower or invest in a fabric steamer. The steam will freshen them up and help kill off germs.
- Spot wash them - You don’t need to laundry the whole thing to get out stains. Hand wash spots with a wet cloth and mild detergent for a quick and sustainable alternative.
- Soak them in cold water and vinegar - This technique locks in the dye, keeping your jeans dark and your furniture clean. The mild acid neutralizes bacteria and eliminates smells.
- Air dry 100% cotton jeans - Heat and tumbling are the worst possible combo for cotton-based fabric and can decrease your denim’s durability. However, jeans that are made with a combination of fibers that include elastin should tumble dry on low heat.
Hang your jeans inside out in the sun
Recap: How to Make Your Jeans Last Longer
If the first denim wearers were still around, they’d tell you that minimizing how many times you wash your jeans keeps them stronger for longer. While they didn’t have the luxury of regular laundry, today’s standards say that after 3-10 wears, it’s time to give your jeans a clean. Make sure to use cold water, turn your jeans inside out, and don't overdo it with the detergent. Then, hang your jeans to dry and you’ll be ready for old-west-style adventures in them--or just looking good in the office--for years to come.
Now your jeans are ready for any adventure
Want a pair of jeans that will last for ages and stay lookin’ sharp (even if it’s been a while since you’ve washed them)? Our fabric is designed to stop odors, which means you can skip a few washes (even 10) and still smell clean as a fresh breeze. Check out our collection of Men’s Jeans and Women’s Jeans now.