Our Comprehensive Guide to Properly Washing Your Jeans at Home

Back away from the dryer.

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We live in our jeans. And considering the cost of premium denim, as well as the time and effort spent in fitting rooms or online hunting for the perfect pair, it makes sense to pay greater attention to these wardrobe staples—especially when it comes to washing them. Ahead, Catherine Ryu, the creative director of womenswear at Citizens of Humanity, shares her best advice on extending the life of our everyday uniform, which starts in the laundry room.

How often should you wash jeans?

Let's establish the basics: Denim is a rugged fabric that doesn't need washing after every wear. In fact, the only way to avoid fading your true blues is to not wash your jeans. For most of us, that's not practical. So, just how often should you wash your denim? This depends on your comfort level, and the style of your pants. If they cost $250, hopefully they're jeans with a good grade of stretch with Lycra recovery that will keep its shape for three to five wears. For more rigid garments—those that are 100-percent cotton and have no Lycra—Ryu says you should go much longer without a wash, around every eight to 10 wears.

Should you hand-wash or machine-wash denim?

Denim enthusiasts obsessed with raw or selvedge styles painstakingly hand wash their jeans, but it's serious work. "If you put water on your jeans, they become 20 pounds," says Ryu. "It's so heavy. How to do you wring it out?" A more practical and still careful approach is to turn your jeans inside out, use cold water, and set your washing machine on the gentle cycle. This preserves the color and will be easy on the fibers.

cleaning denim jeans in washing machine
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Which detergent is best for denim?

Harsh detergents can strip your jeans of color, so use a mild soap to preserve the indigo. Ryu likes Woolite Dark ($17.99, target.com) or Persil Color ($14.86, walmart.com). For an even gentler, natural experience, soak your jeans in a cold-water bath with a cup of distilled vinegar, or add a cup of vinegar to your cold-water cycle. "Vinegar is basically a wonder ingredient," Ryu says. "It helps keep the color." Pro tip: Yes, it may initially stink a little, but the sour scent disappears with wear.

Should you put jeans in the dryer?

A washing machine is totally acceptable, but the dryer ruins denim's Lycra, indigo, and fibers, so it's best to hang your jeans up to air dry. "It's a bit crunchier and rougher, but it's definitely better for your jeans," Ryu says. Any stiffness should wear off after an hour of wear, she adds.

How can you shrink your jeans?

We know what you're thinking: Without a dryer, how will you bring the shape back to your favorite stretch jeans that tend to bag out at the knee and seat? If your denim needs a little restructuring, Ryu says to turn them inside out and toss them into the dryer for 10 minutes on a low setting. Then, hang to dry. Another trick: Turn them inside out and hang them in the bathroom while you shower. "Steam helps to get rid of wrinkles and straightens out the bagging," she says.

Does freezing jeans work?

Don't even touch that ice-box handle. Despite what you've read, sticking your jeans in the freezer does nothing but take up space better used for something delicious. "It doesn't clean your jeans," says Ryu. In fact, that "kills the bacteria" theory was proved false a few years back. While the freezer may knock the smell out of your jeans, the bacteria that cause said odors comes right back once they re-acclimate to your body temperature. So, at the end of the day, there's no trick better than washing them.

How long will my denim last?

For as much as you try to keep them looking brand new—by waiting a while between washes, soaking in vinegar, or steaming—ultimately, the best thing about denim is that it gets better with age. "Your denim is alive. It wants to evolve and make its own pattern," says Ryu. In fact, she advises embracing those wear patterns or whiskering. After all, it's what nearly all companies replicate on their coveted (and pricey) denim.

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