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June 22, 2012

Care and Maintenance: Denim


Proper care of denim is a little like a cure for hiccups. Everyone seems to have their own method, and some are stranger than others. While there is a very big difference between the proper care of new raw denim and pre-washed denim, and many hardcore denim enthusiasts may find this blasphemous, we are ultimately only talking about fabric. Unlike other fabrics like silk or wool, there is not really a ‘wrong’ way to clean your denim provided it gives you the desired result.

Personally, I like my denim to show its wear and think that good denim gets better with age. If the color fades, that just gives it more character, like breaking in a great pair of boots. Other people want their dark indigo denim to hold its color and look brand new in perpetuity.

That being said, there are two main methods that I want to talk about in this post: showering and freezing. I’ll get to them shortly, but first I wanted to cover some basic tips for taking care of your denim.

The Basics

Generally, you want to treat your denim like a suit. Spot clean it when that will suffice, and wash it as infrequently as possible while still keeping it clean. This will not only help break them in faster, especially if you wear them frequently, it will also keep the color from washing out too quickly.

Raw or dry denim is unwashed, so it will shrink. If you are purchasing a pair of jeans and you are unsure how much something will shrink, ask, because it varies a little from one brand to the next. The initial wash of raw denim will more or less determine how it fits you for the life of the piece, so be careful to not just throw it in with your laundry. There are differing views on how to execute that first wash, and that could be an entire post in itself, but if it is something you are considering email me or ask your raw denim salesperson.

If you have an old pair of jeans and the hem is frayed or there are holes in the crotch or pocket that you wish weren’t there, don’t worry because they can be fixed. It does take a specialist to do the repair correctly, so if you live in NYC or California you have some options. Self Edge is a denim sales and repair shop that does great work. At their NYC location, they can hem as well as do repairs, and you can pick up a new pair of high quality denim while you’re there! They also have locations in LA and San Francisco, but these are all drop off only.

The other option is Denim Therapy, located in midtown Manhattan. Now I mentioned Denim Therapy in my denim fit post for their mail-in chainstitching services. In addition to that, they also offer repair services either drop off or by mail. Both of these places do fantastic work and can bring a damaged pair of denim back to life again, which saves you time and money.

Showering

This is probably one of the stranger ways that I have heard for cleaning your denim, but in the right circumstances is one of the most effective for preserving fit if you are not concerned about losing a little color. One of the things about denim is that it will shrink when you wash it, and shrink even more if you put it in the dryer. One way to avoid this is by wearing your denim in the shower. A variation is to wash them in a bath, but the end result is essentially the same.

When wearing your jeans in the shower, it is very important to take into account what you want out of your jeans. Warm or hot water is anathema to dye; the higher the water temperature, the more dye you will lose in the wash. If you are going to use this method, I would recommend taking the coldest shower you can stand. Get in, add a little detergent, and essentially hand wash the denim while you are wearing it. Carefully, and with the assistance of a non-slip mat, go through your normal range of motion to disperse and rinse the detergent, but don’t stretch excessively (unless you want the denim to do the same).

Once the denim is thoroughly rinsed, there are two ways to proceed. You can either wear them or hang them until they dry, but be sure to do it out of direct sunlight to keep the color from fading. If you really want the perfect fit, particularly if they are (very) skinny jeans, wearing them is preferable, though not always practical as it takes a few hours and isn’t exactly comfortable.

In my opinion, this is a lot of trouble to go through unless your denim is skintight or it is the first wash of a raw denim. Though I have never had the problem personally, I feel that a similar result could be achieved by washing the denim on cold, then putting them on while still wet for a while to allow the denim to stretch to fit you. This will also help preserve the color a little more because the washing machine can probably handle colder water than you can.

Freezing

This method is preferred by those who want their dark denim to stay dark and fresh, and I have several friends who swear by it. There is one caveat in that while it will remove odors (and some say kill bacteria), it won’t actually clean the denim, i.e. remove dirt or stains. It may not seem like freezing clothes would do anything other than make them really cold, but it is actually an incredibly effective and chemical free way to remove odors.

If this sounds like your cup of tea, the generally accepted practice is that you should fold up the denim and place it in a freezer or other plastic bag. This is mostly so they wont stick to anything else you may have in your freezer. Once in the freezer, advice varies on the length of time you should leave them there, anywhere from one day to one week. I would think that anything more than 24 hours is somewhat redundant, as they should have reached the coldest temperature they are going to, and means that you are without your jeans for more than a day.

There are two more methods that I want to cover that sit at either end of the spectrum, but I will save those for the next installment.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

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