One of the biggest bones of contention people usually have with raw denim is how they should be washed and cleaned (also see our earlier post, “After 15 Months without washing, Nudie Pants show ‘normal’ bacteria levels“). We should probably preface this post by first saying that we don’t necessarily condone washing raw denim. As explained below, we advise wearing your raws for at least 6 months, thereby achieving that second-skin denim feel!
Before delving into the instructions, tips, etc. portion of this post though, it’s important to reiterate that the sooner you wash your denim, the less chance you will have for sharper fades. This is because one of the primary steps in manufacturing raw denim is the color treatment stage, (aka indigo dying) where the denim is dipped in vats of indigo dye (natural or synthetic).
As the indigo is not 100% absorbed into the material, after you wash your denim, you are losing that deep blue/black color and as well the rigid feel (due to starch loss). Thus, you want to wear your raw denim for at least 6 months prior to washing, but no longer than 1 year – otherwise the crotch in your denim will rip (or “blow out”)
Now, to get to the meat of it:
- Hemming – Do not hem your raw denim jeans prior to washing as the denim will naturally shrink in length
- Separate - Due to the natural indigo bleeding during washing, always wash your raw denim separate from other clothing pieces
- Water Temperature – General rule of thumb: the hotter the water, the greater the shrinkage
- Drying – Always hang dry flat. Do not place on a heat radiator, use a dryer, or crumple when drying, as it will damage the fabric and ruin the fit, fade, contrast, and overall quality
Minor Wash and Care
- Spillage – If you ever spill any liquid on your denim, try dry rubbing or dabbing with a paper napkin. Do not use soap or any other cleaning solution since you will risk losing some indigo dye and create an uneven fade. You don’t wanna be that guy with dark raw denim and big light circle, do you?
- Smell – Many feel compelled to wash their raw denim before the 6 month mark because of how they start to smell. The best solution here is to apply a very light cleaning spray, such as Fabreeze, and hang dry flat (preferably outdoors) for at least 24 hours.
Major Wash and Care
- Draw a bathtub of cool – lukewarm water, about 3-4 inches deep
- Mix in a small amount of very light washing powder, preferably Woolite Black, since it is specifically designed to lock in darker colors. Do not use bleaches or regular laundry detergent
- Lay your raw denim inside out and flat in the bathtub and submerge them in the water by placing heavy objects on top
- Let soak for 45 minutes
- Rinse with cool water to remove soap
- Remove from water and hang dry, ideally outdoors & in the sun
- Optional – Apply starch to stiffen jeans (see our earlier post “To Starch or Not To Starch, And How“)
Note: If your denim is heavily dyed (18 Oz. and up), you may want to help settle loose dye in the material by first running your denim through an initial cycle of cold water, 1/4 cup salt, and 1/2 cup vinegar.
We’ve watched a lot of “how-to” video tutorials on this subject, and the below two are probably the best. Again, always aim to wear your denim for at least 6 months but no longer than 1 year before washing.