Spoiler alert: Freezing isn’t going to magically clean them, and a little soap and water definitely doesn’t hurt.

By Kelsey Ogletree
Updated: July 11, 2019
Mehmet Hilmi Barcin/Getty Images

If the CEO of a company that has sold jeans for nearly 150 years says he doesn’t wash—or even freeze—his denim, then it makes sense that we all follow suit, right? Not so fast.

Chip Bergh, who’s served as president and CEO of Levi Strauss & Co. since 2011, delivered a shocker a few years ago when he announced that the 10-year-old jeans he was wearing had never been washed. So what gives—does your denim really need soap and water? Does the old wives’ tale of freezing jeans actually work? We talked with a few experts to find out and learn how to wash jeans so your favorite pair lasts a long time—because once you finally find the perfect pair, you really do want it to last forever.

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How often should you wash jeans?

Contrary to Bergh’s opinion, jeans need washing to eliminate odors and bacteria, says Veronica Black, fashion director at personal styling service Dailylook. (Just think about all the places you sit during the day—and don’t even get us started on the subway germs!)

Black recommends washing jeans every two or three wears, but you can actually even double that—to four or five wears between washes—and be okay. Whatever you do, don’t overwash them, as that will seriously cut into their longevity. (Here’s how often you should wash everything in your closet.)

If you have a pair of skinny jeans that are sagging after a wear or two but not yet ready to be washed, spray them with water mixed with ten drops of lavender essential oil and throw them in the dryer for ten minutes to help them shrink up again, Black says.

If you buy a new pair of jeans that comes rigid—i.e., without any special wash or treatment—it’s imperative to wash them to remove the starch in the fabric. “Starch and friction cause holes, and holes will limit the life of your jeans,” says Matt Eddmenson, co-founder of Nashville-based jeans shop Imogene + Willie.

If your jeans aren’t rigid, it’s fine to wait a while before washing them for the first time. “You want the jean to have the chance to grow a little, relax, and get comfortable,” Eddmenson says. Once you notice yourself tugging your jeans up after walking around, that’s a good indication it’s time for a wash—thank goodness you already know how to do laundry and can even decipher some laundry symbols.

How to wash jeans

The golden rule here is to always use cold water. Use your washer’s delicate cycle to protect the fibers in your denim and turn your jeans inside out first. As far as detergents go, avoid products with harsh chemicals.

“I love using The Laundress or Mrs. Meyer’s liquid detergent, as I’ve found both of these put less wear and tear on my clothes,” Black says. Skip fabric softener, which can add unnecessary chemicals to your jeans and break down the fabric over time.

How to dry jeans

Step away from the dryer. If you want your jeans to last a long time, always allow them to air dry in a well-ventilated space, Black says. If you want to shrink them a little, wait until they are barely damp before tossing them in the dryer briefly to finish the drying process.

Can you dry clean jeans?

Depending on the fabric blend and how expensive they were—and if they’re fussier than a typical pair of jeans you can just throw on—there are times you might want to take your high-end pair to the dry cleaner.

“I have a denim-linen pair of high-waisted, wide-legged jeans, and the only person who gets the front crease perfect is my dry cleaner,” Black says. You may also want to consider taking white or colored jeans to the dry cleaner, Eddmenson says, to help prevent fading and discoloration.

Freezing jeans: Yay or nay?

The experts agree with the Levi’s CEO on this one: Freezing jeans doesn’t do anything. “This has been a long-standing myth, that the freezer will magically ‘clean’ your jeans,” Black says. She notes that this method was originally used on raw denim, and that the jeans most women wear today have a mix of materials to create stretch—so save your freezer space for ice cream.

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