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Deluxe Denim

How to Wash and Care for Raw Denim


Whether you treat your raw denim like the Hope Diamond or you just want to get that icky layer of filth and ominous smell out without destroying them, here’s everything you need to know about washing and caring for your favorite pair of untreated denim.

WASH The most attractive feature of your raw denim is just that -- their lovely, delectable, gorgeous state of, well, untreated deep blue raw-ness. Because Indigo never stops fading, any wash cycle will bid some fare adieu to this rich color -- but how much so is entirely in your hands. Before washing, always turn your denim inside out. This prevents extra bleeding and evens out any fading that will occur. Fill a tub with cold water, add some (not a lot) color protecting detergent (we recommend a dollop of Woolite black), and let them soak for an hour. Halfway through, stir the concoction to loosen up any dirt (you don't have to, as this will also loosen up the indigo dye) and after the hour is up, rinse them thoroughly in cold water. You can also use a bin but its best to lay your denim out flat. Leave the machines out of it if you can, but if you have to go there (like if you really did something unsightly to your denim), wash with color protecting detergent in cold water on a normal or lighter setting. And remember--they are loners. Do not wash them with any other garments other than denim unless you want them to turn indigo as well. You may soften up raw denim's inherent roughness by adding some fabric softener, but it's best to just shake them out and wear them in after they've dried. Either way, you do not need to involve your friendly neighborhood dry cleaner unless they specialize in denim. The less chemicals your raw denim sees, the better. DRY When it comes to drying, enemies number one and two are shrinkage and fit warping. The best way to avoid this is to let your jeans dry naturally. After the wash process, remove excess moisture by rolling your denim up in a dry towel that you don't mind getting stained with a bit of indigo. Then, find a ventilated room in your home, away from sunlight, and lay them flat. Flip them over periodically to even out the drying on both sides. Hanging your denim may cause the waistband to warp and any additional heat from the sun, or a radiator, will cause unwanted shrinkage, warping, and even discoloration. The whole process can take a good two days, but if you don't have the luxury of time, you can tumble dry on low for no more than 15 minutes and then lay them flat. FREQUENCY How often you wash your raw denim is completely up to you. The most denim crazed among us may never wash their raw denim and some subscribe to the every-six-month rule, but you know what you've been up to in your denim more than we do, so we're not going to proffer any arbitrary timeline. Besides, your denim will probably let you know when they're ready for a cleaning with some good ol' passive-aggressive stinking. There are some things to take into consideration, however. The longer you go without a wash, the more oil and dirt will fade into the color of the denim--an effect you may or may not desire. You can prolong actual cleaning by nipping smells and bacteria in the bud with a once a week Febreze session. You should consider a washing before your very first wear to avoid indigo rubbing off onto your favorite pair of undies, white shoes, or T-shirts. Stains can be tricky. Spot cleaning can lead to spot discoloration so tread cautiously and consider washing the entire pair. STORAGE What to do when you're not wearing your raw denim? Folding them will make way for unnatural-looking creases. To avoid this and any whiskering or discoloration, hang your raw denim from side to side, folding as little as possible. If you prefer your raw denim to grow as naturally as possible, leave them on the floor just as you would and let the discoloration process happen au naturel. But if you are going to leave them for a while without a wash, you should at least pretend--leave dryer sheets in the pockets. Raw denim may be the trickiest type of jean to maintain, but when your rockin' the look right, there's no doubt it's well worth all the trouble.
30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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