How Often Should You Wash Your Jeans? Experts Weigh In

We’re back with another heated household debate.

Some articles of clothing obviously need a good wash after one use (say, underwear and workout clothes), but others not so much. Not surprisingly, denim jeans are probably at the top of the laundry schedule debate. Most of us love a good pair of jeans, but we can never seem to agree as to how often you should—or shouldn't—wash them.

Serious denim aficionados will tell you to never wash your blue jeans, which may seem like questionable advice. But on a few levels it makes sense to at least spread out your denim washes: It's better for the environment, keeps jeans looking newer longer, and perhaps most significantly, saves time and money on laundry (especially if you don't have a washer-and-dryer setup at home).

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So, is it true that like fine wine, jeans improve with age? And if so, how often do you really need to wash them? We spoke with cleaning connoisseurs, laundry experts, and fashion stylists to get the lowdown on denim care. Read on for their expert advice.

01 of 06

Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd, co-founders of The Laundress

"Denim is a thick fabric (unlike your average T-shirt) so you can get away with more wears between washes. We recommend washing after 10 or so wears—or whenever jeans smell stale or unpleasant. In between wears, remove odors and add a clean laundry scent to jeans with a fabric freshener like The Laundress Fabric Fresh ($10; amazon.com).

02 of 06

Nicole Russo, private stylist and founder of NYC-based Let's Get You

"People make the mistake of washing their jeans far too frequently. The less you wash them the better, especially denim with any elastane (stretch). When you wash your denim, you're putting it through a beating, and each cycle breaks down the fabric. Whatever you do, don't wash jeans in hot water, and never, ever put them in the dryer—especially your stretchy favorites. While you may think you're tightening them back to their skinny glory, what you're actually doing is destroying the fabrication and giving them an early grave. This is also why jeans lose their stretch and you get that sagging butt or need to pull them up constantly."

03 of 06

Lana Blanc, personal fashion stylist in New York City

"The more you wash your jeans, the more worn they'll look. If you're trying to preserve the appearance of denim, you should only wash jeans—and I know this sounds gross—when they start to smell. The fact is that microbes found on jeans after you wear them (skin cells, natural oils, etc.) are harmless, making frequent washing unnecessary."

04 of 06

Venk Modur, celebrity fashion stylist in Los Angeles

"The number of times you wash denim depends on the type of denim it is. As for classic denim jeans, including stonewashed or acid-washed, I recommend washing with cold water and air-drying after approximately five wears. As for blended denim jeans—generally mixed with Spandex, Lycra, or poly-cotton fibers—I recommend washing them as soon as they start to lose their shape. Raw denim and sanforized denim (cloth that has been stretched, fixed and shrunk at the mill) is dry clean only: I recommend three to four months of wear before the first dry clean."

05 of 06

Gladys K. Connelly, home organization blogger and former professional housecleaner

"You should wash jeans every six weeks. Washing them more than that will wear them out faster, and you'll have to buy a new pair within a year. If your body chemistry makes your jeans stink after two days, fold them up and put them in the freezer overnight. One of my friends is very into high fashion, and she actually has a separate freezer in her garage for her pants. She told me there are times she'll go eight months without throwing them in the washing machine!"

06 of 06

Rinske Fris, fashion stylist and founder of The Male Report

"There is one rule to washing your jeans: Do it as seldom as possible to preserve their shape, quality, and color. This is especially true when it comes to dry denim, which gets its good looks and personality by wearing—not washing. I advise you to wash jeans only after 12 or so wears (turned inside out). This removes huddled bacteria, but brings the least harm to the fabric as possible. In between washes, remove stains by spot cleaning with a warm, wet cloth. Unwanted odors can be removed by hanging your jeans outside to air."

The Bottom Line

If you want your jeans to stay good-looking and form-fitting, don't wash them very often. Do wash them if they're stained (say you spill red wine on them) or they smell. There's no hard-and-fast rule that says when to toss them in the laundry, because only you know how often they get truly dirty.

Personal preference aside, microbiologists say that not washing your denim doesn't pose any health risks. In fact, a study done by the University of Alberta showed that even after wearing jeans for 15 months straight without washing (yes, 15!), the bacteria count was surprisingly low (mostly normal skin flora with no E. coli or other bacteria in evidence).

If you opt for less-frequent washes, there are some things you can do to refresh them. First and foremost, "let them breathe," says Emily Underhill, a clothing guide and personal stylist in New York City. "Instead of storing them rolled up or folded in an overpacked drawer, hang them by their belt loops in your closet. This opens up the jeans so they can air out," says Underhill. "Jeans can smell dirty when they're not because of the odor-causing bacteria in stuffy drawers." If your jeans aren't quite ready for a wash but do need to be refreshed, hit them up with a quick spritz of Febreze.

As for freezing jeans to clean them, Whiting says this is an old wives' tale. However, while storing your jeans in the freezer won't actually get them cold enough to kill bacteria, it will freshen them up a bit (and feel great on a hotter day).

When you do eventually wash your jeans, pay attention to that care tag! Fabric content determines how the jeans have to be washed. Boyd recommends turning them inside out and washing them in cold water with a high-quality detergent. Consider The Laundress Denim Wash ($19; amazon.com), which is formulated with a fabric conditioner and color-guard technology to prevent fading and stiffness. New jeans? Pre-soak them in a bath of cool water and scented vinegar before washing to prevent dye transfer and bleeding; it's best to wash them separately, too.

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