The Ultimate Guide to How to Wash Your Jeans

How to Keep Them Looking Their Best

Jeans can be a pricey investment and finding the perfect pair of jeans can feel like an achievement. After all the struggle it takes to find a great pair, it's important to keep them looking and fitting great for a long time. Knowing how to care for them properly is key to getting years of wear out of them. Most jeans are made of pre-washed denim, and that makes them easier to care for, more likely to retain its original shape, and less likely to shrink. On the other hand, it's a good bet that raw denim will shrink when you wash it, and it takes many washings for it to get broken in and comfy. But when it does, it will fit like a glove.

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Wash Jeans Less Frequently

Young man at washing machine
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Do you have to wash your jeans? Yes, but maybe not as often as you think. Washing machines are effective at cleaning your garments, but with all of that agitation, they also can be rough environments for clothing. So the more you can reduce the wear and tear from washing on your favorite jeans, the better.

As a basic rule of thumb, if jeans aren't visibly dirty, they can be re-worn without a trip through the laundry cycle. One way to do this, if you have several pairs of jeans in your wardrobe, is to rotate the jeans you wear on a regular basis, so each pair stays relatively clean for longer.

Buying jeans that are higher quality denim brands can help, too, because premium jeans tend to retain their shape through multiple wears and resist bagging better, reducing the need to wash jeans and put stress on the fabric just to get them to fit your body snugly again.

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Spot-Clean Isolated Stains on Denim

Dirty jeans with paint
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If jeans are otherwise fairly clean, it's a good practice to spot-treat isolated stains on denim instead of throwing your jeans into the wash. This will keep your jeans looking new for longer.

To spot-clean your jeans, simply apply a laundry stain-removing product directly to isolated soiled areas on jeans, wait a few minutes, and then use a clean, damp cloth to saturate the area and scrub away the stain with water.

Here's how to remove specific types of stains from your jeans and other denim pieces of clothing.

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Read Garment Tags

Dolce & Gabbana embellished jeans
Dolce & Gabbana

Some jeans might require special or different care. For instance, denim with certain types of embellishments could require dry cleaning. Before you wash a new pair of jeans for the first time, always check the manufacturer's tag for any special laundry instructions and follow these over any other instructions for washing jeans.

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Try Hand-Washing Jeans

ivory Snow
ivory snow

Many people typically don't have the time (or patience) to hand-wash jeans. But if you'd like to give hand-washing your jeans a try, doing so can definitely help your favorite pair of denim last longer.

To wash jeans by hand, fill a bathtub with six inches or so of warm water and mix in a cap full of gentle laundry detergent; a good choice is one designed for baby laundry care. Submerge your jeans in the tub, stretched out flat, and leave them to soak for 20 minutes. Rinse well with warm water, squeeze out as much excess water as you can, and then hang to dry.

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Sort Your Jeans for the Wash

Sorting laundry
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For most folks, the washing machine is the go-to method of laundering dirty jeans. Here are some tips for making your jeans' trip through the washer even more effective.

Make it a practice to wash jeans only with other pairs of jeans instead of combining them with the rest of the family laundry. Keeping your jeans load separate can help to prevent unnecessary friction on the denim fabric, which can lead to thinning and tears.

Don't overload the machine, either—four pairs should be the maximum number of jeans in one load.

You’ll also need to sort your jeans into separate laundry loads before washing, based on the color intensity, just as you'd sort darks and whites in the rest of your laundry, to avoid fabric dye transfer. For instance, never wash pastel-colored jeans in the same laundry load with black jeans or dark wash jeans. Each needs to go in a separate washing machine cycle, either solo or with other similarly colored jeans.

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Turn Jeans Inside-Out

Woman laundering jeans
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Here's a handy trick that can make a real difference in the results you get from washing jeans over the long-term. Always turn jeans inside-out before tossing them in the washing machine. This helps reduce fabric bleeding and cuts down on friction to the "face" (aka the outside) of the jeans fabric.

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Use the Correct Washing Machine Settings

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You can help protect the fabric of your favorite jeans by choosing the delicate setting of your washer. This uses a lower speed of agitation and a shorter washing cycle than normal or other settings, so your jeans are less at risk of stretching or tearing. To prevent shrinking, always use the cold water setting—never hot—to wash your jeans.

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Freezing Raw Denim

Freezing is, of course, not actually washing your jeans. It is advocated by some as an alternative cleaning process for raw denim to keep it from shrinking in water but still kill bacteria. To freeze your jeans, put them in a large ziplock bag and pop them into the freezer. Leave them overnight at a minimum. You'll need to let them warm up a bit before putting them on unless you live in the tropics and would welcome the chill. If the jeans are stained, you'll have to spot-treat them if you don't want to put them in the washing machine.

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Add Salt and Vinegar to the Wash

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This nifty trick can help prevent your jeans from bleeding and keep the fabric color "true" for longer, and it costs just pennies. When you launder your jeans, add one cup of white household vinegar and a quarter cup of salt to the cold washing water. These natural ingredients help set the dye within the jeans fabric, providing some protection against bleeding.

Because bleeding typically occurs most the first time you wash new jeans, especially if they have a dark wash, give this trick a try on their first trip through the washer. You can repeat it as many times as you like afterward, too, to maintain the denim color. (If you are hand-washing, simply add salt and vinegar to your cold water bath for jeans). Don't worry about your jeans smelling like salt and vinegar potato chips—the scent will disappear when the fabric is dry.

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Can I Put My Jeans in the Dryer?

woman hanging jeans
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The worst enemy of jeans is a clothes dryer—so it's generally advised that you don't use a dryer to dry your jeans if you want to avoid fading, shrinking, and unwanted distressing.

So how should you dry jeans? Hanging jeans to drip-dry is easiest on the fabric. Plus, this method also reduces wrinkles and helps your jeans maintain their proper fit.

Simply hang damp jeans by the legs on a sturdy pants hanger and place them on a shower rod or rack to air dry. Or use a clothing line and pegs to hang jeans by the legs, as weather and space permits. You can also hang jeans by the belt hooks on two separate hangers if that works better for you.

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When (and How) to Use the Dryer

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If your jeans have a ​large amount of stretch and you actually want to shrink them a bit to restore their original snug fit (or you're in a hurry to wear those jeans that you washed), using the dryer is the answer. Set the machine on its lowest heat setting for half a cycle and be sure to keep jeans turned inside-out. When you take them out, they should be damp. Hang the jeans to dry the rest of the way.

You can also toss jeans into the dryer for five minutes before you hang them to dry to eliminate the stiff feel they can have after air-drying. Be aware, though, that regularly using the dryer for your jeans will degrade the fabric and cause them wear out faster.