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A pile of four denim jeans in different shades folded neatly in a stack.
04 Aug
A pile of four denim jeans in different shades folded neatly in a stack.

How to Care for Your Denim Clothes and Make Them Last Longer

Caring for the clothes you already own is one of the most sustainable things you can do for your closet, and long-lasting denim is one timeless wardrobe staple that deserves your TLC as a conscious fashion lover.

Clearing the air on denim care

I remember reading once that putting your jeans in the freezer kills bacteria and is a great alternative to machine washing, which is no good for denim. I was immediately sceptical about nestling my beloved jeans in a pile of frozen peas and dumplings, and luckily, a bit of research told me what I expected to hear: it’s a myth.

Sending your jeans on a trip to the ice box isn’t the only denim care myth, so we’re here to clear the air once and for all about the best ways to care for your denim garments, from how (and how often) to wash them, to the best options for storage, and beyond.

Make the denim of today the denim of tomorrow

In today’s fast-paced fashion industry, more and more people are considering the environmental impact of their clothing choices. Denim, a beloved and versatile fabric, is no exception. The production of denim often involves significant water consumption, chemical usage, and energy expenditure, contributing to pollution and resource depletion. But it’s also a hardy and long-lasting investment if treated well, not to mention eternally stylish.

As conscious consumers, we can make a positive change by adopting a “buy less, buy better, and make it last” mindset. By extending the lifespan of our denim garments by learning about their particular care requirements, we not only reduce waste but also promote a more sustainable future. Here we’ll share valuable tips and tricks to care for your denim clothes, ensuring they remain stylish and out of landfill for many years to come. Let’s dive in.

To freeze or not to freeze?

Perhaps the most consistent garment care myth about denim is that you should rarely wash it, and instead chuck it in the freezer to kill odours and bacteria. However, this (frankly bizarre) tip has been debunked numerous times over the years.

Studies have found that while freezing denim may temporarily put bacteria into hibernation, they will not be killed by a household freezer and will soon be back and bigger than ever post-thaw. The odours will also come back, now coupled with that on-the-nose freezer smell. You know the one.

So, is frequent washing okay or not?

Coupled with the freezing myth is the idea that you should rarely wash your denim—and this part is actually true. But why? Well, there are two main prongs here: maintaining the shape of the denim, and the environmental impact of frequent laundering.

Denim garments, especially those made from 100% cotton, are designed to mould and shape to fit your body over time. Washing them too often messes with this whole process, and should be avoided. Less frequent washing also happens to be a crucial way to reduce the environmental impact of your wardrobe at home, since it means you’ll likely have the garment around for longer, and microfibre release will be mitigated.

So, most experts recommend infrequent washing—around every month or so is perfectly fine. This looks like around every 10 wears, depending on how often (and how sweatily) you wear your denim. Airing, spritzing, and spot-cleaning in between washes is the way to go.

Washing your denim

Denim care starts with washing. Follow these basic guidelines to keep your denim clothes fresh without causing unnecessary wear and tear, and remember to check the laundry care tags in case there are any special instructions:

  • The first step is simple: wash less. Like, way less. You’d be surprised how well denim does with spot cleaning and a good air out, with a wash every month or so. You can spot clean minor stains using a damp cloth or a small amount of mild detergent. This helps preserve the colour and shape of your denim.
  • Fold ’em inside out. A nifty trick is that when you do wash, you should turn your denim garments inside out with the zipper or buttons done up to protect the outer surface from friction and fading.
  • Don’t use hot water. When machine-washing, use cold water (up to 30° celsius) and a gentle cycle to prevent shrinking and colour loss. Also, avoid using bleach as it can weaken the fabric—plus, it’s bad news for the environment.
  • Buy a better detergent. Opt for lower-impact laundry detergents free from harsh chemicals like phosphates and optical brighteners. These detergents are gentler on your denim and safer for the environment.
  • Skip the drying machine. Avoid using a dryer, as the heat can cause shrinkage and damage the fabric, causing all that lint you find in your pockets. Instead, air dry your denim clothes by laying them flat or hanging them to preserve their shape.

DIY denim deodouriser

If you’ve ever been in a costume department or green room, you might’ve witnessed someone fussing over the outfits with a little spray bottle of clear liquid that miraculously makes the performing-all-day smell go away.

Chances are, it’s a DIY deodouriser spray the behind the scenes geniuses whipped up to avoid damaging the costumes with daily washing and drying in between shows. And it’s a low-waste trick you can do at home too to help with smells in between washes for denim and beyond.

Simply mix distilled alcohol (ideally something scentless like cheap vodka) with purified water in a spray bottle and spritz it all over your clothes to naturally kill odours and you’re good to go. Some sources say straight alcohol will do the job better, others list optional ingredients like bicarb soda and essential oils, so try a few combinations and see what works best for you and your family (if you add additional ingredients like essential oils, it’s always wise to test the spray on a hidden part of the garment first—straight or diluted alcohol is the safest bet, for sure).

Maintaining denim’s shape

Denim garments can lose their shape over time, but with these simple practices, you can keep them looking fabulous for longer:

  • How to iron and steam denim: iron denim clothes inside out or use a steamer on the reverse side to prevent direct heat contact with the fabric. This will help prevent colour fading or shine.
  • How to properly hang your denim jeans: to best maintain the shape of jeans, fold them lengthwise and hang them over a hanger, not in a pile on a shelf. Avoid hanging denim by the belt loops, or you risk stretching and distorting the fabric.
  • How to reshape denim: if your denim loses its shape, mist it with water and reshape it while damp. Lay it flat or wear it until it dries to regain its original form. It might feel a little funny, but it will fit like a glove afterwards.

Storing denim

Proper storage ensures that your denim clothes remain in excellent condition between wears, and it’s worth paying attention to when caring for denim:

  • Keep the UV rays at bay. You’re best to fold or hang denim in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight to prevent fading and discolouration.
  • Fold when you hang. If you choose to hang denim (which is best for maintaining shape), use sturdy padded or wooden hangers and fold the garment in half over the hanger to minimise stress on the shoulders or belt loop.
  • Avoid storing denim in plastic bags long term, as they can trap moisture and cause mildew. Instead, opt for breathable cotton or canvas garment bags and chuck a cedar ball in for good measure to keep any moths or creepy crawlies away.

Repairing and upcycling denim

We all know how easy it is to chuck clothing away as soon as it shows a few signs of wear and tear, but extending the life of your denim garments by repairing or upcycling them is a great thing to do for both the planet and your wallet:

  • Mend small holes or loose stitches ASAP to prevent further damage. You can learn basic sewing techniques online (we’ve got a great article for getting into sewing) or look for a local tailor who can do it for you at a fraction of the cost of a new pair of jeans.
  • Get creative with upcycling. If the garment is truly beyond repair, get creative and repurpose old denim garments into new items, such as tote bags, cushion covers, or even patchwork quilts. Upcycling is an excellent way to give new life to worn-out denim (or any clothes) and reduce waste.
  • Rehome and recycle responsibly. If all else fails, there are a few brands and upcycling organisations that will take old denim from any brands off your hands including Frank And Oak stores and Blue Jeans Go Green—you can also contact your local council and see what recycling options your area offers, if any. Also check with the brand your denim originally came from to see if they have take-back recycling schemes, as is the case with MUD Jeans, Nudie Jeans, and Baukjen.

So, there you have it. While you can’t have your denim and freeze it too, you can now go forth and care for your denim equipped with the knowledge on how best to wash, shape, store, and dispose of your beloved indigo jeans and jackets for many years to come.

Meet our editors’ favourite denim brands making better denim

Editor's note

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