How Often Should You Wash Your Jeans?
Now that might sound like a rather odd question but the issue is actually a hotly debated topic. Finding the right pair of jeans can be a major mission and so having achieved perfection you really don't want to do anything which will adversely affect the look of your jeans or shorten their useful lives. The type of denim you buy and how you treat it will effect both the look and the lifespan of your jeans so how often should you throw your jeans in the washing machine?
If you are one of those pathologically clean people then you may want to look away now! We live in a world of almost obsessive cleanliness (with the possible exception of students). We are constantly bombarded with advertisements for a ridiculous variety of detergents, softeners, fresheners and other chemicals that are evidently designed to save us from harmful bacteria and nasty niffs. There is a culture of paranoia surrounding personal hygiene which sees most of us consigning our clothes, including our jeans, to the washing basket after only a handful of wears.
Clearly we don't want to smell or see our denim attacked by an army of bacteria but do we really need to wash our jeans quite so often? Smells are nature's way of telling us that something is wrong. Bad odours can mean bacterial growth is in full swing but most of us have beaten a path to the laundry long before noticeable odours appear or there is any potential for bacteria to cause damage.
The primary reason that bacteria and smells develop is because our garments are in contact with our skin and will therefore absorb sweat. However, jeans are shielded from the sweaty areas of our bodies by undergarments and don't get as dirty as we think. If we shower regularly our jeans shouldn't have to!
There are actually many benefits to washing your jeans less often. Indigo is an unstable dye that does not fully penetrate the fibres of the fabric. For this reason, jeans fade with every wash which is fine if that is the look you want but washing also degrades the fibres and so the more you wash your jeans the shorter their useful lives are likely to be. This situation is made worse by the fact that detergents can alter the structure of the fibres increasing the effects of wear and tear.
Washing also costs us money in the shape of detergents, water usage and energy. Washing has a detrimental effect on the environment too by using valuable water resources and increasing our CO2 emissions via energy consumption. We should at least consider delaying the washing of our denim until we have a full load as this is the most energy efficient way to go.
So how long could we hold out before resorting to washing our jeans? Back in 2012 a PhD student in Australia initiated an experiment exploring this very question. A group of volunteers were asked to wear the same pair of jeans five days per week for a period of three months before washing them. Some participants unsurprisingly struggled with the concept at first but most managed to get past their issues and carried on. The experiment revealed that the volunteers were not socially shunned and that their jeans did not smell terrible. Stains often wore off and the jeans generally looked fine.
Clearly there will be times when our jeans have been excessively soiled and will need a wash but it would appear that we generally wash our denim far more often than we really need to.
In The Raw
The question of whether to wash or not is particularly pertinent when it comes to raw denim. Raw denim is denim which has not been washed and therefore softened or shrunk after the indigo dying process. Over time raw denim will fade in areas where the fabric is often creased or rubbed. This fading creates unique wear patterns which make the jeans highly personalised. Many jeans aficionados will only wear raw denim but this fabric does require special treatment.
If you have purchased raw denim jeans then you must first establish if they have been pre-shrunk (sanforized) because if they haven't been treated they are going to shrink dramatically when you wash them. The best approach is to soak the jeans in a bath of hot water with something heavy holding them down. Soak the jeans inside out and after two hours hang them up to dry. Your jeans can then be worn in.
In order to create those much treasured and personalised wear patterns the jeans should be worn regularly for at least six months before their first wash as cleaning them any earlier will disrupt the fading.
The untreated nature of raw denim means that the indigo dye is even more likely to rub off with wear. You may have learnt not to sit on white surfaces when you have new jeans but modern life has thrown up another issue. Apparently users of iPhone 6's with white edging are complaining that their phones are turning blue in their pockets! Perhaps iPhone 6 users will have to wash their jeans regularly after all!
So if you wash your jeans only occasionally are there any viable options for keeping them fresh, stain free and avoiding unpleasant odours? well for a start minor stains can be spot cleaned when they appear using a damp cloth and mild detergent. Hanging up your jeans to air occasionally will certainly help and some say you should put them in the freezer! The idea here is that that freezing your denim will kill any bacteria that are forming but unfortunately the science doesn't stack up. Testing has revealed that freezing your jeans has no effect on bacterial growth which will probably come as a relief to all freezer owners who don't want dirty jeans adjacent to their food.
One solution could come in the shape of a new kind of washing machine. A Colombian student, Juan Camilo Restrep Villamizar, reached the finals of the Electrolux Design Lab contest with his invention called the Luna. This exciting piece of equipment is a metal sphere which contains a small amount of water and is placed directly into your dirty clothes. The new machine then generates a cloud of electrostatically charged steam particles which pass through small pores in the metal surface and infiltrate the clothing as the Luna rotates. The Luna then acts like a magnet and attracts the dirt particles in the steam into its core. The sphere then uses hot air to dry the clothing.
The Luna uses far less energy and water than a washing machine and is thus cheaper to operate and kinder to the environment. The cleaning process also promises to be less harmful to the fibres in clothing which could mean that washing with the Luna will help your jeans to last longer! We will have to see if the Luna ever makes it in to production. Here is a sneak preview:
It is up to you how often you wash your jeans but we hope that we have given you some valuable food for thought. The more you wash your jeans the higher the cost to you, your jeans and the environment but how long are you really prepared to wear them before they just have to take a trip to the washing machine? Whilst you think about the issues why not take a look at our huge collection here at Jean Store!