Why you should stop washing your jeans

I’m not going to ask you to hug a tree in honor of Earth Day (today!), but I hope you’ll read this story I wrote for Thrive Wire which brings together issues close to my heart: water conservation, climate change and a good pair of jeans.

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When Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh last year announced he was wearing a pair of jeans that had not been washed in a year, an audible “ew” was heard around the world.

Why wouldn’t a man who values denim more than the average Joe wash his pants? Because he does value his denim, he explained at Fortune’s Brainstorm Green Conference. Not only does one pair of jeans go through thousands of liters of precious water in its lifecycle, but washing denim too frequently shortens its life, Bergh explained.

Levi's CEO Chip Bergh.

Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh at the conference…looking pretty clean.

According to a study conducted by the Industrial Ecology Consultants, the average American washes his jeans every two wears. If every American washed their jeans every ten wears, it would yield an 80% decrease in energy and climate change, according to Bergh.

He is urging Americans to give up washing their jeans for one month, in honor of Earth Day.

"Rebel" James Dean in jeans.

“Rebel” James Dean in jeans.

While you may not be ready to make the “dirty denim” plunge, fabric experts say there are a few ways to “wash” your jeans without washing them.

How to vinegar wash your jeans

Some jean aficionados swear by vinegar to keep blue jeans blue, because the vinegar “locks” the dye into the fabric. Follow these instructions:

  • Shake your jeans out and spot clean any stains with a damp washcloth.
  • Put distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle and spray the jeans all over.
  • Turn the jeans inside out and repeat the process.
  • Hang the inside out jeans in the sun for 20 minutes (which will kill 99% of the bacteria).
  • Make sure the jeans are dry and turn them right side out before wearing.
California girl Marilyn Monroe in denim.

California girl Marilyn Monroe in denim.

How to freeze wash your jeans

Experts recommend following the vinegar method up with giving your jeans the deep freeze:

  • Turn jeans inside out and fold them.
  • Put the folded jeans into a large plastic freezer bag.
  • Squeeze the bag and attempt to remove all the air before sealing.
  • Seal tightly and place the bag in the freezer for at least 24 hours.
  • Remove the jeans from the freezer and give them a vigorous shake before wearing them. You may also want to let them return to room temperature before putting them on (brrr!).

Turn to the experts 

You could also try Mr. Black’s Denim all natural products, such as the Denim Wash and the Denim Refresh to both clean existing stains and prevent new ones from setting.

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Since reading Bergh’s persuasive comments I’ve found myself not throwing my jeans into the laundry basket…and I don’t notice that much of a difference in their cleanliness. I realize now I was washing them out of habit. Will you join me in accepting Bergh’s one month challenge?

A few more links on denim:

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2 thoughts on “Why you should stop washing your jeans

  1. Robert says:

    I already do this because wearing your jeans more than a couple times wears them in and loosens the fabric. I probably wear a pair 10 times without washing (normal wears that is, if there is a reason to wash them like I got really hot or spilled something on them, then I will wash them obviously). Makes them a lot more comfortable. Every time I wash them, the fabric tightens up. For girls, that might be desirable. But for me as a guy, I like my jeans to be comfy. Good to hear that the CEO of a jeans company recommends it.

  2. A Broad at Home says:

    Guilty! We rarely wash our denim and we’ve definitely done the freezer trick (someone at Madewell told me to spray them with vodka before putting them in the freezer… but I’m not sure I want to walk around smelling like a Martini : )

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