People have strong feelings about their jeans, especially when it comes to the subject of washing them. Some folks are adamant that you must never launder jeans, while others find that directive to be absolutely absurd. With such strong feelings on both sides of the debate, things can get confusing; this guide to denim care will help.

Here’s how to wash jeans to keep them looking and feeling brand new for longer.

When to Wash Your Jeans

Laundering denim will cause the fabric to break down over time; however, regular wear will also cause fabric breakdown as well. If your jeans are stretched out, particularly around the knees and rear end, visibly dirty or they smell, or if you just don’t cotton to the idea of wearing dirty jeans, then it’s time to wash them.

However, you will also want to take into account what type of jeans they are; the jeans you throw on to do yard work probably won’t need the same level of care as designer jeans you wear for a night out on the town.

The Basics of Machine Washing Jeans

Jeans should be washed with other heavy items in cold water. It’s best to avoid washing your jeans alongside delicate items like bras and fine cotton garments, which can become tangled or crushed by heavier clothes.

Darker jeans can be turned inside out before going in the wash, which will help to prevent fading. Using a low or medium heat setting on the dryer will also help preserve the color of your jeans. Using a medium or high heat setting will help to shrink the jeans, if they’ve become stretched out due to repeated wearing.

Caring for Fancy Jeans

High-end jeans can be cleaned using a variety of methods; which one you choose is a matter of preference based on how much time, money and effort you want to put into the care of your jeans.

Machine Washing: Follow the same basic care instructions, but also consider using a detergent designed for dark clothing, like Cheer for Darks, which will help to preserve the color of the jeans.

Hand Washing: Hand washing is gentler on fabric than machine washing, and many people opt to hand wash jeans to avoid overly stressing the material. When hand washing jeans, use cold water and a small amount of detergent for darks.

Machine Drying vs. Air Drying: Machine drying is harsher on denim than air drying and will, over time, lead to fading. It is, of course, also a faster way to dry jeans, and it offers the benefit of shrinking fibers that have become stretched out from wear.

If preserving the color of your jeans is a priority for you, stick with air drying. A heavy duty clipped hanger is a good way to allow the jeans to dry faster and more evenly, but you could also lay them flat to dry, which will prevent the jeans from becoming stretched lengthwise.

Dry Cleaning: Many people opt to skip washing their jeans in favor of dry cleaning them, and that is a perfectly fine choice to make. If the jeans are soiled or stained, be sure to point that out to the cleaner so that those areas can be spot treated.

Freshening Jeans Without Washing

Last year, the CEO of Levi Strauss proclaimed that you should never wash your jeans; designer Tommy Hilfiger shares that attitude.

If you choose not to wash your jeans, you should be ready to spot treat any staining as it occurs; dish soap or liquid laundry detergent and a damp sponge or rag should be all you need to tackle stains as they happen. If, over time, the jeans develop an odor, you can eliminate smells by spritzing the jeans lightly with white vinegar hanging them to dry and air out—hanging them outside or near an open window will also help.

You’ve probably also heard something about how freezing a pair of jeans will kill bacteria that causes odor. That’s only half true: Sure, freezing will kill some of the bacteria that can build up on jeans and cause them to smell. But when you put those jeans back on, your body heat will reactivate whatever was causing the odors. So unless you really like the feeling of slipping on a pair of icy jeans, skip the freezer and save the room for a pint of your favorite ice cream!

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