Mind you, really hardcore denim-heads say don’t wash your jeans at all, ever. Denim may cope with dirt better than
most fabrics, seemingly absorbing it, grubbiness only adding to its texture and tone, but to combat the lack of
sociability, perhaps inevitable in this decision - all that bacteria partying amid the blue - it’s advised to at
least occasionally air your jeans. Sunlight, as they say, being the best disinfectant, doing so on a bright warm day
is recommended. It doesn’t get your jeans clean, exactly, but it does freshen them up. If water seems like an
inevitable part of keeping clothing keen, others recommend wearing your jeans for a seaside swim - yes, you may look
silly, but the salt water will both cleanse and add personality. You’ll need to wear them while they dry
OK, so this will be all too much for most people - the stuff of parody, of neurosis, fit for a Pseud’s Corner of
Cloth. Perhaps dry-cleaning is the solution? But no. This retains the rich colour and/or any degree of fading your
jeans may have thus far attained. But unfortunately the chemicals used in dry cleaning are not kind to denim, which
is lowly degraded by the process. So we’re back to the washing machine, eventually if not immediately.
Even here denim enthusiasts differ as to the right path to take, though they agree on some basics: raw denim jeans
should be washed with as little other washing as possible, ideally none - this is both for the denim’s sake, but
also because it will leave the rest of your load with a delightful and permanent blue tinge. Run your wash on a
short cycle, with as little detergent as you feel you can get away with - be sure to use a washing liquid/powder
with minimal bleaching agent, or even just some mild shampoo. Even if your jean’s wash tag says to ‘wash at
60degrees’, wash them at a temperature closer to 30. You could even just soak them in the bath, a la Nick Kamen.
This minimises shrinkage too - because unsanforized denim will keep shrinking over the first few washes, by as much
as two inches in the waist (though this tends to stretch back out with wear) and by three inches in the leg -
something to keep in mind before getting any alterations done.
But there’s more. The jeans should be placed in your washing machine turned inside out - this minimises unnecessary
indigo loss by preventing the friction of the fabric against the inside of the drum. But, others counter, this also
exposes the softer weave of the inside of your jeans to the drum, so they say it’s still better to wash your jeans
the right way round but inside an old pillowcase - which, inevitably, will be slightly bluer by the end of the wash.
It’s the gentlest way of using the washing machine and of minimising damage to the jeans - which, denim-heads will
point out, is effectively what washing them is.
And this madness doesn’t stop when you pull them from the washing machine either. Obviously - obviously! -
tumble-drying is out, not least because this exacerbates shrinkage. Rather the jeans should be turned back the
right way, dark side out, pulled back into shape while they’re still damp - in fact, put your back into it and a
good tug can be an effective way of countering a lot of shrinkage - and then left to air dry naturally. Even
putting them over the radiator is a bad idea.
We could go on. Denim is a complex fabric and denim care is a complex business. Repairing that blown crotch or knee
tear? You’ll need to use a patch of the same kind of denim - raw with raw, washed with washed) to prevent a
crinkling effect when the jeans are next washed. Darning a repair? You’ll be using a cross-weave, of course, using
two shades of blue thread that together match the current blue of your jeans. Who knew that cowboys went to such
Of course, they didn’t. The old-timers probably didn’t wash themselves much, let alone their jeans, which - at
least half a century before it really became much of a concern to anyone - no doubt looked great with it. But they’d
have surely baulked at the arguably much no less mad idea of wearing pre-distressed jeans. Would-be denim-heads
should cleanse their minds of that notion right away.