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 too...
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