By Piper Weiss
If your jeans have been sitting in a drawer all summer long, they could probably use a wash…in November. Denims should only be thrown in the washing machine every six months, according to Carl Chiara, Director of Brand Concepts at Levi Strauss & Co, who shared his tricks for jeans care with The Wall Street Journal. The reasoning behind this isn’t laziness. In fact, Chiara’s cleaning methods are far more meticulous than a standard wash-and-fold routine. Not only does he “freshen” his jeans on a hook outside a steaming hot shower, he also bathes them bi-annually. “Usually, he fills a bathtub to about six inches with room-temperature water and adds two tablespoons of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Liquid Soap, which he likes because it is mild. Then, he immerses the jeans in the tub, laying them flat,” explains author of the Journal article. After 20 minutes of soaking, he drip dries the denims with a homemade scented satchel tucked in a pocket. Not only do the pants come out smelling like roses, they’re guaranteed to last a lot longer than if they were taken for a weekly spin cycle. If this seems like a lot of trouble for a pair of rugged 501’s, you’ve probably never found your perfect pair.
A good pair of jeans is like a trusty sidekick, and that may be why they’re hard to part with even when they’re in tatters. After all those trial-and-error hours in the dressing room in search of ‘the one’, with no guarantee of an exact replica, starting from scratch can seem like a lost cause.
“There’s no way of knowing what jeans fit you best. You’ve basically got to reserve time to try on a whole bunch till you find one you like,” says Loren Cronk, owner of Loren, a custom denim bar that opened this month in Brooklyn, New York. Since sizes and fit can vary even within the same designer line, finding your perfect pair takes a stroke of luck. But once you’ve found your match, making them last is in your hands. Consider these tried-and-true tricks from the pros for preserving your denims.
1. Choose a durable pair. A long-lasting pair of jeans begins at the register. Since fabrics vary by brand, knowing the markers of durability can mean the difference between denims that live for decades or die on washing machine impact. “Check the inside of the bottom leg hem of the jeans for a colorful stitch,” advises Cronk. “That’s a sign it’s selvage denim.” Made from old-school looms that impeccably stitched to prevent unraveling, the over-sized machinery fell out of favor after 1969. But you can’t beat the durability. It’s why vintage jeans last longer than a lot of newly made pairs. Thankfully, a resurgence of the weaving technique has returned to the racks, and even invaded lines at chain stores like The Gap. If you can’t find a selvage stitched denim, Cronk suggest you weigh out your options. Literally. “A longer-lasting jean is simply heavier, because the fabric is thicker,” he says. “Any jeans that weigh over 12oz or 13oz will last you a long time while the lighter jeans like jeggings weigh only about 8oz and are short-lived.” Some designer labels may include the weight, and custom jeans bars may even provide scales, but if you’re at a loss, just hold a pair of jeans in either hand and go with the one that feels heavier.
2. Spot-clean first. Jeans don’t always need an all-over wash. Sometimes, targeting a spot will wipe away the dirt without wearing out the shape. Levi’s brand man, Chiara, keeps his secret weapon under the kitchen sink, spraying a household cleaner like Windex on a tough stain. Another method, is dabbing rubbing alcohol on worn-in grass stains. You can also use a hand-wash soap like Woolite to keep the area “behind the button-fly” smelling fresh and clean.
3. Keep the blues singing. To keep your color from fading in the wash, make sure your water is cold, and your denims are turned inside out to protect from bleeding. If the damage is already done, it can help to wash your faded jeans with a dark, color-rich denim that will bleed. Another trick, courtesy of Chiara, is adding 1/8 of clear vinegar to a wash. The natural remedy adds an extra layer of color-protection.
4. Protect from thinning and rips. If your jeans are due for a rugged machine wash set your dial to delicate. For detergent, Cronk suggests non-abrasive, environmentally friendly soaps that don’t contain bleach or bleach-substitutes. “Even just washing your jeans without soap sometimes can give them a decent clean without wearing out their fabric,” he adds. And if you’re noticing tiny holes poking through the material, act fast. Patching up even the tiniest holes can protect the life span of thinner jeans and prevent a tear from turning into a large hole.
5. Maintain the original fit. The biggest culprit of shape-shifting is the dryer. “If you’re going to tumble-dry, make sure the machine is set to low,” advises Cronk. Removing the jeans when they’re slightly damp and then hang-drying, will smooth out wrinkles, prevent shrinking and maintain the pre-washed relaxed shape. Once the jeans are totally dry, hanging them by a belt-loop in your closet, instead of folding them, will maintain and “mimic their natural shape when worn”, says Earnest Sewn designer Scott Morrison in Allure Magazine. Of course, stretch denim follows the opposite rules. Forty minutes in the dryer on high heat will temporarily tighten elasticity for a feels-like-the-first-day fit. But don’t leave well-worn stretch pants in too long, warns the high-end denim designer. “Keep in mind that this drying cycle will eventually reduce the elasticity in the fabric, so if you’ve had them for a while, air-dry them most of the way and then give them a quick blast in a high-heat dryer for 10 to 15 minutes.” Presto: like new, no matter how old they really are.