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The Journal

Cleaning Raw Denim: The Great Debate

Freeze your jeans. Wear them in the ocean. Launder them exactly once a year under the light of a full moon. If you spend even five minutes Googling the right way to care for raw denim and you’ll find all sorts of bizarre ways to get your jeans clean. But which way is best? Well, it’s not that simple.

The Raw Difference

Raw denim, unlike the fabric found in an average pair of jeans, is never washed before it’s sold. This lack of pre-washing allows for a sharper indigo color and leads to more deeply defined fades as the denim wears in. Raw denim also tends to be heavier and more durable than other fabric, and while this makes it stiffer at first, it also allows the jeans to fit themselves to your body and gain unique fades that you’ll find nowhere else. For those looking for a sturdy pair of one-of-a-kind pants, it’s a worthy trade-off.

But how should you clean a pair of jeans that’s never been washed? There are a few schools of thought. Hard-core denim-heads will say you don’t need to wash them at all. The CEO of Levi Strauss even has a “Dirty Jeans Manifesto” declaring that jeans can go years without laundering. And while his points are more about reducing water use and sustainability than style, it’s true that washing raw denim can take away some of the magic.

The Problem with Laundry Machines

Washing your jeans in a normal washing machine cycle will definitely cause the indigo to bleed out of the denim, leading to slower fade production and a faster breakdown of the fabric. If the denim hasn’t undergone a process called sanfordization, it could also shrink your jeans (though all RPMWEST denim has been sanforized to prevent this problem). While some have no problem washing their jeans after a few months after they’ve achieved that lived-in look and feel, raw denim purists will often refrain from cleaning their pants at all. Point out the stains they inevitably accumulate and you might hear “they add to the story of the denim.”

A Turn to Science

For those unwilling to wash their pants, the question then becomes “are unwashed jeans sanitary?” While a gut instinct might say, “No, gross, of course not,” at least some clues point to the contrary. Back in 2011, a Canadian biology student took a bacteria culture of his jeans after fifteen months of nearly-continuous wear. His results: there was no noticeable difference from the same pair after it had been freshly laundered. While his experiment has yet to be tested in a more rigorous scientific setting, it does provide some evidence that washing your jeans after every few wears might not be entirely necessary.

None of this gets around a simple fact, though – unwashed jeans can smell terrible. There are websites that’ll tell you to freeze your jeans to kill the bacteria, but there’s no proof that that works at all. In fact, scientists have shown that many bacteria can survive the freezing process, and will start stinking again the second they thaw. 

So what’s a surefire way to stop your jeans from smelling? Simple – wash them. Luckily, there are ways to do it without ruining the look. We like to clean ours every few months in cold water with Wieup’s Denim Solution. It’s specifically designed to leave denim crisp and fresh without washing out the indigo and ruining the fades. If you really don’t want to wash them, though, you can try leaving them in direct sunlight to kill bacteria or give them a regular spritz of antibacterial denim mist. Whatever you choose, we always recommend hanging them to dry.

Your Jeans, Your Rules

When it comes down to it, raw selvedge denim jeans are all about individuality. We believe that extends to how you wash them. If you want to wear your pants in the ocean and roll around in some sand, blast them with UV light, or store them in sub-zero temperatures, go for it. They’re your jeans. Wash them your way.

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