Care for Your Concert Wardrobe: How to Wash Jeans

Summer concert season is hard work. You stand in line for tickets (did you try for yours for Yahoo! On the Road?), drive out to far-flung festivals and shows, camp out for the best tickets. With this kind of schedule, laundry is a distant luxury, and besides, you’re trying to travel light — quarters for the laundromat are heavy.

Turns out grunge saves lives — at least, the life of your jeans. Overwashing wears them out, and the commonly accepted denim wisdom is that you can wear them several times. But what’s several times? And how do you maintain that careful cultivation of your raw denim?

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Measuring wear in man-hours: Ask a woman (magazine) like Self, and it’ll recommend at least three times, with a fabric-freshener spritz in between. Ask a male (magazine) like GQ, and it’ll dare to push wear from six to eight months. GQ in particular focuses on breaking in raw denim, and the magazine does draw a line over smell. (We recommend asking someone else to smell your jeans, lest you be biased. We also recommend that you not be in your jeans during said smell test.)

Temperature tantrum: Run them in the wash hot or cold? What about subzero? Surely you’ve heard about bundling up your jeans in the freezer, packed in there among with your ice cream bars and the alligator meat that Uncle Alphonse bagged for you.

Levi Strauss, in the spirit of bucking climate change, claimed that freezing would kill the odor. Of course, the Smithsonian threw cold water on that one, going to the ends of the earth (in this case, Antarctica) for a word from a frozen-microbes expert. The bacterial, whose waste makes the funky smell, live on human flesh, and they cozy back onto the denim whenever you wear them. Killing the smell actually takes extreme heat (10 minutes in 121 degrees) — and yes, people do bake their jeans, to the horror of denim experts, who warn against scorching.

However and whenever you wash your jeans, turn them inside out, and then hang to dry. You may chafe when you first get back in stiff-legged denim, but what’s more important, your tender flesh or your hot jeans? Get your priorities straight.

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First time, with vinegar: You don’t wash jeans, and now you should use vinegar — were great-great-grandma and -grandpa on to something after all? Chic on a Shoestring blogger Alicia Richmond, who holds a degree in clothing and textiles, recommends setting the dye for new jeans with a cup of distilled white vinegar and no soap. Yahoo Answers! has a slightly different formula: one-third cup white vinegar and three parts water or a cup of salt in a bucket of water. “To keep them from fading in subsequent laundering,” adds top contributor Anne M, “wash them inside out in cold or just warm water and [add] 1/3 cup white vinegar to the wash and rinse cycle.”

Ocean cycle? What about wading fully denimed into the ocean blue and getting that natural salt scrub — kind of like applying Neptune’s microdermabrasion to your pricey jeans? In the digital magazine the Crosby Press’s Denim Mythbuster series, the owners of Denim Therapy theorize that the salt helps the indigo stain stick to the fabric, and one gets a unique wash.

But the “denim gurus” and founders of Self Edge use words like “idiocy” and “moronic” when it comes to all these different soaks. “Beach soaks and salt-water soaks and tub soaks and whatnot — a lot of these things get circulated because they’re fun and it adds to your experience, but it’s unnecessary stuff to add to your experience,” Andrew Chen explains. “If you want your jeans to last a long time, if you want them to look good, honestly, just wash them every two months.”