All your washing & drying & shrinking questions, answered.
There’s no shortage of opinions when it comes to caring for jeans. Some are staunchly devoted to hand washing while others prefer the machine. Certain people will tell you to always and forever air dry, while others lay flat or…dare we say it…belong to team tumble dry.
At the end of the day, there are a few denim care dos and don’ts, but for the most part, it’s up to personal preference.
Below, we break down all the pros and cons.
First things first: always wash a new pair of denim jeans before you wear ‘em. Doing so prevents the dyes from bleeding onto your skin or clothes. For double-duty protection against bleeding dye on that first wash, add a vinegar and salt mixture to the drum (one cup white vinegar with a quarter cup of salt) — don’t worry, the vinegar smell dissipates.
After that first wash, though, less is more. Over-washing will affect the jean’s fit, shape, and color, so unless your jeans are I-just-slipped-in-the-mud-kind of dirty, you probably don’t need to wash them. Spot cleaning, FTW!
If you’re using a washing machine:
As a rule of thumb, use cold water for dark-wash jeans and warmer water for light-wash or white jeans. Mild laundry detergent, gentle cycle/delicate cycle, jeans inside out, no fabric softener (it damages the lycra in stretch denim). And whatever you do, do not — we repeat, do NOT — make the mistake of washing with hot water. All it’ll do is shrink the fibers.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t remind you to also read the care label! See that dot inside what looks like a bucket of water? That indicates temperature — which is SO not intuitive. But here’s your cheat sheet:
- 1 dot → cold
- 2 dots → warm
- 3 dots → hot
If you’re opting for hand washing:
If you have the time and patience to hand wash, go for it. All the more power to you since this is the gentlest way to go about washing jeans. Just be sure to use cold water with mild detergent and stay far, far away from bleach.
Jean washing myths:
Real quick…there’s some who swear by freezing (yes, freezing) as an alternative way to quote-unquote “clean” your jeans and kill bacteria without having to actually wash them. Don’t do it. This has really only been tried on raw denim, and we don’t know about you, but we don’t have that in our closet.
Because denim fibers constrict after washing and loosen up during wear, they may feel slightly snug after a wash — regardless of how you dry them. That being said, there are certain methods that can decrease the chances of shrinkage. Here’s what you need to know about the three main ones:
Smooth out those wrinkles, lay the jeans on a table, and they’ll dry oh-so-nicely without stretching too much.
Hanging your jeans is another option to reduce shrinkage. We recommend turning them inside out in order to avoid fading and stretching, too. If you don’t have a full clothesline to hang jeans from the waistband (hello, tiny apartments), drape them on a hanger or shower rod.
If you’re in a time crunch, tumble drying your jeans is okay (we said it). Most jeans have actually been washed a few times before they made it into your closet, so they’re not going to dramatically, irreparably shrink. But they could shrink enough for you to notice, especially if you tumble dry on medium-high heat. That’s why we recommend the following tips:
- Turn the jeans inside out to protect the hems, pockets, and zipper (which should be zipped)
- Always opt for low heat on a delicate cycle
- Dry partially in the dryer and then hang dry damp jeans (this way, you’ll prevent over-drying, which can cause unwanted shrinkage and overall wear and tear)
- Use dryer balls to keep things tumbling nicely
In your jean journey, you may read (or already have read) about the “bathroom trick,” which is supposedly a way to un-stretch your jeans by putting them on, sitting in a bathtub of warm water for 30 minutes, and then walking around until they dry. TBH, we have never tried this hack, nor do we intend to. The idea of sitting in a bathtub for a half hour with jeans on, then having to walk around with soaked jeans until they dry? Um, no thank you. Until we see the science-backed evidence on this one, we’ll swipe left.
Do you have strong opinions on the right way to wash and dry jeans in order to maintain that perfect fit and long lifespan? We want to hear them! Hit us up on Instagram or comment below.