Most clothes come with simple washing instructions. Raw denim on the other hand is a little more complicated. For anyone who’s invested in a pair of raw denim jeans, you’re confronted with a stark reality: don’t wash.
However, that leaves you asking: what should you do? First, let’s find out why you shouldn’t wash them in a traditional way in the first place. The point of not washing them for as long as possible is to avoid breaking down the fibres of the denim, to preserve the deep blues and the stiff feel of the fabric that makes them appealing to start with. Over time, the fades build up in distinct patterns moulded to you. When you finally wash them for the first time, those marks you’ve built up are left as some of the dye washes off. the fade marks are so unique that the FBI has used them to identify suspects at crime scenes.
Unlike jeans where the denim is prewashed or “sanforised” (so it doesn’t shrink), and treated, which is when the jeans are put through a distressing processes that make jeans look as if they’ve been worn for a year, raw or “dry” denim is often left in its earliest state – “unsanforized”. This is so that it shrinks when it is washed.
Back to the original question of what should you do. One solution is Mr Black’s Denim Refresh – an “anti-bacterial, odour neutraliser” (in a spray form) that takes away the smell and refreshes the denim. If you’ve ever left your jeans for the recommended six months before washing, you might recognise what is described as a kind of oily feel to the surface, which is a buildup of bacteria, pollution, sweat and skin cells. The spray launched in Australia a few years ago, and has built up into a global brand, now selling everywhere from Berlin to America. There are also a number of other solutions which you can find online, including soaking the jeans or even freezing them.
So how often should you wash? Honestly, there’s no real answer. Of course, it depends on how often you wear them, what you’re doing when wearing them, and whether you feel like they’re dirty. It’s a matter of personal preference. Some signs that they may need washing are distinctive highlights around the knees, or patterns called ‘whiskers’ and ‘honeycombs’ forming. Ultimately, the choice is yours.