3 Popular Raw Denim Care Myths and Why They’re Totally Busted
Freezing Your Jeans; Washing Them in the Ocean; Waiting 6 Months Before You Wash
What kind of jeans were you wearing in 2007?
Me, I was rocking a pair of A.P.C. New Standards — one of my gateway drugs into raw denim. In fact, in May of 2008, I landed a part time job in a store that sold the popular French jeans. Man, did I feel like one of the cool kids!
Soon, I was explaining to customers what selvedge was and how to wash raw denim. With the sparse knowledge of the topic that I had at the time, I relied on what my co-workers told me as well as the wash instructions like those A.P.C. jeans came with.
Don’t wash your jeans” or “wear them for as long as possible and then wash them in the ocean,” I would tell my customers.
These days, we know that raw denim care tips like washing your jeans in the ocean or putting them in the freezer are gimmicky at best.
Yet we keep seeing the same sensationalistic stories in mainstream media every time journalists have to talk about raw denim care. Whenever CEOs of prominent denim brands tells us not to wash our jeans, we’re back to square one. And A.P.C. jeans still come with the same list of wash recipes that they did a decade ago. It’s like whack-a-mole!
Sure, the stories have a certain entertainment value that gets more people interested in denim. The problem is that the new generation of denimheads end up making the same mistakes we did ten years ago because they’re getting the same poor advice.
That’s why I decided it’s time for me to find out whether the most popular raw denim care tips are myths or facts.
To help me get some perspective on the topic, I’ve talked to a handful of raw denim retailers and denim influencers who know what they’re talking about.
Myth #1: The Freezer ‘Deodoriser’
Let’s start with what’s arguably the most hyped myth; the one about freezing your jeans.
The premise here is a flawed idea that low temperatures remove unwanted odours in your jeans (and other clothes for that matter) by killing the bacteria that cause the smell.
We’re talking about bacteria that amass as sloughed skin and dirt ends up in your jeans when you do not wash them. And these bacteria thrive at the temperature of the human body.
But some bacteria can survive even very low temperatures, Stephen Craig Cary, who’s expert on frozen microbes, explains in the Smithsonian. What’s more, it takes only one survivor to repopulate your jeans when they warm up again.
So why do bacteria smell? Here’s Victor (aka @selvedge1 on Instagram) explaining the science of body odours:
“The source of the smells in body odour is skin gland secretions and bacterial activity. Many of these secretions are broken down by bacteria into molecules that we recognise as body odour,” he says.
These molecules transfer into the cotton fibres in denim when you sweat,” Victor explains. “And freezing does not remove the molecules already embedded in the denim fabric.”
Sub-zero temperatures do put the molecules to sleep, so to speak. Danny Hodgson from Rivet and Hide isn’t one to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do with your jeans. But he’s experienced himself how the freezing works only until the jeans defrost and the bad odour returns.
Still, the only way to ensure you get rid of the cause of the smell is through washing!
The bottom line is that freezing your jeans will not remove the smell and magically clean the denim. For that, you need water and soap.
Myth #2: Ocean Wash and Sand Rubbing
The A.P.C. ‘washing recipes’ leaflet is likely the origin of this myth.
It verbally says, “let your jeans get dirty as long as possible, go swimming in the ocean wearing your jeans, rub them with dry sand and repeat several times. Rinse in fresh (not salt) water and let dry in the sun.”
The premise here is that going swimming in your jeans and then rubbing them with sand should give you great fades. But why?
Merv Sehti from Okayama Denim argues that the salt in ocean water gives the denim a stiffer and crispier feel. Co-founder of Standard & Strange, Jeremy Smith, agrees and adds that the denim is therefore more likely to crease up to produce higher contrast fades. “But you could do this with a few cups of salt and a bathtub,” he suggests.
Danny never tried it himself, but he suspects the salt residue can be quite irritating and possibly bad for the denim if you don’t rinse the jeans properly in fresh water.
And you can’t just take your jeans to the ocean and get great fades just from washing them there. Nick reminds us that how good the fades get largely depends on other factors such as for how long and how hard you’ve worn the jeans prior to the wash.
So the washing part of the myth is plausible.
In the end, it will deposit more dirt and hard water into the fibres than what was there to begin with. Due to the sea water scent and the high mineral content of ocean water, you’ll need to machine wash your jeans after an ocean wash to truly get them clean,” he says.
Sand rubbing can indeed speed up the fading process, Merv argues, but adds that you’d have to rub the sand for an extensive period.
Unless you’re some kind of sand-rubbing-robot (or have a lot of time on your hands), you’re not going to do meaningful damage to your jeans with sand,” Jeremy reasons.
While he agrees that sand rubbing can speed up the fading, he questions why you would want to do that in the first place?! To him, wearing raw denim is about the journey, not the result.
“Getting a new pair of jeans is like a beginning of a long term relationship,” he says, “it’s not a one night stand.”
Sand rubbing myth busted.
Myth #3: Don’t Wash for 6 Months
This myth has become so ingrained into the public consciousness that you’ll hear everywhere. Popularised by Nudie, the premise of the myth is that wearing your jeans for at least six months before you wash them ensures great fades.
It has already been the topic of countless blog posts and discussion throughout the ‘denim sphere.’ Naturally, I’ve also addressed it in my in-depth washing guide.
The problem with the advice is that what constitutes ‘great fades’ is a matter of opinion.
“When you wash depends on what kind of fades you want,” Jeremy says. “Less washing means higher contrast fades, regardless of when the washing occurs.”
Some might go for six months before they wash, but who are we to judge what great fades are,” Peter says.
Therefore, this myth is not a universal truth, “six months is just a convenient number,” Nick agrees. He simply suggests to wash your raw denim when it’s ready to be washed.
Even more importantly, many forget to tell you that the when you don’t wash raw denim, it breaks and rips quicker. Danny agrees:
Water strengthens the cotton and a wash of some kind will make the jeans last longer,” he explains. “If you never wash them you are more likely to get blow outs.”
And what is the point of getting those ultimate fades if the jeans fall apart and become unwearable?
Like me, Danny washes recommends to wash inside out with a gentle detergent either by hand or on a short cycle then hang dry.
You can learn more about how I recommend you to wash raw denim here.
If the denim is unsanforized (i.e. shrink-to-fit), Kiya from Self Edge argues that you still get great and natural fades if you wash every month or so.
“Wash ’em in the washing machine,” he told Esquire back in 2015. “And don’t worry about waiting months or years to do it. The dirt will break down the fibres and cause early-onset tearing.”
And remember that postponing the first wash also only makes sense with raw denim. If the jeans were pre-washed and industrially faded, the process of breaking in the denim has already happened in a factory.
So, the myth is busted as a universal truth.
But because the interpretation of ‘great fades’ is individual, we have to say it’s plausible.
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