Clean Jeans Right Without Going to the Dry Cleaner


I am a jean addict. Correction: I am a frugal jean addict; therefore, I own very few nice pairs of jeans. My first pair of brand-new designer jeans were bought by my husband through an exchange where he DJ'ed a party and I scored a fantastic pair of Joe jeans that made my booty look like I'd done squats every day all summer. The woman who handed the jeans over to me, noticing my excitement, told me "don't ever wash them."  Gross. Whatever, I thought. Just give me my jeans, please.

Well, she was right. If you want to extend the life your favorite butt-hugging denim (and who doesn't in this economy), you've got to play by the rules. And although they may seem excessive, time consuming, and strange, these jean tricks have been tried and tested by the professionals. Bonus: No dry cleaners are used in the execution of these tricks. I just can't commit to spending that much every week. (See also: Dry Cleaning: Hazard to Your Wallet, and Maybe Your Health)

Keep your jeans away from the washing machine as long as possible.

Spot clean, Febreeze, hang them in a closet surrounded by lavender and cedar, do whatever it takes until you just can't stand it anymore.

When it's time to wash...

  1. You can hand wash them in something gentle like Woolite.
  2. You can wash them in the machine, inside out and on cold.
  3. You can throw them in a plastic bag and place it in a freezer for one week. Supposedly, this kills any odors, and that's pretty important.

Hang them to dry.

You can tumble dry on low, take them out before they're fully dry, and hang them by the belt loops to maintain the shape. Or you can skip the dryer altogether and hang dry.

Patch them as soon as you feel a hole coming on.

If you're handy with a sewing machine, there's a tutorial you can use to learn to patch yourself. But really, after watching tutorials, I was just motivated to take my jeans in to the specialist. (You know you have a problem when your jeans require more maintenance than your car.) 

Re-dye your jeans.

I know this one may not always be an option. If your jeans are super trendy and acid-washed, for example, you don't want to try this. But if you're like me and just go for the dark, lovely, shade of midnight blue for your jeans, re-dying a fading pair may be an option. I definitely recommend it for the cheap pair that's become the “around the house jeans.” Who knows, it may be the breath of life that transforms those pants into your favorite pair.

I know it seems like a lot of effort, but if you're throwing a lot of money at these jeans, you want them to last. In fact, stretching the life of our wardrobes is one of the easier ways to save money. So, grab those True Religion jeans (if they're on sale), and know that you can stretch their life beyond the borders of your booty.

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Guest's picture

I've never known anyone -- female, male, young, old -- have their jeans dry cleaned.

Sonja Stewart's picture

I know. I was shocked. But, it was one of the first pieces of advice I got when I got "fancy jeans."

Guest's picture
Jeans Nut

I have never dry cleaned any of my jeans or have heard of anyone doing that & I wash them every week in my washing machine on normal wash & dry them on medium heat & they last me years... Not sure where your buying your jeans...

Sonja Stewart's picture

The heavier the jean material, the longer they last. Unfortunately, (and ironically,) many designer jeans that cost a lot of money, are a lighter weight material. Also, the coloring they use, can bleed and fade easily. So, in order to make them "last" (maintain the color and design,) a lot of places recommend against throwing them into a washer and dryer.

Guest's picture

FYI, drop the apostrophe in "cleaners." The word is not possessive here.
From an OCD English teacher.

Brooke Kaelin's picture

Grab the True Religion jeans on sale at 6pm. Once in a while they offer them up to 70% off.

Sonja Stewart's picture

I love deals! Thank you.

Andrea Karim's picture

I actually saw a tip yesterday from a designer in Jakarta (Dian Pelangi) who dies the legs of the jeans that she sells in her boutiques. She said that if you have a pair of jeans that you are tired of or that seem outdated, you can make them fun again by dipping them from the knee down in bright colors (some photos of her fashion show, which include the jeans, can be found here:

Mind you, this is a more exotic or rock-n-roll aesthetic, so it's not for everyone. But I love bright colors and might just try it out.

Guest's picture
Gal Western

Okay, here's a question. Sometimes my jeans aren't dirty; they have just stretched out. Do y'all just dampen and put in the dryer to "shrink" back to normal? Cannot stand looking all saggy!


Guest's picture

Have you ever put them in the dryer or washed them with hot water? If so there isn't a lot you can do, heat damages the spandex (which is in pretty much all women's jeans) and prevents in from maintaining the jeans' shape when worn. At that point your main option is to do as you said and dampen and dry them.

If you haven't subjected them to too much heat, then you're in luck, the elastic fibers are still on your side. Hand wash or lightly machine wash in cold water inside out and hang them to dry (or lay them flat to dry, sometimes that will allow them to shrink a little more). A pair of jeans without damaged fibers will tighten up slightly through the normal drying process.

The most important aspect of getting jeans to fit and stay that way though, is the shopping process. Wear the jeans in the store while you walk around and look at other things for at least 15 minutes, but preferably half an hour (you may want to let the sales associates know what you're doing) and see how well they retain their shape (always keep in mind that almost all jeans will stretch at least slightly when you pick your size). Ask the sales associates if they or anyone they know owns jeans of this brand and how the jeans react to long wear (chances are if they don't own them themselves they've heard from customers about how they behave). The thickness of the denim and percentage of spandex (no more than 2% usually) are also good indicators of stability, but probably the most telling will be the polyester content. 98% cotton jeans may breathe a little better and satisfy your craving for natural fibers, but they are going to stretch like double jointed yoga teacher. If you want minimal stretching go for at least 20% polyester, preferably higher. I have a pair with 28% polyester and they won't stretch for love nor money; I can wear them for three weeks straight and they fit the same way they did in the fitting room. They are, however, somewhat like wearing a suit of armour and very very hot in the summer, so it's all about balance. To me, the true majesty of my derriere in them is completely worth a little stiffness at first.

To the author: Thank you thank you thank you for the link to the patching tutorial! I've been trying to figure out for years the best way to patch holes in that area!

Guest's picture
Sharon Smith

not sure what jeans you are buying, mine improve the more I wash them. Guess we are going for a different look.

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