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How to Wash Jeans and Help Prevent Fading

By Dr. Laundry January 23, 2015

Have you been thinking that the New Year is the perfect excuse to shop for a new pair of denim blue jeans? Sure, you probably love your new jeans, at least until you’ve worn them a few times and need to wash them. Then it’s the same old problem: getting them clean without sacrificing the color. Denim notoriously fades, and while there are those for whom fading denim is somewhere between an art form and an obsession, a lot of us like our blue jeans to retain their blue color. With that in mind, let’s kick off 2015 with a review of how to care for denim.

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, which will crease the fabric.

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. Lower agitation and cooler wash temperatures reduce cleaning, making the chemistry of your wash water all the more important if you want your blue jeans to actually get clean. Start with a liquid detergent, and add Clorox2® Stain Remover and Color Protector for Darks & Denim. You can also safely pretreat stains directly with Clorox2® Darks & Denim—just apply a little directly to the stain and wait 5–10 minutes before washing.

Wash denim inside out. 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. This can result in lighter areas around side seams, as well as unwanted fold lines. 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.

Allow to air dry. Use pants hangers with plastic clips to hang blue jeans for air drying. 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.

It’s the chemistry of vat dyes that makes the indigo dyes used for blue jeans so special, You really can maintain the color of your blue jeans, but you are relying on the manufacturer to properly apply the dye. That means multiple applications of a less concentrated dye solution to achieve a deep blue, instead of one application of a more concentrated dye solution. When a new dark denim item is immersed in water and immediately turns the water dark blue, that’s a sign of improper dying. These garments are more susceptible to crocking (color loss resulting from abrasion), and can even transfer color to another item, such as a shirt tucked in at the waistband.  So be wary of garments labeled with terms like “special process” that warn you that color loss should be expected!