Even the head of Levi Strauss believes that putting your jeans in the washing machine is a bad idea. But what other options are there?

Rack of Jeans

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Blue jeans have been around since the California Gold Rush. And almost as old as the pants themselves are conflicting theories about how to keep the hardworking denim clean without fading it or wearing it out prematurely.

Many people believe that you should wash your jeans sparingly, if ever. This may sound extreme, but one proponent of this theory is none other than Levi Strauss CEO Chip Bergh. Bergh once revealed that he owns one pair of jeans that he hasn’t put in a washing machine in 10 years, and that he doesn’t think we should be laundering our jeans, either. While we applaud the CEO’s ultra low-water approach to washing, and recognize that the fact that he’s made a pair of pants last a decade is impressive, we still have some sanitation concerns.

How, then, should we be cleaning our jeans? We went to the Internet for help.


One popular strategy is periodically putting jeans in the freezer overnight. While Bergh himself specifically mentioned that he does not back this approach, plenty do. We admit, it seems like a deep freeze should kill bacteria, or at the very least, keep your pants smelling winter fresh.

Okay, odor issues solved. But they’ll still get stained and dingy, right? You can dry-clean them, but that gets expensive. One out-of-the-box technique is sea-washing, in which you wear your jeans in the ocean (yes, on purpose) and then rub sand on them. This “wash,” however, is more intended to fade raw denim in an aesthetically pleasing way than it is to get them clean.

If you should get a stain on your jeans that you can’t live with, you can try spot cleaning using detergent and kosher salt.

When you feel that your jeans really need the attention of some kind of detergent, put them in the bathtub with cold water and a gentle cleaner, like Woolite (although products made just for denim exist).

A more fun way of achieving the same effect? Wear your jeans in the shower.

Will these tricks work? Or will they just destroy your pants? Well, look at it this way: Over the decades, we’ve worn our jeans baggy, and we’ve worn them tight. We’ve paid good money for jeans that have been washed with rocks and acid. We’ve rolled them halfway up our calves and we’ve let the cuffs drag on the ground. Some of us have even slashed up brand-new pants with razor blades.

On purpose.

So whatever happens to your jeans, just hold on to them. However bad you may think they look now, we promise you, someday they will be the height of fashion.


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