In the last Care and Maintenance post I talked about two of the less common ways to clean your denim, showering and freezing. These methods are mostly used by serious (raw) denim enthusiasts who want to preserve the crispness of their jeans, but what about the rest of us?
While there are dozens of different techniques of caring for your denim, one even involving an oven, there are two methods in particular that I have found particularly useful (depending on the desired outcome).
So this is relatively straightforward. If I have a pair of jeans that I want to soften up and not look brand new, I will wash them like I would any other pair of pants (more frequently if I want to fade them). This is where a basic knowledge of laundering comes in handy. Machine-washing on any temperature will fade your denim simply because of the agitation, but you can have some control over the amount of fading by changing water temperature and wash cycle.
The hotter the temperature in the wash, the more the color will fade. Standard washing instructions are usually the normal cold cycle. This is usually a pretty harsh wash though, so I wash my jeans (and all my clothes really) on delicate. There is less agitation, which results in less stretching and less loss of color.
This is where the relatively part comes in. There are some people who embrace the effect that washing can provide, but refuse to use any sort of cleaning agent because it will degrade your clothes. My personal philosophy is that I buy clothes because I like them and want to enjoy wearing them. I buy quality so that it lasts a long time, but if it wears out, I will replace it. With denim I want it to show its wear so if it is dirty, I am going to wash it.
The dryer is a little more contentious. If you put denim in the dryer, it will shrink, and not always evenly. The flipside to this is that as you wear a pair of jeans they will stretch out, and tossing them in the dryer for a few minutes can get them back to their original size. This happens because the heat causes the wet fibers to constrict as they dry, so as a result the more heat, the more they will shrink. Don’t get me wrong, you can absolutely ruin your jeans by putting them in the dryer (and it isn’t that difficult either), so dry at your own risk.
I always hang dry my denim unless I need a little shrinkage, in which case I will tumble dry them on low for about 20-30 minutes. This accomplishes the shrinking without drying them all the way and potentially killing them. Depending on the pair, I may then take a tip out of the prior denim post and put them on slightly damp to form back to my body.
Another technique I use if I have a particularly stiff pair of denim that I want to break in is the exact opposite – not washing them. This also ties in to a method I discussed in the previous denim post, because the quickest way to break in your denim is to wear them every day and not wash them for as long as possible. Depending on what you do while wearing your denim, they might become a bit odiferous. While you can freeze, bake, or Febreeze them, I prefer an old theatre trick. Vodka spray (1 part vodka and 3-4 parts water) is a fantastic way to remove smells from fabric, and no it won’t leave you smelling like you just stumbled out of a bar. Just let dry and voila (and safe for most fabrics as well, as long as they don’t water spot).
I have some denim that I wash a few times a year and some that I wash every few weeks. There is really no wrong way to clean and care for your denim, just your way. Decide what purpose you want your denim to serve, how you want it to look, and choose a care method that will give you the best results.