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A Denim Expert Told Us How To Wash Jeans (And 5 Ways NOT To)

"Yeah man, you gotta be careful," says Thomas Hall, the NYC manager of SF/NYC denim temple Self Edge. "For some reason the anonymity of the internet leads to authority." Truer words have never been spoken when it comes to caring for your raw selvedge jeans.

The epicenter of the digital denim-care debate is Reddit, where every strategy for jeans maintenance is ferociously contested, from baking them in an oven (as in, for food!) to never washing them at all. To separate internet fallacies from the legitimate tips you should use to keep your precious selvedge looking fresh, we had Thomas cast his knowledge, skeptical eye over 7 Reddit-advocated denim care practices.

Our findings:


Yes, You Can Pull Off Denim on Denim

The claim: You can just treat your jeans like the rest of your clothes, right?
Reddit thinks: This is a last resort. Only do it when your jeans are really dirty/smell like sh*t.
Thomas says: "Machine washing can be good and bad. We don’t recommend our customers do this right away. When you machine wash raw, stitched fabric it stresses the wear points and will help accelerate tearing. I wouldn’t put them in the washing machine until they’re 2 or 3 years old."

The claim: Wear your jeans in the ocean and rough 'em up with beach sand for custom distress marks and a perfect fit.
Reddit thinks: This helps break in the jeans and allows you to create a unique finish.
Thomas says: "Going into the ocean and wearing them while they’re wet is bad for two reasons. First, they are going to stretch a lot because denim becomes more malleable when wet. You only want jeans to stretch when they are really tight on you. Secondly, salt is corrosive. Salt will eat away the cotton and suck out all the moisture. Salt eats holes in metal, so what do you think it's gonna do to denim?"

The claim: Fold jeans, place in Ziploc bag, and leave them in your freezer overnight.
Reddit thinks: This will kill off most of the bacteria that causes them to smell.
Thomas says: "Bad idea -- you’re adding more moisture to the jeans. You’re gonna need a subzero freezer to kill the bacteria. Plus, all the ice that forms... is going to lock in the bacteria and just remelt onto the denim.

The claim: Fill a bathtub/container with warm water, add a cup of vinegar, and hand wash jeans. Hang to dry.
Reddit thinks: This helps lock in the indigo and prevent bleeding, as well as kill off some stench.
Thomas says: "I haven’t tried this, but it might work. Vinegar removes calcium, amongst other things, and is a natural detergent. You just want to make sure you get all of it out afterwards with a really thorough rinse."

The claim: So, you take dryer sheets, and... do you really need us to spell this out?
Reddit thinks: Since you're not washing your jeans for a while, the dryer sheets will help keep the stench away.
Thomas says: "If you want to smell like a fabric sheet, I guess that will work. But overall it’s a bad idea. It will create moisture in the jeans and that's going to add to the bacteria which is making the jeans smell."

The claim: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Once it hits 400, crank it back to 175. Turn the jeans inside out and fold them to fit the center rack. Bake for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the oven to cool (about 5 minutes). Then flip them over and put 'em back for another 1-2 minutes.
Reddit thinks: The idea is that "sulfuric dye is water insoluble and must be broken down into particles via heat exposure of at least 176 degrees before being water soluble ". So, basically, science will make your jeans stop smelling.
Thomas says: "Put them in an oven? Why wouldn’t you just put them in a dryer? Do not ever use an oven for your jeans. But a dryer can be a bad thing too because it can shrink the jeans even more. In order to counteract this, stick them out in the sunlight for a day or two. UV rays can cause skin cancer, so what do you think that’s going to do to bacteria on cotton?" 

The claim: Turn the jeans Inside out and hand wash in a cold water bath with a very small amount of liquid detergent. Hang to dry.
Reddit thinks: The best way to wash your jeans.
Thomas says: YUP! "This is the absolute best thing you can do for a pair of jeans. People that were originally wearing denim were working in the worst conditions possible and they were washing their jeans on stones using ice cold river water." 

Thomas recommends: "If you're wearing them everyday, wash them every 2-3 months. You can spread that out further during colder months since it’s drier and you’re not sweating as much. If you're not wearing them everyday, wash every 4 to 5 months. But the bottom line here is to never forget why you bought the jeans... You bought them because you love to wear them. Never forget that."

Maybe truer words have been spoken after all...


8 Things You Didn't Know About Selvedge Denim

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