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Denim Care

Denim was invented by mistake. Weavers in France were trying to replicate a famous corduroy from Italy and failed. The weavers were from Nimes; hence it was fabric de Nimes or denim. Denim was brought to America in 1851. A tailor used this fabric to make work clothing for men working in the gold rush. He added metal rivets to the pockets to prevent tearing. From this, jeans were born. They were intended for farmers and men who needed durable, long-lasting clothing.

Several factors boosted denim’s popularity and widespread use. Many Hollywood westerns featured denim-clad heroes. Plus, James Dean wore denim in Rebel Without A Cause. Jeans were banned from restaurants and schools, which only increased their “coolness” factor. They also symbolized freedom from conformation. By the late 1960s and 1970s, denim was a part of American life.

Virtually any clothing item can be made from denim. Popular items include shirts, jackets and, of course, jeans. They are now worn by virtually everyone, everywhere.

Raw Versus Washed Denim

Originally, jeans were 100 percent cotton and unsanforized. Meaning, that they were not preshrunk. They were also dyed with natural indigo. These jeans were stiff when new and were intended to shrink after the first wash. They are often referred to as raw denim. Raw denim won’t be damaged from washing. The dye, however, will be. People who wear raw denim want to create a unique look. The indigo fades along creases and folds, creating whiskering. Basically, you want contrast between dark indigo and lighter areas where the indigo has faded. These jeans are more expensive, more work and less common.

Most jeans are sanforized. This means that they are prewashed and preshrunk. They will still shrink if not properly cared for. They will also loose color and improperly fade. Most denim today contains a mix of fabrics for stretch. These jeans are created with a specific “look.” This look could include super dark, distressed or acid washed. With these jeans, you will want to maintain their look for as long as possible.

Today, jeans are a staple in everyone’s closet. When you put them on, you just feel comfortable. Denim can be dressy or casual depending on how you style it. It is a tricky fabric but can be quite durable. One thing is for sure, you want them to last forever. Finding the perfect pair of jeans isn’t easy, the last thing you want is to destroy your favorite pair.

Always read the care instructions on every denim item before you wash it. The manufacturer will know how the denim was treated and the best way to prolong the life of the garment. If you want your jeans to always be their best, follow a few simple guidelines.

Washing Denim

Don’t over-wash your denim. Gross, right? Not really, the bacterial count found on jeans after 15 months of wearing versus 13 days are almost identical. You also want your jeans to mold to your body’s shape. Washing will remove that natural contouring. However, if the knees of your jeans start sagging, it is probably time to wash them.

Regardless of what kind of denim you have, when you wash jeans too often, the colors fade and the fibers start to loosen. Reducing the number of washes maintains the dye and shape of your jeans. Even though you do want to keep washings at a minimum, too much dirt and oil build-up will also weaken the fabric and cause tears.

Machine Washing

When you do finally wash your jeans, wash them on cold and inside out. Hot water leaches the color out of natural fabrics like denim. Washing them inside out will also protect the dye and fade pattern. Plus, the inside is the dirtiest part. Wash them on delicate or low agitation. Putting a few tablespoons of salt or vinegar in with your jeans can help set the color. This is important to do the first time they are washed. You can add vinegar to subsequent washings as needed.

Hand Washing

You can also wash your denim by hand. This limits the agitation, or wear and tear, that the machine will inflict on your jeans. To wash your jeans, fill a tub or your sink with cool water. Put a small amount of mild detergent into the water. Turn your jeans inside out and submerge them in the water. They should soak for 35 to 60 minutes. You can swirl them around a few times, just to be sure they are getting clean. However, it is not necessary to scrub them. Do not wring the jeans out to dry them. Instead, roll them in a towel to absorb excess water. Then, lie them flat or hang them up to dry (more later on drying denim).

Spot Cleaning

If you do get a stain, you can spot treat your jeans. Just use a small amount of mild detergent. If it is a tough stain, use an old toothbrush and brush the stain in the same direction as the fabric. Don’t use bleach, it will discolor your jeans and damage the fibers. If you can, just scratch off whatever dropped onto your pants. If not, try washing them in warm water. Never scrub your jeans.

Dry Cleaning

You can dry cleaning your denim. Some chemicals can break down the natural fibers. However, this method protects the overall color and shape of the denim. It is best to ask the dry cleaner what chemicals they use and avoid perc. A good dry cleaner will be familiar with the process needed with denim. You may want to let your dry cleaner know where or how you want your creases. Otherwise, you may end up with a crease where you don’t want one. One downside is that it can be pricey.

Drying Methods

Heat is one of more damaging things for denim. For this reason, don’t iron and don’t machine dry your jeans. Air-drying is the best method. Always dry them inside or in the shade to prevent fading. You can dry them flat on a towel or hang them up to drip dry. There may be some bleeding, so be careful where you hang them. The dryer will also damage any stretch material that is woven into the jeans. This is because the cotton and the stretch material will shrink at different rates and create puckering.

Depending on the brand, fabric content and style of jeans, you may need to shrink them up from time to time. When they start to lose their shape, you can pop them in the dryer for 10 to 20 minutes. To be safe, use a cooler temperature and remove them before they are completely dry. This will reduce over shrinking.

To recap, it is preferable to air-dry your jeans. If you have to machine dry them, don’t let them dry completely. Keep your jeans away from as much heat as possible.

Denim Treatment Tips

There are a number of ways you can keep your jeans looking brand new and at their best, even if you have to break down and treat your jeans.


If you need to iron your jeans, iron them while they are still damp. This will preserve the color and original creasing. You can also steam your jeans or hang them in the bathroom while you shower. Or, wear them crumpled and dirty, if that is what you are going for. There is nothing wrong with that.


Some jeans come pre-ripped and distressed, and you may try to create that look from time to time. However, you don’t usually want your pants ripping. To prevent rips, be careful not to overfill pockets. Heavy keys or wallets often cause the most damage to jeans. Move things between pockets to avoid constant damage to the same area. You can patch a hole in denim, but it isn’t ideal.

Drying Jeans on Your Body

This method is often used for raw denim. Some people opt to take a bath in their jeans and then let them dry right on their bodies. This effort really isn’t needed to shape them. If you soak them, line-dry them and then put them on, they will still conform to your body.

Freezing Method

Some people swear by it. However, the freezer isn’t killing off much bacteria from your jeans. The bacteria that is left, will just repopulate once they warm back up. Freezing may reduce some odors, but it’s not going to replace washing. Most of the bacteria on your jeans are already on your body. So, freezing them doesn’t really help you much.

Starching Your Jeans

Most people don’t starch their denim anymore. However, for some, it is a major part of their routine care. Raw denim is often starched to retain that brand-new feel. Since adding starch stiffens the jeans, you get better contrast and fading. Some just love the feel of stiff denim. Or for the cowboy out there, it is just polite and proper to starch your jeans.

Also, remember to store your jeans folded flat or hanging. If you do hang them, hang them from two belt loops on the sides. This will help maintain the natural fall and shape of your body.

Whether you wear skinny, boyfriend or raw jeans, you know you can’t live without them. Denim represents freedom and ease, with just a bit of edge. Denim is so versatile and comfortable. Perhaps that is why it is loved by the masses. Follow these care guidelines and your favorite denim will be with you for a long time to come.