Denim lovers hunt down premium American and Japanese jeans knowing that, with time, the indigo-dyed fabric will showcase an individual wear-pattern. “Indigo is not colorfast and it is water-soluble, so from a microscopic standpoint, it’s in just sitting on the surface and trapped in a web of cotton fiber,” said Scott Morrison, the founder of premium denim brand 3×1. It’s this unique attribute that makes the method of washing raw denim such a salient subject.

Over time, raw denim becomes unique to the wearer, folding and creasing to create a complex set of fades. These fades happen over months of wear, but if the denim is washed during this period, the fading can be negated. To develop your own characteristic look on your raw denim, start by following Morrison’s steps below to properly care for your jeans. “Raw denim is a commitment,” said Morrison. “It’s a commitment due to the fact that you won’t see the rewards of your investment for 9-12 months. But that being said, it’s impossible to match the beauty of a jean worn from raw. There’s just nothing quite like it.”

Hold off the first wash for months. “I recommend going as long as possible before washing raw denim for the first time,” said Morrison. “In a perfect world, this is between 4-6 months of daily wear.” The preferred method to wash raw denim is to soak the jeans in a tub of water; it’s more gentle than a machine and it helps preserve unique creases and wear patterns. “Every time your raw jeans touch water, that indigo is redeposited on and around your jean,” said Morrison. “With each washing, you’re essentially stripping color from your jean.”

“If you want incredible fades you want to make sure your jeans are very well broken in, as the broken-in areas of your jeans will form whiskers and honeycombs thanks to the indigo chipping off in those specific areas of wear — i.e., behind the knees, the crotch, the pockets,” said Morrison. “Once you’ve ‘set’ those areas, you’ll see that they’ll remain there with subsequent washes, even though the base shade gets lighter and lighter.”

Soak and wait. “When you’re ready to wash them, run a bath of cold water. I suggest putting a cap full of our Denim Solution (Woolite Dark and regular castile soap also work well) in the water. I’d then turn the jeans inside out, and place them in the bath. No need to scrub or agitate the water, just let them soak for 45 minutes or so.” It’s a similar method to hand-washing wool sweaters and delicate garments, just in a bigger basin. Be sure not to use hot water (try to achieve a lukewarm starting temperature).

Rinse. “Pull them out, rinse them with clean, fresh water. Make sure you rinse well as you don’t want any soap residue remaining.” Flip them back right-side-out and make sure all the residue and any stains are rinsed clean.

Hang Dry. “Then let them air dry, or if you’re a little crazy like me, I put them on and wear them around the house for a bit.” The jeans can be placed on a rack, or, ideally, clipped to or hung on a hanger. Once they have dried and are only damp, you can wear them around to get the stretch right.

Manage the scent until the next wash. “Putting jeans in the freezer helps with the buildup of bacteria between washes. Scientifically, I am not sure if this method actually cuts down on the bacteria buildup — however, we do notice it helps with the smell. Personally, I like to spray a little Febreze if they start to smell, and then hang them. Which reminds me — always hang your jeans, never fold.” Weekly washing isn’t necessary, and it will hamper the development of the fade. After another few months, you can soak wash again or, if you’d like, throw them in the washing machine, inside-out, in cold water.

About the Expert

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Scott Morrison is a major figure in the world of denim, founding Earnest Sewn, Paper Denim & Cloth and, most recently, 3×1. With 3×1, Morrison features 500 different denim fabrics sourced from mills around the world, and offers a range of denim products, all made in-house. Read More Here