How to Clean Your Jeans Without Washing Them

Eco-Friendly Tips to Freshen Jeans Without Laundering Them

Woman outdoors in jeans smiling
Get jeans looking and feeling fresh without spending the day in the laundry room. Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Jeans were originally designed as rough and tumble work clothing for cowboys and coal miners. Flash forward to today, and jeans can be among the most fashionable — and expensive — items in a woman's wardrobe. Treating jeans with loving care is essential to keeping them looking good and lasting as long as possible.

Whenever jeans go through the washing machine or dryer, they are necessarily exposed to agitation and temperatures that can alter their color and degrade the denim fabric. While there are times your jeans will need a complete and thorough cleansing, at other times it may be enough simply to freshen their scent so they feel clean to wear. (Aside from saving your jeans unneeded wear and tear, washing them less frequently also saves you a trip to the laundry room. Plus, it conserves water, a big plus if you're someone who's concerned about your environmental footprint).

When you want to keep your jeans looking, feeling and smelling fresh between trips through the washer and dryer, we've got your go-to tips to doing just that.

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Steam Clean Your Jeans

Woman in a towel from shower
Clean and freshen your jeans without washing them. Quiet Noise Creative/Getty Images

Washing jeans in a hot laundry machine is an effective way to kill bacteria associated with dirt. However, hot water can also cause denim fabric to expand and contract, which makes denim shrinking a real concern.

Many times your jeans aren't actually dirty -- they're just in need of some perking up. So when your favorite skinny jeans that fit you like a glove need refreshing, try giving them a steam treatment using your shower. This is a great solution when your so-called dirty jeans don't have any visible stains and you're just looking to refresh their look and feel.

How To: Simply hang jeans from a pants hanger and let them absorb some steam, while you enjoy a long, hot shower. The small amount of water vapor won't be enough to stretch out the jeans fabric and they should dry with a fresher smell.

Tip: You don't have to get too fussy about how you hang your jeans, when using this method. You can either hang them by the waistband, or dry them upside-down by hanging them from the hems using a hanger with clips designed for hanging up skirts — it's your choice. 

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Give Jeans a Vinegar Bath

Woman filling bathtub

Getty Images/

Ariel Skelley



Denim aficionados know about this all-natural secret weapon for helping dark wash jeans to look newer, longer. Plain white household vinegar contains a mild acid called acetic acid, that works to neutralize bacteria. (This is why vinegar is commonly used as an environmentally-friendly household cleanser). It also helps to lock in dye and prevent fabric bleeding on dark indigo jeans (which can instantly make a new pair of jeans look old), especially when you treat jeans with vinegar when they are brand-new.

How To: To clean your dark wash jeans and protect them from fabric dye transfer onto other clothing or your furniture, you can give jeans a vinegar bath. To do this, lay jeans flat in the bathtub and fill to cover with cool to cold water. Add one cup of regular white vinegar to the water and swish it around to distribute it evenly.

Leave jeans to soak for about an hour, then wring out the excess liquid (no need to rinse) and hang jeans by the waistband to dry. Don't worry about your jeans smelling like a bag of vinegar chips — the odor will magically disappear from your jeans once the denim fabric is dry.

Tip: Vinegar can be used on jeans in the washing machine too, for those times you choose to launder denim conventionally. We tell you how -- and share more all-natural, budget-friendly and effective laundry tips -- in our ultimate guide to how to clean jeans.

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Line Dry Your Jeans

Hang jeans by the waistband to air dry them. George Remington/Getty Images

If your goal is to keep your jeans looking pristine, it's best to avoid putting them into the clothes dryer that often, if at all. High dryer temperatures typically will cause jeans to shrink and fade, not to mention the wear and tear that can occur when your jeans are tumbled around roughly in the barrel of a laundry drying machine. Hanging jeans by the waistband, so they can air-dry naturally, is a key step in laundering jeans with care, whether you use a traditional washing machine or go with laundering them by hand.

How To: If the weather is nice, you can easily freshen your jeans by spritzing them with a mixture of white vinegar and cold water (use a clean, plastic spray bottle for the solution) and then hanging them outdoors to dry. There's nothing like that fresh, outdoor feeling you get from line-dried laundry. Because air circulates better outdoors than in a cramped bathroom or laundry room, your jeans will probably dry faster in the outdoor environment, too, which is key for preventing mildew and the associated, unpleasant odor which can linger on clothes that are left damp for too long.

If you use this handy vinegar method, don't worry -- the scent will evaporate and be gone by the time your jeans fabric is dry.

Tip: When line-drying dark wash jeans outside, do be careful not to hang them in direct sunlight, which has been known to cause fading to some dark denim fabrics.