Jeans are a staple in many people’s wardrobes. But they come with a long-winded debate: How do you wash jeans? That is, should you wash jeans? Even laundry experts seem to disagree on this topic. So Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh tried to set the record straight with his own denim-washing habits. Or lack thereof. In a 2014 interview, he showed up in a pair of jeans that hadn’t been washed in over a year. People took that to mean they should never wash their own pairs. But in a recent interview, Bergh said this was not the case.
How to Wash Jeans, According to Levi’s CEO
“I never said don’t wash your jeans,” Bergh said. “What true denim heads, people that really love their denim, will tell you is to never put your denim into a washing machine. So that’s what I do. I never put my denim into a washing machine.” Denim aficionados often claim that washing jeans can ruin the shape and color, and wear down the fabric until it rips or tears.
Instead, Bergh spot-cleans his pants as needed. And when they get “really dirty” he wears them into the shower and washes them with soap — a method a little more intimate than a typical hand wash. As he explained, “If I drop some curry on my jeans, I’m gonna clean it. But I’ll spot clean it. If I’ve been out sweating and they get really gross, I’ll wash them in the shower. I’ll just hop in the shower and soak myself down and wash them.”
Bergh explained that washing Levi’s jeans manually instead of with a washing machine makes them last longer. Plus, it’s better for the environment. “The denim industry consumes a ton of water,” he said. “Half of it is growing the cotton, and then the other half is the consumer throwing their jeans in the washing machine.” Alternatively, he suggests putting denim into the freezer once a month to keep them smelling fresh. 
What Other Denim Experts Say
Other jean experts seem to agree. For instance, denim atelier Benjamin Talley Smith said denim should be washed “as little as possible, if at all.” This is because jeans will fade, especially those that are originally dark. Meanwhile, light denim is less likely to fade. Therefore, he recommended washing jeans in cold water and either hanging them to dry or letting them tumble dry on low. Additionally, he debunks Bergh’s suggestion to freeze jeans, saying this will not clean them. It might just make them smell like frozen food.
Meanwhile, Patric Richardson, laundry expert and host of The Laundry Guy, said, “The perfect number is after nine or 10 wearings, like to me, that is the ideal.” At that point, you can assume they’ve got some stains and “they’re probably a little sweaty by that point, so you need to wash ’em.” And when it comes time to wash them, he recommends using warm water on a short cycle. “Warm will activate your detergent, it will make everything work really well, but that short cycle just keeps them from tumbling too much, because the abrasiveness is the worst thing.”
But Smith and Richardson agree with the Levi’s CEO that spot-cleaning with soap and water is a good washing method. And they give another strange hack that Broadway professionals use to freshen up costumes between shows: vodka. “When you get home ,spray (your jeans) with vodka,” Richardson said. “Vodka, first of all, will remove the odor from anything, but more importantly, vodka is an anti-bacterial.”
But of course, the question arises: Is it sanitary to wash jeans so infrequently? According to Dr. Stephen Thomas, the director of Global Health at SUNY Upstate Medical University, washing after every casual wear is probably not necessary. “I think three wears is a good threshold to trigger a wash.” However, if they are visibly dirty or smelly, it’s time to wash them. “If clothes are not visibly dirty, gauge how often you wash them based on how often you wear them,” Thomas said. 
What Levi’s Website Say
Despite Bergh’s advice, the in-house experts on Levi’s own website seem to disagree on how to wash their jeans. They recommend washing jeans in the machine, but only after turning them inside out and closing the zipper. Next, use cold water on a gentle or delicate cycle to help the jeans maintain their shape and color. Use gentle detergent for darker colors and only wash them with other dark-colored clothes. And wash light-colored jeans with other light-colored clothes. But these experts agree that less is more, and it’s recommended to wash them after every 10 wears with spot-cleaning as needed. And hang to dry instead of using dryers because they can further remove color from the jeans. 
Keep Reading: 19th-century Levi’s Jeans Found In Mine Shaft Sell For More Than $87,000
- “Levi’s CEO says he washes his jeans by wearing them into the shower — never in the washing machine.” Business Insider. Kylie Kirschner. October 10, 2023
- “How often should you wash your jeans? We asked the experts.” Today. Jillian Ortiz. July 1, 2022
- “How to Wash and Dry Jeans.” Levi. January 2023.