Everything You Need to Know About Denim Care
The origins of the blue jean are rooted in workwear, and even with the premium fabrics and more modern fits we’re rocking today, denim can handle most anything you can throw at it. That being said, we get a lot of questions about how to prolong the life of jeans here at Huckberry. Luckily, one of our very own knows the ins and outs of getting the most out of quality denim—Huckberry Customer Experience Manager and resident denim expert Michael Ichioka is here to spill his knowledge and personal methods that will keep your favorite pair going strong for years to come.
Wash your jeans. One of the biggest (and grossest) pieces of misinformation is that you shouldn’t wash your jeans for six months to a year—I always cringe internally when I hear this suggestion, however well-intentioned it might be. That said, you definitely don’t need to wash your jeans after every wear the same way you would with a t-shirt.
Personally, I tend to be pretty messy, so I usually base my washes around whenever I spill a little beer on ‘em or experience the collateral damage of scarfing down a burrito in five minutes flat. But if you’re on the neater side, washing your jeans every month or two (depending on how often you’re wearing them and what you’re doing in them) is a good general guideline.
There are two methods I suggest for washing your jeans. The first is hand washing, which is good if you’re obsessive about the process (or if you don’t have direct access to a washing machine). The second, machine washing, is a bit more straightforward. We’ll walk you through both.
Fill the bath or five-gallon utility bucket with cold water deep enough to fully cover your jeans. You may need to push the jeans down a few times to remove any air pockets and keep them from floating on the surface. Add a capful of the natural soap of your choice (we’re big fans of Juniper Ridge or Dr. Bronner’s), and let your jeans soak for an hour or so, flipping them over and agitating by hand every 15 to 20 minutes. Drain the water, then give your jeans a rinse in clean, cold water to remove any soap residue. (Note: If you use your bathtub for this, it’ll definitely be left with some indigo stains, which is a great opportunity to clean it afterward and score some points with whomever you live with.)
When machine washing, I suggest using a detergent with no optical whiteners (most scent-free or natural detergents are good for this). Set the machine to cold, gentle wash, and if possible, disable the spin cycle—forcing the jeans against the outside of the drum can lead to creases or other unusual wear patterns that some folks aren’t fans of.
Regardless of how you wash your jeans, I recommend hanging them to dry if possible. I lay my jeans flat on an old towel and then roll it up (burrito style) to absorb excess water first, then I let them hang dry outdoors or in a space with good airflow. If you do need to put them in a dryer, it’s best to use a low-heat setting and remove them as soon as they are dry.
If you’re wearing the same pair of jeans every day, try hanging them up from a ladder rack overnight. This will allow the fabric to breathe between wears (vs. folding them and sticking them in a drawer) and will also prevent any creases from forming.
And keep in mind, for any raw (not pre-washed) pair of jeans, the indigo dye will transfer to any surface it comes into contact with, at least until after the first few washes. Be aware of this when wearing white sneakers, suede boots, or lighter-colored tees.
Wear and Repair
With any cotton garment, rips, tears, and holes are a matter of when rather than if—it’s a natural feature of the fabric. Jeans are no exception: The most common culprit is the dreaded crotch blowout. Due to the construction of jeans and friction from day-to-day use, the crotch or inner thigh is usually the first place to wear through. But there are a few things you can do to delay that eventuality.
One major factor is the fit: If you’re trying to prolong the life of your jeans, I’d recommend trying to find a pair that fits slightly looser in the top block. If you can’t fit your hand into the front pockets or take the stairs two at a time, there’s a good chance the thigh is a bit too constricting. Similarly, if you find yourself constantly having to pull the belt loops to hike the jeans up while you’re trying them on, you may want to find a pair with a higher rise.
Another big factor is the activity level of the wearer. Bicycling is the biggest contributor here—if you’re riding your bike in jeans every day, you’re pretty much guaranteed to blow out the crotch in less than a year.
The good news: Due to the sturdy fabric and straightforward construction, jeans are one of the easiest articles of clothing to repair. Below, I’ve got three options for getting your jeans fixed up when the time comes.
If you have access to a sewing machine, our friends at Heddels put together a great step-by-step DIY repair guide. My first-ever pair of nicer jeans was from Naked & Famous, and I was able to patch up a half dozen rips and tears and keep them in the rotation for several years with this guide.
DIY by Hand Repair
For a more leisurely approach, you can also try sashiko (literally, “little stabs”), a traditional Japanese mending method. Brooklyn-based brand Apprvl sells a repair kit that will give you everything you need to get started. While sashiko repairs can be time-consuming, there’s something satisfying about mending by hand (it’s also a great activity to do while catching up on your podcasts), and it adds a truly unique detail to your jeans.
Finally, if you have a pair that you want to get back to as close to new as humanly possible without losing the broken-in, beaten-up quality that you love, send them off to the denim repair wizard at Indigo Proof. Fair warning: As a one-person shop, the wait times are long and the prices aren’t cheap, but their work is absolutely amazing.
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