Maker of $695 Jeans: Here's the Right Way to Wash Your Denim


(Photo:  Noble Denim)

Your jeans are the hardest-working item in your wardrobe. But even if you are careful not to put them in the dryer, you’re still probably not giving them the TLC they need to keep looking great.

Throw them in the laundry with the rest of your clothes? Wash them in the sink? Send them to the cleaners? We’ve even heard of people popping their denim in the freezer … all in the name of making sure their beloved blue jeans don’t shrink, stretch, or fade.

To find out the once-and-for-all best way to clean those jeans, we talked to Robert Schaeffer, founder and owner of Schaeffer’s Garment Hotel, a high-end denim manufacturer, retail shop, and repair service based in Los Angeles.

Schaeffer – who began moonlighting from his sales and finance job as a buyer and seller of vintage goods before opening his current business in 2009 – knows jeans pretty well. Schaeffer’s Garment Hotel imports all of its denim from Japan, dyes it with real indigo dye and manufactures every pair of jeans in house, charging $265 for a signature pair that comes with two sessions with a staff tailor (one the day the jeans are purchased and another after they’re broken in.)  Schaefer also offers customers a completely custom pair created from scratch for a steep $695. Now, here’s he says you need to do …

1. Wash them inside out in the washing machine on the lightest possible cycle (usually called gentle, delicate, handwash) in warm water with one cap full of gentle soap

We suggest using a soap called Dr. Bronner’s. It’s a castile hemp soap that you can use on your hair, your face, and your clothes. It goes in your machine and it doesn’t create suds.” says Schaeffer, who adds that when it comes to the water temp, just think of what you’d give a baby a bath in. “Not freezing cold and not hot.”

2. Make sure you’re standing by when the spin cycle starts. 

This step is one of the most important. “When it starts the spin cycle you let them go just for a minute and pull them out so that the spin doesn’t knock them around the jeans and the coloring off of them too much,” he advises, adding that washing them with regular detergent and letting them go through the spin cycle will not just cause the jeans to lose their color, but also change the fit.

“Most jeans are cheaply made and they’re made to look like they’re not,” adds Schaeffer. ”They use synthetic dyes, the color fades and the fabric shrinks up too.”

3. Hang them to dry them overnight. 

Over the shower rod is the perfect place.

4. Don’t wait for them to fully dry. 

“Put them on when they’re 90 percent dry,” Schaeffer says. “That will allow them to stretch back out since jeans get a little tighter when you wash them.”

As for how often to give your jeans a cleaning, basically the less you wash them, the better. “I tell people to wash them at your comfort level but try to go as long as possible without washing them,” he explains. And if you really want to hand wash your jeans, it doesn’t hurt, but you don’t need to go to the trouble. “I’ve done it so many different ways and it’s really OK to put them in the machine,” according to Schaeffer.

But if you take away one jeans-washing tip, let it be this: The dryer is denim’s kryptonite. “Most people end up throwing them in the wash hot with a bunch of stuff and then they put them in the dryer,” says Schaeffer. “The most horrible thing for jeans is putting them in the dryer.”

Francine Rabinovich, founder of mail-in denim repair and reconstruction service Denim Therapy, agrees about the dangers of drying jeans, adding that many of the repair requests her company gets stem from dryer damage. “The heat of the machine damages the cotton and weakens the fabric,” she says, adding that if you indeed skip the dryer and wash jeans properly (whether by hand or in the machine), “You should really be getting two or three years out of an average pair of jeans.”

And if you’re a woman, you’ve got an even better shot at making your darling denim last. “Most women know how to wash their jeans,” says Schaeffer. “Guys don’t. They think there needs to be liquid magma involved.”

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