You are currently viewing How To: Properly Wash Jeans

So you’ve had that pair of Diesels or Von Dutchs for a few weeks. Now you’re wondering “should I wash ’em…and risk an utter fashion faux pas…or keep on wearing ’em until the soot starts falling off in large clumps?” Charming? Not so much. The answer? Well, what kind of denim you sporting? Basically, there are four types:

  1. Pre-washed (a.k.a ‘pre-distressed’)
  2. Sanforized (treated to minimize shrinking during washing)
  3. Un-sanforized (essentially meaning “soak ’em in warm-to-hot water to shrink them”)
  4. Dry/raw (sometimes labeled ‘single-wash’).

Now to the dirty work—and yes, pun totally intended.


This type of dungaree has already been worn in (hopefully not by another person!) and pre-washed by the maker. Contrary to denim of yesteryear, washing (in warm water) most brands of pre-distressed jeans, jean jackets, etc. these days will not cause the fibers to shrink or fade for some time. Just avoid washing this type of denim more than once or twice a month to ensure maximum longevity.


Sanforized denim is treated in production to minimize shrinkage. Not a whole lot to worry about here; follow the same rules as mentioned with the pre-washed/pre-distressed variety and your denim should be good to go.


Un-Sanforized, sometimes dubbed ‘shrink-to-fit’, are purposely manufactured to be longer than what the tag says—e.g. an un-Sanforized pair of 26 inch-length will likely measure up to 30 inches. Fill the tub or kitchen sink with warm-to-hot water (naturally, the hotter it is, the more shrinking that will occur—so choose your water temp wisely). Put the denim in, add the as-instructed-on-the-bottle amount of Woolite Extra Care and after gentle agitation and rinsing, hang’em inside-out to dry.


Exercise extra care with this type of denim. Experts recommend a minimum of six months before you attempt washing. And since raw denim isn’t pre-washed by the manufacturer and the dark indigo dye isn’t properly set, you’ll want to limit the number of soakings to no more than three times annually, thereafter. When washing, only use cold water and stick to either Woolite Dark Care or Dr. Bronner’s. Additionally, some people have had success adding about a cup of salt OR 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the bath: Implement this at your own discretion, though.

Helpful Advice

  • Regardless of the type of denim, never wash it in regular detergent, nor use bleach.
  • If you want to speed-up the process of fading and/or whiskering (‘whiskers’ being the horizontal lines and creases on the hem, knee-backs, and crotch area that come as a byproduct of natural wear-and-tear), hold off washing denim for at least six months.
  • As a rule of thumb, wash denim very sparingly: The more washes it endures, the shorter the life.
  • To prolong the time your jeans or jean jacket maintain their darkness, turn them inside-out when washing and keep them this way while they’re hung to dry.
  • Never, ever put a good pair (say, over $150) of jeans (or denim in general) in the washing machine. Soak them in the lavatory or kitchen sink, agitating them gently, and hang ’em out to air-dry. Putting them in the dryer only shrinks them (and not in a good way) and destroys the fibers.
  • In-between washes, to freshen-up denim and remove any possible stenches, lightly spray it with Febreeze. Immediately afterwards, hang vertically to dry.
  • You may also fold your jeans and place them inside a large zip-lock bag. Then put them in the freezer for a week. This kills bacteria and odors.


Michael BockMore from this Author

Reserved, introverted, studious, sometimes-cynical-ass, sometimes-friendly-as-hell hopeless romantic from Memphis, TN in the good ole’ Bible Belt.

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