How to wash and dry jeans by hand or in a washing machine – the basics

Once considered basic, durable work attire, jeans now come in a huge range of styles and colors. While you should always check your care instructions before washing or drying jeans, there are a few simple steps that apply to all types of denim.

1. Keep things gentle: Denim may seem like a tough fabric, but that doesn’t mean you should choose a heavy-duty wash cycle. Instead, opt for a delicate or gentle cycle, and use cold water to avoid shrinking or fading. Opt for a mild detergent, especially one made specifically for dark clothes if your jeans are blue or black.

2. Go it alone – and inside out: Turning jeans inside out helps protect the fibers on the outside of the jeans from friction and direct exposure from detergent, which helps prevent fading. However, it’s not rare for jeans to bleed dye, especially if they’re new. Before you toss your jeans in the laundry, read the care instructions to see if you should wash them separately at first. If you must wash your jeans with other clothes, try to wash them with similarly colored jeans or clothing.

3. Don’t get spun out: Heat can shrink, fade, or yellow denim, and it can also cause damage to stretch denim fabrics that contain spandex or Lycra. The best way to dry jeans is by hanging them up to air dry. If you need to use a dryer, select a low or no heat cycle and use dryer balls to keep your jeans tumbling. Remove the jeans while they’re still slightly damp, then stretch the seams and hang them up to finish drying. Once they’re completely dry, you can hang or fold your jeans to store in a drawer or on a shelf.

4. Make a splash: For new or lightly soiled jeans, you can use the soak cycle on your washing machine. Let the tub fill with water then mix in a gentle detergent made for dark fabrics. Turn your jeans inside out and lay them in the water – you can fold them to fit if need be, but don’t bunch them up. Let your jeans soak for 30-45 minutes, then drain the water, refill it and let your jeans sit for 10 minutes to rinse. Repeat the rinsing steps until the water is clear. If you don’t want to use your washing machine, you can also repeat the same steps with your bathtub, kitchen sink or a large basin with a few inches of cold water.

A person selects a cycle from a washing machine control panel.

How often should you wash jeans?

Should your jeans ever be in the laundry hamper? The answer depends on a number of factors. If you use your jeans for heavy-duty jobs (like construction or landscaping), or if you frequently wear jeans in warm, humid weather, you’ll probably want to wash your jeans more often. If you wear designer jeans for work or casual outings, you can probably wash your jeans less often.

Simply spot treat stains and let your jeans air out for at least 24 hours between wearings. That being said, always refer back to your jean manufacturer’s care instructions before determining how frequently you should wash your jeans.

How to wash black, white and new jeans

While the basic care instructions above apply to most denim, some varieties need a little extra care to keep them looking their best. If you’re the proud owner of a new pair of jeans, or if you want your black or white jeans to last, check out our tips below.

How to wash black jeans and prevent fading

The guidelines for caring for black jeans are similar to those for most dark denim – use a gentle cycle with cold water, wash separately or with black clothes, turn the jeans inside out and use a detergent formulated for dark clothes. 

How to wash white jeans

Unlike blue or black denim, white jeans are more likely to show stains. When it comes to washing white jeans, wash them separately or with other white clothes.Use cold water for a lightly soiled pair and warm water for more heavily soiled ones. In addition to using a gentle cycle, choose an extra rinse option to make sure that all detergent is thoroughly removed.

While it seems counterintuitive, you should actually avoid using bleach – it can cause yellowing or even damage the fabric. Fabric softener should also be avoided, since it can cling to the fabric and cause a dulling effect. As with other jeans, let them air dry or put them in a low/no heat dryer cycle. 

How to wash new jeans without shrinking or fading

If your jeans are not labeled as pre-shrunk or faded, then you may have purchased “raw denim” – that is, denim that hasn’t been shrunken or had its dye set during manufacturing. This allows you to wear your jeans so they mold to your body and develop their own unique fading patterns over time.

To prevent shrinking or bleeding, only use cold water to wash your jeans, and wash them separately or with similarly colored denim. If you decide to hand wash your new jeans, don’t wring them out when you finish rinsing them. Instead, fold or roll them before squeezing out the leftover water. Once they are damp, hang up your jeans to finish drying.