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By Betsey McLain

The perfect pair of jeans doesn’t come along every day—you search, you try on, you try on more (and more), and then—finally—you rejoice in finding the holy denim grail: that pair that fits comfortably and looks flattering. But since your much-loved jeans are sure to be worn on heavy rotation, you’ll also want to keep them in great condition.

The number one thing that cuts the longevity of your jeans? Washing them too much, the wrong way. The less frequently your jeans are in water, the longer the color will last. But since you are eventually going to wash them (every pair needs a wash every month or so, depending on how often you wear them), the golden rule of denim-washing is: always wash them inside-out—in cold water—to prevent fading. There are also a few extra steps that’ll keep a pair on point, but it’s worth it in the long run when your jeans still look as good as new and don’t require replacing.

For dark or black jeans, set the dye before the first wash by soaking them inside-out in a bath of cold water with one cup of white vinegar and one tablespoon of salt. This helps make them colorfast before they hit the spin cycle.

Serious denim aficionados may claim you have to handwash your jeans. But for those who like the convenience of a washing machine, the “delicate” setting should work just fine (and, of course, always wash your jeans inside-out on cold with a detergent designed for dark clothing—another important detail that helps preserve color).

What to do once they’ve been washed? Air-drying jeans prevents fiber breakdown and prevents fading—dry your jeans right-side out and hang them by a belt loop in the back to prevent wrinkles, or dry them flat. Note: You can put jeans in the dryer on a low heat setting for a few minutes and then air dry, or continue to dry them on low—the choice is yours.

Follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way to a lifetime of great jeans.

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