How To Clean and Wash Your Raw Denim – Tips, Instructions, Video

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!

Raw Denim - Wash and Clean The Right Way

Raw Denim – Wash and Clean The Right Way

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:

Tips

  • 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

How to Clean and Wash Your Raw Denim - Woolite Dark

  1. Draw a bathtub of cool – lukewarm water, about 3-4 inches deep
  2. 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
  3. Lay your raw denim inside out and flat in the bathtub and submerge them in the water by placing heavy objects on top
  4. Let soak for 45 minutes
  5. Rinse with cool water to remove soap
  6. Remove from water and hang dry, ideally outdoors & in the sun
  7. 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.

Video

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.

Nick Coe

Nick is the Founding Editor of RawrDenim.com.

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  • Helcmanovsky_j

    I bought my Edwin raw denim about a year ago and would like to wash them now. The problem is, I gave it to a tailor once and told her to only repair the crotch, but the old (probably deaf) bitch also hemmed it down to normal length.

    Will the denim shrink much when i wash it with lukewarm water?

    • http://www.rawrdenim.com Rawr Denim

      It more so depends whether or not the denim is sanforized (pre-shrunk) or unsanforized (not pre-shrunk). If it is the former, they will shrink 1% – 5%, while if it is the former, shrinkage can be anywhere from 7% – 10%.

  • Anonymous

    this is a great post. i just found out about this site! just soaked mine for 45 min after wearing for 15 months w/o wash. hope it looks good :)

    • http://www.rawrdenim.com Rawr Denim

      Thanks! How did they come out?

  • Guest

    Is it possible to shrink 2-3 sizes down?

    • http://www.rawrdenim.com Rawr Denim

      Depending on the denim, it’s possible to shrink approx. 2 sizes down in the waist, but not in other dimensions.

      For instance, Samurai Jeans’ “Zero” model denim will shrink a lot in the waist. The top-block and legs will shrink as well, but not as much. It will also stretch out about the same amount with regular wear.

      • Guest

        What about length? Am I better off going to a tailor?

        • http://www.rawrdenim.com Rawr Denim

          With unsanforized denim, it’s common that the inseam with shrink somewhere around 2 inches. That’s why most raw denim is cut with an inseam length of 36 inches, so it will shrink to a 34.

          If you need it shorter, you can take them to a tailor or consider cuffing them.

  • 91

    ” and now if you wear it for like another couple months it’ll speed ip the process of fading.”

    >>> does denim fade faster after giving it a first wash..? i don’t  get it..because in my understanding, its the other way around….

  • http://juzd.com/ Sharky the Streetwear Designer

    Thanks a lot for posting the video! We made an updated video, another 18 months after that video, the 2nd wash but seem to have lost the footage!

    • http://www.rawrdenim.com Rawr Denim

      No problem, let us know if you come across it!

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  • Piersonator

    Hey guys! Why will wearing raw denim for more than a year cause crotch blowouts?

    • Pikachu

      cause of repeated friction applied around on the crotch area…..?

      • Cameron Dyke

        Because the bacteria in the fabric starts to break it down. Alternatively you could never stain your denim and always freeze-clean it.

  • jus shilling

    so, if i understand correctly.. you wash them at a certain point to prevent blowouts.. but after the wash, from what ive noticed, is that they jeans just start to fall apart anyway, but at a faster rate.. you also hear of people retiring their jeans after first wash (if theyve waited a while, i.e. a year or more).. correct me if im wrong, im just trying to understand more.. thanks..

    • benzittlau

      I haven’t seen any concrete evidence to suggest that after a wash jeans would fall apart faster (and our guru Sean here at Rawr hadn’t either).  

      Some people do retire their jeans after washing, but this is largely a matter of taste (and possibly idealism), as you can still get some great wear and life out of jeans after they’ve been washed if you choose to keep wearing them.  For example: 
      http://www.rawrdenim.com/2012/03/fade-friday-iron-heart-634s-9-months-8-washes/

  • jus shilling

    also, thanks for the vid.. rawrdenim is right.. this is the best breakdown so far.. people always say, “do this, do that”, when it comes to raw denim.. you ask why.. and the answers never really fully explain to me what it is i need to know.. its like when i was young, “dont smoke”.. ok why? “its bad”.. ok word.. or sundays on your way to church, “how do you know there is a GOD?”, there just is.. “ok”.. this sites the most on point for info.. lotta love for that.. and forget asking around on forums.. i see what they do to newjacks!

  • kurtyd

    Washing some Acknowledge denim right now! First time. 6 mo. wear, didn’t soak initially but I got these on clearance for $28 so i don’t have much to lose. they were cut unusually large so i’m hoping for some good shrinkage.

  • guyhigh

    finally giving my n&f skinny guy’s a wash after about 9months of wear, crotch is definitely nearing its end. looking forward to the end result, hoping for a bit of shrinkage as I’ve lost a good amount of weight from last year also looking in to maybe hemming after as well.

  • sc

    I’m wearing my 2.5 yr old Somets, and I’ve never washed them. No tears, no crotch blow-out, and they are gorgeous. I will give them a woolite inside out soak, now that I see that is safe. I was told to wear them without washing for as long as I could bear it, so I guess Somet gets an A++ for quality. (To Note: I’ve been febreezing the insides of them and keeping them overnight in the freezer to kill bacteria and funk. For 2 years, that did the trick)

    • http://www.rawrdenim.com Rawr Denim

      Good stuff – as mentioned below too, you’ll have to share the results in our forum afterward! They must look unreal after 2.5 years and no washes.

    • BillygoatsGruff312

      put them up for fade friday

  • Bryant

    Is it a must to use woolite to wash?

    • http://www.rawrdenim.com Rawr Denim

      It’s ideal to use as it helps darker colours hold, but by no means a *must*

      • Bryant

        How do i prevent the length of the denim to shrink? Only the length.

  • Nadjim

    Hey i have heavy starched levis will be alright to wash them like that?

    • http://www.rawrdenim.com Rawr Denim

      Your denim will lose much of the starch but it shouldn’t be a problem

  • Renvier

    How can I wash raw denim if I don’t have a bathtub? This is for a college environment… would a bin work, or must the jeans be able to lay flat without folding in any manner?

    • http://www.rawrdenim.com Rawr Denim

      Yes, a bin certainly works. RSVP put together a video recently that might help!

      http://vimeo.com/29810331

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  • juicebox

    You guys — I have one of those white circles. It’s on my knee, and it’s because I used to work at a sandwich bar and had to crouch and kneel all the time. Guess I rubbed one knee too violently when scraping off something from the floor. Anyone have any tips?

    • Buckhum

      Wear it with pride

  • Dan

    I just bought a pair of selvage jeans and wore them the other night and the dye transferred to my shirt. How can I keep that from happening without washing them right away?

    • http://www.rawrdenim.com Rawr Denim

      In this case, it would be best to give them a soak without any soap detergent.

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  • http://twitter.com/DMoXly Daniel Moore

    Just wondering what is the best way to hang dry my jeans? I’ve seen some say to leave them inside out, some say hang them upside down (from the cuffs), others say even to wear them wet.
    I’m asking because I’m washing some right now and will probably just turn them back in (inside in) and hang them by the waist outside but if there is a definitive answer I’d like to know, thanks!

  • major

    I bought a pair of PRPS raw denim about 4 months ago.Today i noticed tons of spots on the calf area on both legs and i believe its debris from my boots. The dirt appeared to be caked on so i scraped it off but the spots remain. Any suggestions?

  • trehsu

    ” the hotter the water, the more greater the shrinkage”

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  • Ash Edwards

    Have several pairs of raw denim and usually never wear any of them more than once a week. The Nudies are the oldest of the bunch (2 + years) and as they are so heavy only wear them during the winter. They have never been washed and so still have the original fit and stiffness. Having a number of pairs, none of them worn regularly, saves me from having to wash them … at least for a long time. And in the heat of summer I usually switch to wearing chinos that fit more like jeans and so the denim gets a break. Does anyone else do this? How long could one conceivably go wearing jeans like this without washing them?

  • Rozen98

    Hey, is Shout, stain remover known to really take the dye out of stretch-selvegde naked and famous jeans, some was accidently used on my pair? And is it best to leave it dry or try and spot wash/clean the Shout out of the area? Thanks

  • cavallo-romano

    can’t find the option to post in forum. so i will ask here. anyone have first hand knowledge on making jeans. I have made 10 pair already,but now i want to make a pair from raw denim. the question…..how much shrinkage should i allow for when cutting? not worried about length-wise..more concerned about crotch and leg widths..any help would be appreciated

  • ferndaman

    How would I go about washing my grey N&F denim? Can’t use the recommended Woolite Black so what other detergent would you guys recommend? And is the powder form is better than the liquid form?

  • murt

    Honestly I don’t have the patience to handwash my jeans like this – what happens if I just throw them in the washing machine? (Ie., what happens if I just wash my raw denim jeans in the washing machine regularly just like pre-washed jeans?)

  • BWheels

    So I bought a pair of Goodale Salvage denim and they fit great and look wonderful. They unfortunately came with a funk of its own, they carry a musty smell. Any suggestions on how to get ride of the smell with out ruining the jeans?

    • Sh0n

      I just got a pair of these as well, but no weird smell. Maybe yours sat in the warehouse a little too long? Try putting them in a plastic bag with a dryer sheet and putting them in the freezer

  • Alex

    So after the first soak. Can you then just toss them in the washing machine when ever you want? Or do we have to wash them like this every time for every 6 months?

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  • G.M

    I’ve got my N&F Black Power Stretch stained by neon paint….please help….

  • Jae

    Does it really matter if you wash/soak inside out?

  • ripper677

    OK, you convinced me,,,,, never to buy raw denim jeans but even more importantly, to not associate with people that do. Not only are the prices obscene but your interest in obtaining a “look” goes far beyond obsession (my OCD brother would consider this behavior crazy). But, NOT washing an article of clothing for six months so it LOOKS better? Spay on Fabreeze if they smell? I would hate to be in a room of you denim aficionados. FFS there isn’t a 3rd world country that would consider that hygienically acceptable. No wonder a pair of raw denim jeans will last for 1000 wearings; you never wash them. Keep your raw denim, I’ll spend $30 and get as good a fit as anything seen on here plus get a couple years use out of them AND have clean jeans to wear every time. Best of all, I, nor my GF will need a clothes pin on our nose to perform oral.

    • Sh0n

      This is the most idiotic reply I’ve ever read on here, and shows a complete lack of understanding.

      • terri

        ok then please explain…..as I do not understand what the purpose of the raw denim???? I could not imagine not washing my jeans after wearing them

        • Krampus

          There are other ways to clean denim than using detergents. detergents fade denim quickly. I’ve been wearing raw denim since the 70s (not the same pair ;-) but I do have some from the 1983). In the last 15 years I’ve evolved in my denim care.

          I don’t do the same as was instructed here, though this is very good advice. I prefer to avoid using any detergents ever, if possible.

          I soak my jeans in a very salty brine for a couple hours, then rinse them in cold water. Distilled white vinegar is also a good antibacterial but I’m not fond of that idea. The point is to clean them without washing them when practical and definitely avoiding detergents.

    • watchmaker

      I totally agree. I don’t see the need for radical fades anyway. I think all of my jeans look damn good and I wash them after 1-3 wears.

    • thegreatgeats

      I feel similarly about people who use five commas as an ellipses.

  • Ricky Vinson

    Damnnit, you’re good, Nick Coe. Your command of the King’s English is indeed impressive. You also are quite talented in ‘arousing’ certain areas of the male anatomy that may awfully well go unnoticed to the untrained, or otherwise, less observant man.

    I, too, enjoy, and take ‘loads of pleasure,’ in the finer things that this life offers; and furthermore, your step-by-step guide to washing raw denim—or, in this case, not washing the raw, so to speak—was an absolute joy to take-in . . . a delightful, provocatively stimulating experience that left me, both literally and figuratively, on the ‘edge’ of my chair. Ooops! note to self: “You don’t wanna be that guy with dark raw denim and big light circle, do you?” After all, we must remember to keep our ‘spillage’to a minimum, or, at the very least, left to those whom have the best “skull,” no pun intended, of course.

    I so look forward to reading your beautifully cryptic art in the future.

  • Sad Panda

    Hi Nick and others. Awesome site and information here. Thanks for creating it! I’m loving learning about RAW denim. Not sure If I need to post in some forum or here but I have some follow up questions please:
    1. Do you use this method for all ongoing washes or just the 1st wash?

    2. Do you stretch the inseam gently to retain the length? (I wear mine cuffed, not stacked and like the extra length)

    3. Do you unroll the cuffs when you wash?

    4. why not wash in cold water? Is warm water to get shrinkage or higher contrast fades (or both)?

    5. what’s you opinion of wearing when still damp for 15 mins in order to stretch out the denim to your exact shape for a perfect fit after the shrinkage due to the wash?

    6. Wash inside out, but do you also hang dry inside out?

    7. Do you always pre-soak unsanforized denim?

    8. do you presoak sanforized denim as well or can you pre-soak it without ruining the fades you get after a 1st wash? The theory is to prevent or decrease the severity of crotch blows out due to the removal of starch during the pre-soak?

    cheers

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  • Traditionalist

    So “Raw Denim” is denim that has not been corrupted with Spandex? The fabric that jeans have been made from for forever before the stretchy, dare I say it, jeans revolution? If not, what is the difference between 100% Lee, Levi, Wrangler brands cotton jeans I wore in the ’70s, 80s, 90s and when I can find them now?

  • Kris Barger

    Should I put them on wet (after 1st soak) and wear for a while during the drying? Or just simply hang to dry inside out inside of course. It’s too cold out to hang… they are just shy of 3 months, I wear just about every day.

  • Sean Detente

    Just chuck’em in the washer and hang flat. No big deal. I’ve got nine pairs of Samurais and various other Made-in-Japan-oorah-raw-denim jeans I’ve done this with. Natta on any shrinkage or fade.

    I could see handwashing a $500-800 raw denim jacket, but FFS, not quite the same thing.

  • denimdummy

    I have my first pair of raw denim jeans. They need to be hemmed. I’m not supposed to hem them before washing them. I’m not supposed to wash them for 6 months. Am I simply supposed to roll the pants legs up for the first six months?