How to Wash Jeans

Jeans and denim: How to keep them clean and avoid fading

Denim is a versatile material. Jeans can be durable work pants or stylish, night-on-the-town pants. But regardless of how you wear yours, you need to know how to wash and care for them to keep them looking their best.

Note: The advice here is for common, pre-washed jeans. Washing and caring for raw denim requires entirely different instructions. Always refer to the care label of your jeans for more information.

How often you should wash jeans

Use some common sense and wash your jeans when they’re dirty or they smell. In the end, how often you wash them will depend on the type of jeans (dressy or everyday) and how you wear them.

For example, if you wear jeans at an outdoor, messy job or when doing yard work, you will likely need to clean them after each use. On the other hand, for higher-end jeans you wear out only occasionally, you can probably go 5-10 wearings in between washings.

Of course, you might find some advice discouraging you from washing your jeans at all. The belief is that frequent washings can ruin your jeans’ fit, color and style. But the buildup of dirt, skin, bodily oils, and other grime from not washing your jeans can also wear them down.

The bottom line is that occasional washings won’t do major damage to your jeans. Of course, the less you wash them, the longer they’ll last. But this is true for any fabric, really. (We’ll cover how you can spot clean your jeans and go longer between washings later on.)

A note about the first wash:

Many jean manufacturers recommend that the first time you wash your jeans, you wash them alone. This is because some dye can get washed out of the jeans and stain any other clothes that are in the wash with them. As always, check the care label on your jeans.

How to wash jeans

Here are a few tips to clean your jeans so they stay looking great for as long as possible.

Spot clean between infrequent washings
To keep the number of washes to a minimum, you can spot-clean your jeans in between washings. This keeps them looking great and minimizes the wear and tear from the washing machine.

How to spot-clean your jeans:

  1. Immediately wipe up any small spills that get on your jeans.
  2. Working from the inside of your jeans, dab the spot with a damp cloth that’s been dipped in some water mixed with a little detergent.
  3. Put a clean cloth on the outside, under the stain while you dab from the inside.

Washing jeans by hand
Washing your jeans by hand in a tub or sink is gentler on the fibers. Hand washing reduces the wear and tear on your jeans, helping them last longer and look their best. Of course it is more time consuming. So you may only want to hand wash your nicer, designer jeans.

How to hand wash your jeans:

  1. Fill a tub with cold or lukewarm water. Due to the bulkiness of jeans, a bath tub is usually the easiest place to hand wash them.
  2. Mix in detergent. A small amount of detergent goes a long way.
  3. Turn the jeans inside out and lay them flat in the tub. Try not to bunch or wrinkle them and make sure they are fully submerged in water.
  4. Agitate the jeans in the water, then let sit for 30-45 minutes.
  5. Drain the tub and rinse. Run the jeans under running water to rinse.
  6. Remove the water by rolling them up and pressing firmly. Don’t wring or twist them as doing so can damage and break down the cotton fibers.

Washing jeans in a machine
While washing jeans by hand is gentler than machine washing, for many people it’s just not realistic that you can wash all your jeans this way. Plus, if you are careful, a washing machine can be used without any serious damage to your jeans.

How to machine wash your jeans:

  1. Sort your laundry into lights and darks. You can wash most jeans with other dark colored clothes though some manufacturers recommend washing jeans separately. Follow the care instructions on your jeans. Never wash jeans with whites or other light colors.
  2. Turn them inside out. The zippers, buttons and snaps can damage the color and fabric of the clothes they’re washed with. Turning them inside out also helps preserve the jeans themselves by keeping the outside from rubbing against the machine agitator and other clothes in the wash.
  3. Use the gentlest cycle on your washing machine—this may be called delicate, gentle or handwash, depending on your washing machine model and manufacturer. Washing them on a gentle setting reduces the wear on your jeans and helps them keep their great look.
  4. Use cold or lukewarm water. Hot water can cause jeans to fade (especially darker jeans) and shrink.
  5. Remove from the washing machine as soon as the cycle has ended. Clothes left in the washing machine for too long can start smelling musty and may need to then be washed again.

Best water temperature for washing jeans
Most manufacturers recommend using cold water to wash your jeans, but check your jeans’ label for instructions.

Hot water can cause unwanted fading of jeans (even if your jeans are prewashed). Plus, the hot water can cause the fibers to tighten up, resulting in the jeans shrinking and not quite fitting like they used to.

And you don’t need to wash your jeans with hot or warm water to get the best clean anymore. Modern detergents like Persil® get your clothes clean even in colder temperatures.

Detergents to use
Persil® detergents are specially formulated to keep your dark clothes (like jeans) dark while getting out the tough stains and smells. For jeans, we recommend:

Drying your jeans after washing

This is where most jean washers go wrong. Worried about doing minimal damage from washing, they then just throw them in the dryer. But the dryer is what can do the real damage. Bouncing off the sides of the dryer in high heat can severely damage your jeans.

Of course, follow the care instructions on your label. But most manufacturers recommend line drying your jeans after washing them. This helps prevent fading, shrinkage, and other damage that can happen in an electric clothes dryer.

How to line dry your jeans:

  1. Take your jeans out of the washer as soon as possible (or out of the tub, if hand washing).
  2. To avoid wrinkles and creases, fold your jeans at the knee and smooth them out as you hang them on a hanger or rack to dry. (Hanging them over your shower curtain can work well, also.)

Can I put my jeans in the dryer?
Yes, you can. Using an electric clothes dryer to dry your jeans is much more convenient. Just know that frequent drying at high temperatures can damage them.

If you do use a clothes dryer, consider tumble drying them on a delicate setting with low heat. This can help reduce any potential damage that a dryer may cause to your jeans.