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Use Care When Washing Denim

The chief executive officer of Levis Strauss, Chip Bergh, recently made headlines by sharing some unusual advice for those of us who wear denim jeans.

What is his advice? Don’t wash your jeans, ever.

He says keeping jeans out of the washing machine will make them last longer and also added that less washing equals greater environmental sustainability. But what about all those germs we generate while wearing the jeans? Bergh suggested freezing the jeans to kill contaminates.

Vikki Martin, director of quality research and product evaluation at Cotton Incorporated, would warn denim wearers to take the “freeze your jeans” advice with a grain of salt. “You cannot kill everything by freezing,” she says. “Think about food safety. If you let something sit out at room temperature too long and then freeze it, you run the risk of getting sick when you thaw it out again.”

Big Questions About Washing

Denim JeansInstead, she says, “Denim care is dependent on how you use your denim. Personal habits and personal aesthetics will determine just how many times you are comfortable wearing a pair of jeans before laundering, but for casual wear three to four wears before washing is certainly feasible.

“Alternatively, if you’re wearing your denim for a day’s work in which you are exposed to environmental elements or expect to naturally perspire from your efforts, then you probably do want to consider washing those jeans after wearing,” says Martin. She has the following tips on proper denim care:

  • Before laundering denim, always check the sewn-in tag for specific care instructions.
  • Invest in quality detergent to help extend the life of denim jeans.
  • To preserve the color of denim jeans (especially dark washes), turn them inside out before laundering, then line dry.
  • If denim jeans are overly stiff, soak them overnight in a washing machine with water and a cupful of fabric softener. Run the load normally the next morning.

Confidence In Cotton

Most importantly, Martin says that when you finally do wash your jeans, you can be confident that if they are cotton-dominant, they will indeed wash completely clean. “Knowing what you’re getting and how to care for it will help extend the life of your jeans or any garment,” she says. From dungarees to designer denim, blue jeans have historically been all, or mostly, cotton.

When the price of cotton fiber reached a record high three years ago, some brands and manufacturers sought to cut costs by diluting the cotton with higher percentages of man-made fibers. Cotton prices have since returned to more competitive levels, but the denim category remains rife with man-made fiber additives.

The Cotton Board, which administers Cotton Incorporated Research and Promotion Program, contributed information for this article.