Soaking Raw Denim: The Critical Preliminary Step

Caring for raw denim properly is analogous to tending to anything of value.  For instance, if you had a brand new car and hated dealing with any sort of gravel scratches or dings on the front of the hood, you would go through some preventative measures.  You might apply a protective coating or even install a guard.  For raw denim, it is precisely the same, with the first step being soaking.

Earlier this week, we went into depth on how to wash and clean your raw denim but the crucial preliminary step we did not touch upon is soaking – literally meaning to submerge your raw denim in a water-filled bathtub post-purchase and pre-wear.   What’s the purpose?  With raw denim that is unsanforized (i.e. has not been pre-shrunk by the manufacturer), it will shrink up to 5%-10% upon its first wash.

Flat Head 1001 - 16 oz raw, Unsanforized, and Selvedge

Flat Head 1001 – 16 oz raw, Unsanforized, and Selvedge

Flat Head 1001 - 16 oz raw, Unsanforized, and Selvedge

Flat Head 1001 – 16 oz raw, Unsanforized, and Selvedge

Imagine dropping a few hundred bucks and investing half a year breaking your raws in, only to find out that after the first wash, they no longer fit.  Plus you risk f’ing up those fades you worked so hard for…

Thus, it is imperative to (1) size up a 1-2 times (varies on the model and is best to check with the retailer/manufacturer); and (2) soak prior to your first wear (given they are unsanforized).

Now if you go through with a soak, here are the 5 easy steps:

  1. Find out if your raw denim is sanforized or unsanforized.  It is best to ask whomever you purchased from or check with the manufacturer. If sanforized, no need to soak.
  2. Fill your bathtub with 2-3 inches of hot water (but not scolding hot).  Bear in mind that the hotter the water, the more indigo (i.e. dark color) lost. Optional: to optimize the post-soak fit, sit in the bathtub wearing your denim.
  3. Flip your raw denim inside out and lay flat in the tub for 1-2 hours, with bottles resting on top to submerge them.  Do not try to shake or move your denim too much, otherwise you will risk losing more indigo.
  4. Carefully remove from the water and hang dry.
  5. Optional: starch denim (see earlier post – “To Starch or Not To Starch, and How“)

Stay Raw!

-Chad
@rawrdenim

Chad

A long-time denim enthusiast, Chad has spent the last year between a pair of Allevol and Naked & Famous jeans. In addition to contributing to RawrDenim.com, he also keeps busy with Sporting Charts.

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  • http://Twitter.com/ardiyatamaDS Dika

    Am i need to soak my flathead after i buy it or after 6 month?

    • http://dev.rawrdenim.com Chad

      @Dika if they are unsanforized and the instructions do not advise otherwise, then yes, you should soak after purchasing. Which model do you have?

      • Dika

        Its f310, i already soaked it, they still can fade beautifully right?

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  • http://twitter.com/daysofspeed daysofspeed

    I’d argue that this is best done wearing the jeans – that way they fit truer, cannot over shrink and you get them “yours” from the offset. If the legs go too short pull longer whilst wet and do a few sweats to get them fitting even better.

    • Sad Panda

      cheers. do a few sweats?

    • Okc Dave

      Or just do what normal people do which is buy a size large enough that once they have shrunk they fit correctly.

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  • anonymous

    if you want to soak your jeans the soak it, but make sure you already know how much it would shrink if you soak it again. IMO its best to just wash it in the first place so that you wont “surprised” on how much it shrinks when you soak / wash it later on.

    • http://twitter.com/RawrDenim Rawr Denim

      @892bb79fc3a6921207638fbe353dde37:disqus True that…

  • Nsot

    Damn, I didn’t size up on my shrink to fit FHxNFxTY Collab jean because I didn’t like how my other weird guys stretched so much in the waist, have I made a horrible mistake? Should I still do a pre-soak and what problems may arise if I do/ don’t?

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

      @1618da924f3e010dbc4d3f917e885b36:disqus – The FHxNFxTY denim is unsanforized, meaning it has not been pre-shrunk during the manufacturing process & will shrink after it’s first soak/wash. The idea of soaking is to “take the shrink out” prior to working in the fades; otherwise your fades will likely appear a few inches higher after their first wash. 

      Regardless of whether you decide to return, exchange for a new size, or go ahead with wearing, it’s best to double check with Tate + Yoko first!

      • Nsot

        Thanks, I’ve emailed them so we’ll see what they say. I can’t believe I didn’t think about this earlier!

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

          Alright, here’s hoping for a positive response!

          Also, should have mentioned this earlier, but Flat Head denim is fairly forgiving. They will shrink, but only by an inch or so. If you go ahead with the initial soak and find the waist is too tight, try stretching them by hand.

          To do this, put the jeans on while they’re still damp to gauge how much give you need. Use both hands and slowly work your way around the waistband. If you can just get the top button done, they’ll work.

          Remember that the denim will continue to stretch as you wear it, so be careful not to stretch it too much while it’s damp.

          • Nsot

            Just a quick update:

            The jeans fit really well pre-wash but I decided to go ahead with the soak anyways. 

            After about 30 minutes an some bruised thumbs, I managed to do up all the buttons while they were still damp and I wore them out that night to let them dry.

            I must say, the fit is much better now than they were pre-soak, much slimmer. Creases also set in really fast.

            It did take some effort to get them to button up but overall I think it was worth it.

            Thanks for your help.

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

            Our pleasure. Glad to hear you’re happy with them! (And the bruised thumbs make it all the more worth it, don’t you think?)

          • Fuente87

            Hey Nsot so Im in the same position as you were just got Paulrose 17 oz slim cant decide if i should soak them or not. When you soaked them how long did you break them in prior? and post soak did your fades or creases move drastically due to shrinkage? thanks

          • Nsot

            Hey Fuente87, I ended up soaking mine immediately so there were no creases or fades before I did it. Since I went true to size they were a bit difficult to get on after the soak but well worth the effort. I’d recommend soaking them and then wearing them while still damp to make sure the shrink only to your waist size.. If you want to check out my pair I posted them on Reddit.. Sorry for the plug: http://www.reddit.com/r/rawdenim/comments/13hecv/nfxfhxty_collab_1_9_months_of_real_wear_1_soak_0/

  • http://twitter.com/edwardjackc Edward Jack

    soo… the only downside to not soaking pre wash is that the fades might be offset from my frame? Ive been wearing my FHxNFxTY jeans the last few days and have been on the fence about soaking ….. Ill probably wear them at least 6 months probably a year without a wash….. any suggestions? 
    and yes i sized up in the waist and two inches in the length. 

  • http://twitter.com/ohheh No Name

    Howdy guys,
    Just got myself a new pair of Crate raw selvedge. Since its deadstock, I’m not sure if they’ll be able to tell me if its Sanforized or not; but I’m guessing a soak won’t hurt?I’m thinking of trying the “sit in the tub” approach but I’m not sure I can stand all that long. Do you recommend a short wear followed by more soaking? Soaking followed by wearing? An overall shorter soak just being worn, etc.?

    Thanks in advance!

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

      @ohheh:twitter Thanks for the note and question. There isn’t a huge difference but if pressed for the best option (given your preferences), we would recommend soaking inside-out then hang drying.

  • jae

    I have a pair of weird guys (
    http://www.nakedandfamousdenim.com/collection/men/weirdguy/indigo-selvedge.html) they are too big on me and I’ve been wearing them for about two weeks. So beyond the point of returning, will soaking this early ruin my fade?

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

      Nope – soaking will soften the denim but not to the point where lasting fades are unachievable.

      • jae

        How would one get the right fit? Do I sit in the tub with them on, or do the steps above?

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

          Either will work, but sitting in a tub wearing wet jeans really isn’t pleasant, nor is it necessary, to be honest.
          Instead, follow the above steps, then hang to dry. When they’re damp (not dripping, just damp) you should put them on and sit around in them for 15 to 30 minutes. For best results, sit cross-legged for part of it. Then take the jeans off and hang them up until they’re dry.
          This will fit the jeans as well as set your creases properly.

  • Jenggodude

    If I don’t have a bathtub, how can i do my pre-soak?

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

      There are a couple alternatives. One method is literally wearing them in the shower and hang drying or wearing until dry afterward. Another is soaking within a basin that is big enough for your denim. See 1:15 of this video via @RSVPGallery:twitter  – http://vimeo.com/29810331

      • Stonedmuza

        So what’s cold & hot soak for?

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

          The hotter the water temperature (drastically hotter, that is) will cause more indigo to bleed from the denim. It does come down to preference, but we advocate cold to room temperature.

      • shadowclause

        For the wearing them in the shower method, roughly how long will I have to be the shower?

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

          10-15 minutes should do the trick

  • Teosamuel4

    I have a pair of dry broken twill nudies. I bought it before knowing much about raw denim and it has been around 6 months since I’ve washed it. Also to mention it is a lil big for my taste. Would soaking at this stage help shorten and and shrink it?

  • J Park95

    if ive worn a pair of raw jeans for 2 months and want to shrink them right now, would soaking them ruin the fading

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

      Your current fades might change a little bit, but ultimately it won’t ruin anything. Go for the soak!

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  • Matt Wilson

    I have just bought an Edwin Flathead jacket. A very lucky find on e-bay. It is a size medium and fits me really well across the shoulders and chest, however the arms and the body of the jacket seem to be disproportionally long. I am guessing that this is to take into account the shrinkage. Does anyone have experience in denim jackets, soaking/washing/wearing etc? After reading the article soaking seems to be a good idea but I thought I would check up to see if anyone had any opinions on the matter. Many thanks! 

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

      Lucky find indeed! Those are really nice jackets.

      As for your question, it will largely depend on whether the jacket’s denim has been sanforized or not. (I haven’t been able to find any info on the denim itself, but my guess is unsanforized.) Check the labels to see if there’s any mention of it. 

      If the denim is unsanforized, then the arms are likely to shrink up about an inch or so. But be warned that the chest and shoulders will shrink a little as well, though not as much as the arms.

  • avesclass

    i’m currently working on a pair of nudie x Atrium NYC grim tims…i’ve been rocking them pretty regularly for about 2 months now. i think i’m ready to give them a soak, but i wanted to get your thoughts on wearing them while they dry. in my opinion, this is a great way to stretch the denim in all the right places, but i’ve never tried it with dry denim. would this ruin any fades?

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

      Nice, how do you like them & how are they setting in so far? A soak at this point will not be as effective (as when you had first picked them up), but totally your call. 

      Note: as mentioned in a recent article (http://www.rawrdenim.com/2012/02/new-to-raw-denim-5-things-i-wish-id-known/), soaking should usually be done as preliminary step to wearing.

      If they’re not too worn or dirty yet, I would hold off for a couple months!

  • Hellbuoi

    I just got a pair of APC Petit Standards but they’re way too long for me. Should I give it a soak before I get them hemmed? I heard they’re sanforized so would a soak not be necessary since they won’t shrink much in length?

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  • http://twitter.com/Zaffy_a Zafar Ahsan

    do you dry inside out too? or does it not matter?

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  • JohnnyBanannas

    Great article! I just bought a pair of LVC 1967, 505, raw. These are as far as I understand it sanfordized. The problem is that I still bought them a size too big. Is there a good way to shrink them down a size even though they are pre-shrunk? Maby by soaking them in really hot water of something before I start wearing them?

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  • Kaufebeen

    unfortunately, I don’t have a bath tub. Is it ok for me to wear my new flatheads and stand under the shower for 15minutes? Would the color run be undesired?

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

      Sure, standing under the shower works well, as well as using a basin (http://vimeo.com/29810331)

      • risandi pradipto

        since the shower will give you a moving water, hence different condition with soaking, what would be the ideal duration then? thanks

  • Josh

    Can anyone advise…If I were going to go for the ‘sit in the bath whilst socking’ method, how long should I sit in there for?
    I don’t really want to sit in the bath at all really, but I’m worried about the waist becoming too slim.

  • Kaufebeen

    Unfortunately after soaking for 15minutes under the shower while wearing it, my flatheads didn’t really shrink enough. Is it alright to soak it a second time?

  • Rich

    I’m thinking of getting a pair of raw nudie slim jims, but im worried about how there going to physically feel. Are they gonna feel really stiff and rough or will i get used to it? also if i get my regular size 28 are they going to fit tight on me or looser than a pair that would be washed? and what would happen to them if i washed them the first week?
    thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ian.pena2 Ian Pena

    Are 3sixteen Jeans (specifically ST-100x) unsanforized or sanforized?

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

      They are sanforized

  • Larry

    are cult of individuality jeans (rebel straights) unsanforized or sanforized? and do anyone knows how much they weigh? These have to be the hardest jeans i have ever tried to break in so i’m thinking about soaking them and wearing them until they dry.

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

      Which model did you pick up? Not entirely sure on the sanforized front — best bet would be to drop them a line!

  • Brian

    just picked up a pair of 1947 lvc’s and found that they are unsanforized. i would really like to wear them so the waist and everything comes out near perfect. a few questions: hot water or lukewarm water? i know it kinda depends on your personal taste but how long should i sit in the bathtub? and once i feel like ive had it with sitting in the tub with wet jeans should i take them off and hang dry or should i wear them till they dry? is there any adverse effects to either one?

    • Sad Panda

      interested in answer myself

  • Elias

    I bought a pair of raw selvage 7’s about a week ago and have worn them only two to three times. My mother thought they were dirty and threw them in the washing machine. The cycle hadn’t started yet and I pulled them out about 5 min later when I realized but they were soaked in water mixed with detergent. I rinsed them to get the soap out and then hung them up. Will the jeans still fade or have i ruined the chances of that?

    • IndigoSelvedge

      You’ll probably be alright. They’ll definitely still fade, but you might find that they take a bit longer to do so.

    • Dick_head

      Time to stop living at your parent’s house.

  • boink

    Whats the best way to tell if your jeans are sanforised or unsanforised? I purchased a pair of Studio D`Artisan Jeans SD-107 while in Osaka last month.
    Thanks

    • Young

      as far as i know, the SD-107 are Once Washed which essentially means that they’ve the initial soak for you already so no need to do another soak until you’re ready to wash them

  • thedonslist

    I picked up a pair of Mishka Raw Selvage Alexei’s off plndr for a steal..are they sanforized?

  • http://www.facebook.com/yougotmynuts Alex Starreveld

    Hi :) I got some Edwin Japanese Sen Skinny jeans been wearing them for about 2 months. Are they Sanforized?

    • Young

      yes they’re sanforized.

      • http://www.facebook.com/alex.starreveld.5 Alex Starreveld

        Nice, I’m around 7&1half months in and just giving them their first wash!

  • Floro flores

    I jus bought a raw denm and went size up. All measurement are good with me except the waist. If i take up my normal waist size, i cant button my jeans. Pls advice me here

    • http://www.facebook.com/david.ceely.5 David Ceely

      Getting your top button or two should be a struggle at first. But the more you wear it, the more it will stretch out; about 1-2 inches depending on the denim you bought.

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  • Ktree

    I’ve had my A.P.C PS for about 4 months, is it too late to soak? will soaking even make a difference at this point?

    • Young

      APCs are sanforized so no need to do an initial soak. At 4 months in, you can do your first cold water wash/soak anytime now and be well on your way to have a nicely worn in pair of jeans.

  • tbt

    I recently bought a pair of True Religion Matt Phantom Selvedge jeans. I want to know if they are sanforized or not. Anyone know?

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  • Ty

    Was stuck in between a 36 and 34 waist for the N & F skinny guy. Went with the 34. They’re a bit tight in the thigh but other than that they fit perfect. Will a pre soak help stretch them out a bit in the thigh or make them tighter?

    • Frank

      Naked and Famous are usually one wash, or sanforized. No need to soak.Wearing them about 20 or 30 times should loosen them up to be perfect fit. When you wash them, they will only shrink about 1/2 inch in the waist.

  • Kiev

    Bleu de Paname “Le Resistant” Jeans: Sanforized ou non?

  • steve

    any idea if the levis made and crafted tack slim in white selvedge are sanforized or not. searched the web and came up empty handed so far. any input on soaking white jeans also, color fade etc.

  • Spencer M.

    Just wondering if you’re still supposed to pre soak when sanforized? I just ordered a pair of Nudie Tape Ted’s and I’m pretty sure they’re sanforized.

    • goldushapple

      sanforized = no soak
      unsanforized (not-preshrunk) = soak

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  • Joey Nguyen

    Should I add Woolite dark while soaking?

  • GermanGirl

    I just got my Flathead Balder’s yesterday. The fit was perfect pre- soak, hence I was worried that they would shrink to much when soaked. Soaked them for about 15 minutes, checked them and saw that the waist didn’t button up anymore. Immediately wore the jeans until dry. Here’s my question, the denim is really, really stiff, almost to the point of hurting. Also, when they were wet they seemed to have a somewhat “sticky” coat. Hope I soaked them long enough.
    Will the denim soften up a lot and if so when ? Thanks