This is a needlessly and endlessly debated topic and in the end will come down to your personal preference. We’re only trying to steer you in the right direction. Take everything you hear with a grain of salt because everyone seems to have their own way of doing things. Experiment and see what works for you. There is NO right or wrong way to wash your jeans!
The first thing you should remember is, jeans are just pants! No need to get all technical about it – that is what they are and that is how they should be treated. I will be completely blunt in saying that your pants cover quite probably the smelliest areas of your body. No matter how clean or dirty you are down there, sooner or later without washing your jeans there will be a build up of bacteria in your denim. I’m sure there there are some with odd fetishes out there, but for the majority of us – not many people are going to appreciate a smelly pair of jeans regardless of how well they have faded!
It is fine to hold off the first wash for as long as possible. Put this in context, and don’t hold off that first wash if you know your jeans are dirty. Remember that cotton is organic and bacteria will eat away and weaken the cotton making it more prone to rips and tears.
There is now this ridiculous image which is now associated with raw denim including everything from not washing jeans to putting objects in jeans just so they will fade in. People even go so far as to using sandpaper and other ways to forcefully fade their denim. This is really not what raw denim is about – it is about creating a personalised pair of denim! What that means is; if you actually use those knuckle dusters in your back pocket on a regular basis, then great – you actually have a reason to put them there. Although you will probably be labelled a tool if you have knuckle duster fades, regardless of how often you use them. It is just tacky so don’t do it!
Wash and Care of Raw Denim
We tend to use soap regardless of whether we soak or wash. This will lead to slightly greater indigo loss but we like to keep our jeans smelling clean. We recommend using organic soaps as they are vegetable based and don’t contain active chemicals that will lead to unwanted indigo loss. We just use the Dr Bronner’s that we give away with our orders, but there will not be a noticeable difference between organic brands.
Soaks are quite useful for a number of reasons. They do not agitate the denim as much as a wash and will minimise indigo loss and keep your jeans smelling clean. However, this is not suitable if your jeans are soiled – they obviously won’t clean as well as a wash but are great if like us, you are sitting in a chair for most of the day.
We base the frequency of our soaks on the weather and what we get up to in our jeans. Usually in summer if we are sweating considerably in our jeans and don’t want them to get stinky – we’ll give them a soak in detergent every two weeks and in the colder climate I can go up to a month without them smelling.
We recommend 2 tablespoons (about 20mls) of Dr. Bronner’s, but use whatever suits you. Flip your jeans inside out and soak in cold water overnight.
This is pretty self explanatory – we tend not to do this one because for the most part, we’re pretty lazy, but if you are especially bothered you can hand wash your jeans the same as you would do with any other piece of clothing. This is gentler on your jeans and would be how they used to do it back in the day.
A machine wash will obviously provide a more thorough clean than a soak, but will also remove more indigo. Fading comes with wear and wash – so it is a good thing to wash your jeans.
Put your jeans in a machine wash once a month. Do a soak for about 30 minutes then place them flipped inside out into the machine with 2 tablespoons of Bronner’s and use a regular wash cycle. You will want to wash your jeans by themselves as the indigo will bleed onto other garments if not careful.
The difference between a hot and cold wash is that a hot wash will cause the denim to shrink more, and lose more indigo, whilst a cold wash will retain more indigo. We tend to use cold water as we prefer wash our jeans a fair bit more frequently than purists.
I like to put my jeans in a machine wash once a month. I do a soak for 30 minutes usually before putting my jeans flipped inside out into the machine with 2 tablespoons of Bronner’s and use my regular wash cycle. You will want to wash your jeans by themselves as the indigo will bleed!
The difference between a hot and cold wash is that a hot wash will cause the denim to shrink more, and lose more indigo, whilst a cold wash will retain more indigo. I tend to use cold water as I wash my jeans quite frequently compared to others.
Never done this one ourselves but by the sounds of things people like to wear their denim into the ocean, come back out and cover themselves with sand and then rinse it off again. This is done because the salt in sea water is said to help retain indigo in the jeans, whilst the abrasive sand gives the faded areas more contrast.
You will end up smelling like a fish in the sea, so if you were to follow this method we would suggest doing at least a soak once you get home. Maybe even go so far as to wash it, as despite what others have said about jeans looking and smelling clean afterwards, this probably isn’t really the case as the shallower waters are usually the most polluted.
Try stay away from this one as well. Those who use this method usually use it to remove spot stains – there is no real need to do this. The dry cleaners use strong chemical solvents to remove stains and clean fabrics which will affect the fading. Soaking and machine washing at home is the better option.