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Though hand-washing denim is ideal, you can still machine-wash your favorite pair of jeans in a way that keeps damage to a minimum.

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How Often Should You Wash Your Jeans?

Denim aficionados recommend washing your jeans every five to 10 wears, or whenever they develop an odor or start to look dirty. Wash your jeans more frequently if you move around in them a lot. If you’re sitting for most of the day, you can go longer between washes.

How to Machine-Wash Jeans

When it comes to caring for denim jeans, there are a few things that can cause the dye to fade: washing, drying, the buildup of dirt and oil, and regular wear. Gentle machine-washing cleanses your jeans of oils and dirt.

  1. Turn your jeans inside-out and zip them up. Turning your jeans inside-out will maximize contact with the part of the jeans that touched your skin (and its oils and sweat) and minimize contact with the indigo dye. Zip them up so that the zipper won’t snag on any fabric.
  2. Select your detergent. When washing jeans, use laundry detergent designed for dark clothing to prevent fading. Avoid bleach, which can permanently damage the indigo dye, and skip the fabric softener, which can build up in denim fabrics. Alternatively, you can use half a cup of distilled white vinegar in lieu of detergent. In addition to neutralizing odors, vinegar can also set colors, making it a great option for black jeans or brand new jeans that you’re washing for the first time.
  3. Wash denim with like colors. Although you may want to wash a new pair of jeans alone the first time to prevent dye transfer, it's okay to combine dark jeans with like colors (black, gray, and dark blue) on subsequent washes. Since denim is heavy and holds water, avoid washing more than two pairs of jeans together.
  4. Choose the gentlest wash cycle. Set your washing machine to the gentle cycle (or delicate cycle, depending on your machine) and choose the coldest water option. Add a small amount of detergent, then let the cycle run.
  5. Air-dry your jeans. Even though it’s okay to machine-wash jeans, it’s best not to put them in the dryer. To air-dry jeans, first unzip any zippers and unbutton any buttons; then line-dry the jeans, lay them flat, or hang them on a hanger in an area with good airflow. If you must use the dryer, dry on low heat.

3 Ways to Freshen Denim Jeans

There are several ways you can freshen up your jeans without actually having to wash them.

  1. Hang jeans in a window. In between washes, you can hang out your jeans in a window or near a fan to freshen them and reduce any odor.
  2. Make your own fabric refresher. You can also make your own fabric refresher by diluting white vinegar in water and adding a few drops of essential oil. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and mist your jeans as necessary.
  3. Spot clean your jeans. If you spill something on your jeans but they're not truly dirty, you can spot-clean in between washings. To spot clean, place a tiny amount of mild detergent on a toothbrush, and massage the stain until it fades. Then, rinse the area with cold water until all the soap is gone.

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