How to Wash Denim: Easy Step-by-Step Guide

Published September 1, 2022
Folded pile of jeans on white wood table at home

So you got your denims dirty. It might be time to give those bad boys a bath. Whether it's your favorite jeans or a modern pair of jorts, learn how to machine and hand wash your denim so it's always clean and ready to wear. And since nobody likes struggling to pull on too-tight denim, get tips and tricks to ensure it doesn't shrink or fade.

How to Wash Denim in Washing Machine

Putting Jeans into the washing machine

Who knew washing denim was a controversial subject? It's a highly-debated topic--denim isn't something you wash after every wear. Some people even suggest you never wash your denim, but that seems a bit...smelly.

If you need to wash your denim jackets, skirts, shorts, and jeans, there is definitely a right and a wrong way. It's a tricky material that can fade or shrink if not washed properly. And if you've ever fought to zip up after a spin in the washer and dryer, you know the struggle is real. When you've got your jeans to fit just the way you like them, you don't want to mess with that mojo. Naturally, not washing seems like an option, but after a while the odor is going to be just as real as the struggle, so you're going to have to wash eventually.

To wash your laundry, you need:

  • Pre-treater
  • Non-bleach laundry detergent
  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda

Step 1: Spot Clean Stains

Woman adding stain remover to clothes before washing them

Accidentally dumped your kombucha in your lap? Spills happen. While some spots may just add character to your favorite denim, others are pretty gross. So, if your denims are really cruddy or have a few oil or food stains, you'll want to grab a pre-treater.

  • You could use a commercial pre-treater, like Shout.
  • You might also try a more sustainable home remedy like creating a baking soda and laundry detergent paste. Leave it on the stained area for 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Straight white vinegar also works to treat stains. Allow the stain to sit for 5-10 minutes. Don't worry - the vinegar odor will all wash out.

Step 2: Turn Garment Inside Out

Unless you want all of your denim to fade, don't skip this step. Now that you've got the stain handled, turn your denim inside out. This step makes sure the detergents and motion of the machine don't hit the front part of the jeans, which helps them keep their color. You'll also want to wash the denim with similar colored denim/clothes or alone. Unless you want your light denims darker, keep dark and light denim washes separate to avoid color transfer in the wash.

Step 3: Check the Care Label and Set Your Washing Settings

It's important to check the care label before you throw everything in the wash. Use the care label to help you to choose the washer setting and water. Typically to prevent shrinkage and fade, wash denim on a gentle cycle in cold water. Make sure to use the recommended amount of detergent, too, since too much detergent can leave residue. And no one wants that.

How to Wash New Denim by Hand

Cropped Hand Of Woman Washing Jeans

Worried about washing your denim in the washer? Then don't. You can wash them in the tub too. Make sure to spot clean the jeans before handwashing.

Step 1: Add Water and Detergent

It's time to grab your detergent and hit the tub.

  1. Fill the tub with cold or warm water depending on the instructions on the care tag.
  2. Grab your detergent and add the recommended amount.
  3. Add a cup of white vinegar.
  4. Agitate the water.

Step 2: Add Denim and Soak

Once your tub is ready, you can turn the jeans inside out or leave them right side out.

  1. Submerge the denim in the tub.
  2. Use your hands to agitate them for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Scrub any stained areas with your hands.
  4. Allow the jeans to soak for 30 minutes in the water.
  5. New denim ultimately going to bleed a little, so be prepared for a bit of colored water.

Step 3. Rinse Denim

Check your jeans after the soak to make sure there aren't any other stubborn stains. If so, give it 15 or so more minutes to soak after another good scrub with your fingers. Once you're satisfied, it's time to rinse.

  1. Pull the plug and refill the tub with new water.
  2. Agitate the jeans around and let them soak for 15 or so minutes to rinse.
  3. Repeat as needed until all the detergent in the denim is gone (the rinse water will be suds free).
  4. Drain the water.

Step 4: Roll Out Excess Water

You don't want to twist the jeans you've worked so hard to shape. Instead, grab a clean towel.

  1. Place the denim on the clean towel.
  2. Roll the clothing in the towel until all the water is gone. You might need a few towels for this.

How to Dry Denim

Pant drying outdoors

Direct heat is bad when it comes to keeping your denim feeling amazing. So, air drying or no-heat drying is best.

  1. Put your denim on the line carefully, out of direct sunlight, or set them to tumble dry with no heat.
  2. Before your denim is completely dry, grab them.
  3. Tug at the seams to stretch them a bit.
  4. Allow them to finish drying.

How to Wash White Denim With Ease

White denim adds a new problem to the mix--it can get pretty dingy. This is especially true if you have hard water. Keep your white denim dazzling with these tricks.

  1. Treat stains immediately.
  2. Wash white denim alone or with other whites.
  3. Add a bit of hydrogen peroxide or lemon juice to the wash for extra whitening power.
  4. Wash white denim in hot water to break up stains.
  5. Allow white denim to hang dry in the sun.

Simple Tips to Keep Denim From Shrinking and Fading

Denim is prone to fading and shrinking. Sometimes that's part of its charm. But if you want that beautiful jacket to keep its pop and fit you like a glove, well, then you can follow a few tips.

  • Spot treat stains when they happen instead of washing every time your denim gets slightly dirty.
  • Always turn your denim inside out when putting in the washer.
  • Avoid mystery stains by always checking pockets before washing.
  • Use the gentle cycle on your washer.
  • Use a color-preserving detergent.
  • Wash with similar colored garments to avoid the denim hitting the drum.
  • Use the lowest spin.
  • Don't dry with heat.
  • Don't hang dark-colored denim in direct sunlight.
  • Set the dye in dark jeans by rinsing first with white vinegar, water, and salt.

Should You Wash Jeans?

Eventually, you'll want to wash your jeans. However, how frequently you wash them is up to personal preference and the dirt factor. If your jeans aren't dirty or don't smell, then you can just hang them up and wear them again. When you approach washing conservatively, the fit you love lasts a lot longer.

How to Wash Denim Perfectly Every Time

Keep your dark denims dazzling and your relaxed fits comfy by following some basic advice for washing denim. Washing your denim properly can ensure it lasts for years and looks and feels as good as the day you bought it.

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How to Wash Denim: Easy Step-by-Step Guide