Never Wash Your Jeans…What Do You Think?

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Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh recently said he had on a pair of denim jeans that were a year old and that they had never been washed, while attending Fortune’s Brainstorm Green conference in Laguna Niguel, California.

He went on to say you should very seldom machine wash denim, which can break down fibers, fade colors and that less washing equals greater environmental sustainability. Instead, he recommends spot cleaning with a sponge or toothbrush with a bit of detergent and air drying.

For some, this brought an immediate “ick” response. Never wash your jeans? But what about odors, germs and dirt?

According to, water itself will wash away your denim’s dye over time and soap will hasten the process. They suggest you try soaking your jeans in cold water and vinegar instead of washing them. To do, add 1 cup distilled white vinegar to a cold water bath and soak jeans for about an hour. Then hang or lay flat to dry. (The vinegar odor dissipates when dried.) If that’s too much trouble to go to, they say you can also toss the jeans in the washer with 1 cup vinegar and to use the hand-wash setting…but don’t add detergent. But again, do this as seldom as possible. If the jeans just need a bit of freshening, they suggest you hang them in the bathroom while you shower.

I had read that freezing items like stuffed animals could kill dust mites but what about bacteria? According to the Mayo Clinic, freezing nonwashable items for 24 hours can kill dust mites and some bacteria but it won’t remove allergens or all bacteria. Most bacteria must be heated for it to be removed. Bacteria is the prime cause of odor on your jeans but the bacteria won’t hurt you. According to the Smithsonian, bacteria that sloughs off our skin causes odors. Bacteria transfers with the sloughed-off skin cells onto the denim, which can then cause odor.

Besides the water and vinegar method of cleaning your jeans, a few other suggestions…

  • Spot clean stains by applying a laundry stain removing product directly to the soiled area. Wait a few minutes and then use a clean, damp cloth to saturate the area and scrub away the stain.
  • Hand wash jeans by filling a tub with 6 inches of warm water and mix with a capful of gently laundry detergent, like you’d use on baby clothes. Submerge the jeans in the tub, stretched out flat and soak for 20 minutes. Rinse well with warm water, squeeze out the water and hang to dry. (Personally, this seems like a lot of work!)
  • Wash jeans on delicate setting with cold water and gentle laundry detergent. Hang to dry.

Or, as Mr. Bergh does, simply don’t wash them.

The dryer is not good for your jeans either. The heat shrinks denim and tumbling leads to unnecessary wear and tear. On nice days, hang your jeans outside. Now some stretch jeans lose their shape after you wear them a couple of times so if you do want a bit of shrinkage, put them in the dryer on the lowest setting. Turn them inside out which will cut down on the friction to the outside of the fabric.

Of course all of these methods are for jeans you’ve worn under “normal conditions.” If you’re gardening or fishing and then gutting those fish in your denim, chances are they are going to not only smell, but be really dirty and need a washing machine. And if you’re doing those kind of activities in “those” pair of jeans, chances are they aren’t your “good” jeans so it may not be as important to keeping them looking good. (I personally buy my “gardening & work” jeans at the thrift stores, knowing I’m going to abuse them.)

So, what do you think about not washing your jeans? How often do you launder them if you do? Have any cleaning tips to share? And would you ever go a year without tossing those jeans in a washing machine?

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