The Ultimate Guide to How to Wash Your Jeans

How to Clean Your Jeans and Keep Them Looking Their Best

Jeans can be a pricy investment – and finding the perfect pair of jeans can feel like an achievement. So of course, you want your favorite jeans to last and look their best for as long as possible. But do you know the right way to care for your jeans? How often should you wash jeans? How can you prevent the fabric color from bleeding, especially when you wash dark wash jeans or black denim? Which washing machine settings should you use on your jeans? How about drying jeans -- is it better to hand wash jeans? Can you put jeans in the dryer, and if so, what's the best method to avoid shrinking and damage? We've got the answers to all of these questions and more, in our ultimate guide to washing jeans.

01
of 10

Wash Jeans Less Frequently

Young man at washing machine
Wash your jeans right and they'll last you longer. Photo and Co/Getty Images

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 from higher quality denim brands can help, too, as 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.

02
of 10

Spot Clean Isolated Stains on Denim

Dirty jeans with paint
Stained jeans aren't necessarily destined for the trash. Artistic Captures/Getty Images

What if you get spots and stains on your jeans? If jeans are otherwise fairly clean, it's a good practice to try and spot-treat isolated stains on denim, instead of throwing your jeans into the wash. This will reduce the wear and tear on jeans from frequent washing cycles and 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.

Or, try these effective methods for removing different types of stains from your jeans and denim clothing.

03
of 10

Read Garment Tags

Dolce & Gabbana embellished jeans
Jeans like these are too good for the washing machine. Dolce & Gabbana

While this article provides good general guidelines for how to wash your jeans and keep them looking clean, do know that some jeans may require special or different care. For instance, denim with certain types of embellishments may 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.

04
of 10

Try Hand Washing Jeans

ivory Snow
ivory snow. ivory snow

Many of us typically don't have the time (or patience) to hand wash our 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. (We suggest using a product 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 as described below.

05
of 10

Sort Your Jeans for the Wash

Sorting laundry
Sort your jeans from other laundry items. Howard Shooter/Getty Images

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.

06
of 10

Turn Jeans Inside-Out Before Washing

Woman laundering jeans
Turn jeans inside out before you throw them in the washer. Sean Marc Lee/Getty Images

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.

07
of 10

Use the Correct Washing Machine Settings

Laundromat
Apolinar B. Fonseca/ Moment/ Getty Images

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.

08
of 10

Add Salt and Vinegar to the Wash

Vinegar
Vinegar helps clean and freshen denim. Ian Batchelor/Getty Images

This nifty trick can help prevent your jeans from bleeding and keep the fabric color ”true” for longer, and costs just pennies. (So if you've been wanting to know how to wash black jeans or dark wash jeans, keep reading). 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.

As bleeding typically occurs most the first time you wash new jeans, especially if they feature 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 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.

Read more about how to prevent dark wash jeans from bleeding.

09
of 10

Can I Put My Jeans in the Dryer?

woman hanging jeans
Hanging jeans to dry can help them look newer longer. Ghislain and Marie David de Lossy/Getty Images

The worst enemy of jeans is a clothes dryer -- so we generally advise you against using them 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.

10
of 10

When (and How) to Use the Dryer

Woman reading at laundromat
You can dry jeans -- but use the machine sparingly. Shestock/Getty Images

What if your jeans have a high amount of stretch, and you actually want to shrink them a bit, to restore their original snug fit? Or maybe you're in a hurry to wear those jeans that you washed. In either case, you can throw your jeans in the dryer -- just set the machine on its lowest heat setting for half a cycle, and be sure to keep jeans turned inside-out for the dryer, as in a previous tip. Then, hang the jeans to dry the rest of the way.

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

Get more tips on softening stiff, new or raw denim jeans. 

Shop these high-quality designer denim brands on Amazon: