Originally developed as workwear, the first denim jeans and jackets were exceptionally hardwearing and functional. Since those early days, the popularity of denim has remained the one permanent staple in the ever changing winds of fashion (Justin and Britney’s penchant for Double Denim aside), and whether flared, skinny or ripped boyfriend-style, denim jeans are a regular staple of any wardrobe.
There’s a problem with the modern-day denim wearer, however, and that’s that few of us are the domestic gods and goddesses our parents and grandparents were in days gone by.
The truth is most of us just don’t have the time to spend separating whites and delicates, giving clothes a pre-soak or sending them off for a dry-clean. While most of us wear denim, very few of us know how to actually care for denim. ere are five laundry sins that might just be ruining your jeans.
- You’re machine washing your denim too often
Some of us can be a little scared of machine washing denim because we’re often told handwashing is the only way to clean jeans without causing fading or changing their shape. But as this guide on how to machine wash denim from Mr Black explains, “if you know what you’re doing, there can be little difference between hand washing and machine washing.” Turn jeans inside out and choose a low temperature, slow spin cycle. Use a specialist denim detergent, or one that is free from bleach. Don’t leave denim in the washing machine overnight.
Raw denim is a completely different beast, and any raw denim aficionado will be well aware that it’s best to avoid washing raw denim for as long as possible. That’s because raw denim is sold without having been pre-washed so it can fade and mould to the wearer’s specific body shape over time.
In fact, all denim can go without needing to be regularly washed. In a 2011 study at the University of Alberta, microbiologists tested the bacteria levels on a pair of denim jeans that had been worn for 15 months straight without being washed. Their results found that “though the bacterial count was high, the strains found were not a threat to human health.” Reassuring—I think.
- You don’t take time to sort zips and buttons
Left undone, zips can snag on delicate clothes and catch in the drum of the washing machine. An open zipper can also put a lot of stress on the crotch of your jeans in the rough-and-tumble of the machine wash. By the same logic you might consider doing up buttons on your fly, but this can in fact pull on both the button and buttonhole during the cycle, which can loosen them or even lead to buttons falling off.
Remember to zip your zips all the way up and unbutton your buttons all the way down before you throw your jeans or denim in the machine to wash.
- You’re not drying jeans properly
You’d have to leave your clothes sitting wet in the washer for about 24 hours before mildew is likely to start forming. But, for smells’ sake, it’s best to remove clothes from the machine as soon as you can.
While machine washing denim is absolutely fine if you do it correctly, machine drying your jeans usually does more harm than good. The stress put on denim as it spins in a tumble dryer weakens the fibres and the heat can contribute to fading and shrinkage too. The tumble dryer is best avoided or at the very least remove your jeans when they’re still a little damp. Never leave your jeans in the dryer overnight.
Drying denim over a radiator isn’t recommended either as the heat stiffens denim in that shape and can cause fading. Dry your jeans by hanging them straight from a washing line or on a hanger out of direct sunlight, or flat across a clothes horse in a well ventilated area.
- You’re spending too long ironing your denim
It’s much debated, but general consensus is that yes, you should iron your jeans. A quick pass of the iron can help the denim fibres tighten and restore shape to your jeans, but it’s important you’re careful about how you’re ironing your denim when you do.
Now, whether you’re simply trying to straighten out the creases or ironing a centre crease into your jeans (each to their own), it’s best to go for a hot setting. Denim is made from cotton, which is typically quite sensitive to heat, so a quick pass is usually all that’s needed. If your spend too long ironing back and forth it can dry out the fabric and cause the colours to fade. Use plenty of steam and spray starch for a crisp, neatly creased fabric.
There are a couple of additional things to remember: turn pockets inside out to iron and gently press them until smooth, and leave the fly unzipped/unbuttoned as you iron each side in turn. Line up the seams too, then gently press the wrinkles to the side. This makes sure bunched layers of fabric don’t cause creases.
- You’re storing your jeans all wrong
Throwing jeans over the back of a chair or clothes horse undoes all the good work you did ironing them. Folding jeans into draws can do long-term damage too as it makes creases in them, which causes fabric fibres to stretch and strange fades to form. Folding jeans over a hanger is half a solution, but it also puts the stress of the weight of the denim in all the wrong places.
Jeans should be hung full length from a trouser hanger in an open and airy wardrobe so they don’t get damp. Avoid doing damage to the waistband by crimping the top of the jeans between folds of card or foam, and try to open the jeans flat but not too taught.
Denim is a fickle beast indeed, but with these five handy tips in your locker, there’s no reason why it can’t be tamed.