A dark blue denim jacket spread out on a light-colored table with visible hands, one holding the jacket and the other using a soft cloth to apply a gentle, foaming fabric cleaner to a stain on the jacket.

How to Clean Denim Clothes

Denim is more than just fabric; it’s a timeless staple in our wardrobes with a rich history that dates back to the 19th century. Initially worn by miners and workers for its durability, today, denim is cherished for its versatility and style, from classic jeans to trendy jackets. But with great style comes great responsibility – knowing how to clean denim clothes is essential in maintaining their charm and prolonging their life.

Washing denim isn’t as simple as tossing it in the machine with the rest of our laundry. This robust fabric needs special care to keep it looking and feeling its best. After all, nobody wants their favorite jeans to lose their perfect fit or fade after just a few washes. But fear not, whether you’re dealing with your beloved vintage denim jacket or those perfect-fitting jeans, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll guide you through the steps to ensure your denim stays as timeless as its history. So, let’s dive into the fascinating world of denim care and learn how to clean denim clothes the right way.

Understand the Denim Fabric

Denim is not just a single fabric; it comes in various forms that each bring something unique to the table.

Different Types of Denim

  • Raw Denim: This is denim in its purest form, untreated and unwashed after dyeing. It’s known for its stiffness and ability to mold to the wearer’s body over time.
  • Selvedge Denim: A premium type of denim identified by its clean edge, which prevents fraying. Selvedge denim is often heavier and more durable than other types.
  • Washed Denim: As the name suggests, this denim is pre-washed to make it softer and reduce shrinkage. It is also less likely to bleed color compared to raw denim.

Anatomy of Denim Fibers

Denim is made from cotton fibers woven together in a specific way called twill weave. This gives denim its characteristic diagonal ribbing pattern. When it comes to washing, it’s important to understand that denim fibers can react differently to water and detergents, depending on their type.

  • Raw Denim: It is best to avoid washing raw denim too often as it can lose its shape and color. Spot cleaning is recommended to preserve its unique characteristics.
  • Washed Denim: This type of denim is more forgiving and can be machine washed with similar colors.
  • Selvedge Denim: While more durable, selvedge denim should still be treated with care. Hand washing is preferred to maintain its premium quality.

By understanding the different types of denim and how their fibers react to cleaning, you are better equipped to keep your denim clothes looking fresh and new. Now, let’s move on to learn how to clean denim clothes properly.

Pre-Cleaning Preparations

Before diving straight into washing your denim items, a little preparation can go a long way. Here are some steps to ensure your denim looks its best post-wash and lasts longer in your wardrobe.

Checking Care Labels and Determining Denim Type

Start by examining the care labels on your denim clothing. These labels provide valuable information about washing temperatures, drying methods, and other care instructions tailored for the specific type of denim. Not all denim is the same, and knowing its type (like raw, washed, or selvedge) can help you make informed cleaning decisions.

Inspecting for Stains and Wear Points

Take a close look at your denim item. Are there any noticeable stains? Marks from spilled coffee, grass, or even ink can require special attention. Also, keep an eye out for wear points, areas where the denim might be thinning or showing signs of distress. These spots might need gentler handling or even mending before washing.

Turning Denim Inside Out

This simple trick can make a big difference. Turning your denim clothes inside out before washing helps reduce direct exposure to the detergent, which can be harsh on the fabric’s exterior. This technique not only helps in preventing fading but also protects buttons, zippers, and other details from potential damage in the wash.

A bit of preliminary care can greatly influence the outcome of your denim washing process. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better prepared as we delve deeper into how to clean denim clothes effectively.

Hand Washing Vs. Machine Washing

Denim is versatile, and so are the ways to clean it. Whether you’re someone who likes to hand wash or you trust your washing machine, both methods have their pros and cons. Let’s delve into each to understand better how to clean denim clothes without causing any damage.

Hand Washing

Hand washing can be time-consuming but is often considered the gentler method, ensuring the longevity of your cherished denim pieces.

1. Preparing the Washing Basin and Lukewarm Water:

Start by filling a basin or tub with lukewarm water. Too hot or too cold temperatures can damage denim fibers or cause uneven fading.

2. Choosing the Right Detergent:

A mild liquid detergent is typically recommended for denim. However, for those especially fond of their jeans, specialty denim cleaners can provide an extra level of care.

3. The Correct Method for Agitation and Soaking:

Submerge your denim in the water, gently agitating it to loosen dirt. Allow it to soak for up to 30 minutes. Refrain from wringing or twisting, as this can warp its shape.

4. Rinsing and Post-Wash Treatment:

Empty the soapy water and refill the basin with clean water. Rinse your denim multiple times until no soap residues remain. Gently press out excess water and lay flat to dry.

Machine Washing

For those who prefer the convenience of machine washing, a few precautions can ensure your denim stays in top shape.

1. Selecting the Appropriate Cycle:

Choose a gentle cycle to prevent excessive wear and tear. For heavier denim items or those with minimal staining, a regular cycle should suffice.

2. Detergent Choice and Dosage:

Use a mild detergent and ensure you’re not overloading. Too much detergent can leave residues, affecting the denim’s color and texture.

3. Using Fabric Softeners and Their Impact on Denim:

While fabric softeners can give clothes a softer feel, they might reduce the lifespan of denim by breaking down its fibers. It’s best to skip them when washing denim.

4. Consideration for Other Clothes in the Wash:

To prevent color transfer, especially from new denim, wash jeans with similar colors. Avoid overloading the washer, allowing enough space for clothes to move freely.

Whether you hand wash or machine wash, the right techniques and precautions will ensure your denim remains a long-lasting favorite in your wardrobe.

Dealing with Stains

Denim, being a favorite everyday wear, is no stranger to the accidental spills and splatters of life. From the drop of pasta sauce to the smudge of oil, stains can be an annoying challenge. But with the right knowledge, you can tackle these blemishes head-on. Let’s explore how to clean denim clothes when they encounter common stains.

Common Stains on Denim

1. Oil Stains: Often from food splatters or machinery, these can leave a dark spot on your jeans.

2. Ink Stains: Whether from a leaked pen in the pocket or an accidental brush against wet ink, this can be one of the trickier stains to remove.

3. Wine Stains: A drop or spill of red wine can leave a noticeable mark, especially on lighter denim.

Spot Cleaning Techniques

1. Start by blotting the stain with a clean cloth to remove any excess liquid. Avoid rubbing, as this can push the stain further into the fibers.

2. Apply a small amount of mild liquid detergent directly to the stain.

3. Gently rub the stained area with a soft brush or your fingers, working from the outside of the stain towards the center.

4. Rinse the area with cold water. If the stain persists, repeat the process.

Natural Remedies vs. Commercial Stain Removers

Natural Remedies:

  • Lemon Juice and Salt: Effective for lighter stains, the acidity of lemon combined with salt can lift the stain. Apply the mixture, let it sit, and then rinse.
  • Baking Soda and Water: A paste made from these can be applied to oil or grease stains. Leave on for a few hours and then brush off.

Commercial Stain Removers:

These are specially formulated products available in stores. They’re powerful and often more effective for stubborn stains. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and test on an inconspicuous area of the denim first.

Remember, the sooner you treat a stain, the better your chances of removing it completely. With these tips in your arsenal, you’re well-equipped to keep your denim spotless and looking its best.

Drying Denim Clothes

After washing comes drying, a crucial step in denim care. It might seem straightforward, but drying your denim the wrong way can significantly affect its lifespan, fit, and color. Here’s a guide on how to get it right and why certain drying methods might be better than others.

Why Traditional Drying Can Be Harmful

Traditional tumble drying may seem convenient, but it can be rough on your denim. The intense heat and tumbling can lead to:

  • Shrinking, altering the fit of your jeans.
  • Faster wear and tear, leading to thinning or holes.
  • Loss of color vibrancy over time.

Lay Flat vs. Hang Dry Methods

Lay Flat:

This is a gentle method that helps retain the shape of your denim. After washing, spread out your jeans on a clean, flat surface, preferably on a towel, and reshape them to their original form.

Hang Dry:

Hanging denim by the waistband ensures a natural drop, which can prevent wrinkles and creases. However, avoid using clips or pegs on visible areas, as they can leave marks.

The Dangers of Direct Sunlight

While it might be tempting to dry denim under the sun, especially to get rid of any lingering moisture, direct sunlight can:

  • Fade the color of your denim, especially darker shades.
  • Cause uneven discoloration if not spread out properly.
  • Make the fabric stiff and uncomfortable to wear.

Using a Dryer: Precautions and Settings

If you must use a dryer, here are some steps to minimize potential damage:

  1. Use Low Heat: High temperatures can cause shrinkage and degrade the fabric.
  2. Turn Jeans Inside Out: This can help reduce color loss and protect the outer fabric.
  3. Check Periodically: Don’t over-dry. Remove jeans when they’re still slightly damp to prevent them from becoming too stiff.
  4. Avoid Mixing: Denim is heavy, so refrain from mixing it with lighter fabrics in the dryer, which could lead to uneven drying.

While drying denim might seem simple, a little care can greatly extend the life and look of your favorite jeans. With these tips, you’re well on your way to mastering how to clean denim clothes, from washing to drying!

Additional Care Tips

Even beyond the washing and drying stages, your denim can benefit from extra attention to keep it in pristine condition. Here are some additional tips to ensure that your jeans not only stay clean but also maintain their shape, color, and overall quality.

Stretching and Reshaping Post-Wash

After washing, especially if your denim feels snug, it can help to gently stretch and reshape them while they’re still damp.

  1. Legs: Hold the waistband with one hand and the hem of a leg with the other. Gently pull to stretch.
  2. Waist: If the waist feels tight, try buttoning or zipping the jeans and placing them over the back of a chair, pulling gently to stretch. Always reshape your jeans, ensuring pockets, seams, and cuffs are smoothed out.

Storing Denim to Maintain Its Shape and Prevent Creases

  1. Fold vs. Hang: While hanging denim by the waistband can save space and prevent creases, folding can be better for heavier denim or jeans with embellishments to prevent them from sagging.
  2. Avoid Overcrowding: Give your jeans some space in the closet, ensuring they’re not squished, which can lead to wrinkles.

The Debate on Freezing Denim as a Cleaning Method

There’s a popular belief that freezing jeans can kill bacteria and odors, providing a way to “clean” them without washing. While freezing can indeed kill some bacteria, it doesn’t remove dirt or stains. Additionally, not all bacteria will be eliminated, and they can multiply once the denim warms up. In short, while freezing might freshen up your jeans a bit, it shouldn’t replace regular cleaning.

When to Consider Professional Cleaning

In some cases, especially with premium or delicate denim, you might consider professional cleaning.

  1. Tough Stains: If you’ve tried at-home remedies without success, a professional might have better solutions.
  2. Alterations or Repairs: If your denim requires mending, a professional cleaner often offers these services alongside cleaning.
  3. Premium or Vintage Denim: Special pieces might benefit from the expertise of a professional to ensure they’re cared for appropriately.

All in all, while denim might be a robust and hard-wearing fabric, it appreciates a little TLC. With these additional care tips, you’ll ensure your jeans remain a beloved part of your wardrobe for years to come.


Denim, with its timeless appeal and versatility, has become an integral part of our wardrobes. From the classic blue jeans to trendy jackets, it’s a fabric that transcends seasons and styles. But like all good things, it demands care and attention. Understanding how to clean denim clothes properly ensures that they not only look their best but also stand the test of time. From hand washing to machine cycles, stain removal to drying techniques, and even unique care methods like freezing or professional cleaning, the journey of maintaining denim is filled with nuances. By embracing these guidelines and tips, you can ensure that each denim piece you own remains as endearing as the day you first wore it. Here’s to many more years of rocking your favorite denim with pride and confidence!


It’s recommended to wash your jeans only when they’re visibly dirty or start to smell. Overwashing can lead to faded colors and wear out the fabric faster. Some experts even suggest wearing jeans multiple times before each wash.

It’s generally not recommended to use bleach on denim, especially colored or dark denim, as it can lead to uneven fading and weaken the fabric. If you must, use a color-safe bleach and always follow label instructions.

Fading can occur due to the abrasive nature of washing and the detergents used. To minimize this, always turn your jeans inside out, use cold water, and opt for a mild detergent. Drying jeans in direct sunlight can also contribute to fading.

Raw denim, also known as dry denim, hasn’t been washed after dyeing. It’s best to wait as long as possible before the first wash to achieve unique wear patterns. When you do wash, use cold water and a mild detergent, and always air dry.

Freezing jeans can help kill some bacteria and reduce odors, but it’s not a replacement for washing. Freezing won’t remove dirt or most of the bacteria, and they can return once the jeans warm up. It’s more of a quick-fix than a thorough cleaning method.

Jeans can often return to their original size with a wash. Using warmer water followed by a tumble dry on low heat can help shrink stretched-out jeans. However, repeated shrinking can reduce the lifespan of the fabric.

Hanging jeans by their waistband or folding them without sharp creases are both good methods. Ensure they’re stored in a dry place and not packed too tightly to prevent wrinkles.