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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

A Denim State of Mind

By Dr. Laundry January 25, 2017

If you love denim as much as I do, 2017 is off to a great start now that denim is the Official State Fabric of California!

It all started when AB501 (hmmm… “501,” that’s clever) was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in late 2016. The law finally went into effect on New Year’s Day 2017.

There are a lot of good reasons to name denim as the official California state fabric.

My favorite is the way a cotton twill weave fabric is interwoven into California history:

From sturdy utility fabric for pioneers→ To practical working clothes for gold miners→ To high-fashion garments that symbolize American style!

These days, denim comes in a wide variety of colors, but it’s the traditional indigo-dyed denim for blue jeans that is particularly special.

First, the warp yarns have the color applied to the yarn (not the fibers before they are spun into a yarn), resulting in a yarn that’s dark blue on the outside and white on the inside. The filling yarns are white. When woven together in a twill pattern they look like this:

A right-hand twill means the diagonal pattern moves upward from the left to the right. Denim can also be woven into a 3/1 right hand twill, which means even more blue showing on the face of the fabric and relatively more white on the back side.

These factors — soft cotton tightly woven into a durable cloth, and yarn-dyed warp yarns that dominate the face of the fabric — each contribute to denim’s unique fading quality, where denim typically fades over time.

It seems there’s two types of denim lovers — those who like faded jeans and those who want to maintain the original color. If you’re the type who wants to maintain color, here are my favorite tips for keeping denim looking newer longer.

Keep your Denim Looking Newer, Longer

  1. Turn denim inside out to wash.
    • As fabric tumbles or agitates through the wash and rinse water, it rubs against the other items in the load, as well as the agitator or drum, which causes residual indigo dye remaining on the outside of the fibers to rub off.
      • Turning the item inside out (you can do this after pretreating) and closing all buttons, snaps and zippers is a great way to prevent fading from mechanical action.
    • Use the Delicate cycle.
      • With less agitation and lower spin speeds than regular or permanent press cycles, the delicate cycle reduces the rubbing and creasing of the fabric that contributes to color loss.
        • Front loading washers have more gentle agitation than standard top loading washers, so use a front loader if available.
        • You can also hand wash your denim jeans; just be sure to rinse them thoroughly, and roll in a towel to squeeze out excess moisture instead of wringing the water out.
    • Select the appropriate wash temperature.
      • If the care label recommends warm water, then select the warm/cold wash and rinse option. Otherwise, go with a cold wash and rinse.
    • Use the right detergent and laundry additives.
    • Air dry your denim.
      • Keeping denim (and really any dark item) out of a hot dryer is important for limiting overall fading, as well as avoiding color loss from the abrasion that results when items tumble together.
        • Another bonus: air drying can also help prevent shrinkage!

I believe California is the only state (at least for now!) with an official State Fabric, and denim is the perfect choice for the honor! I wonder if other states will be fast followers — and what fabrics they will choose?

—Dr. Laundry