I can remember the very first pair of jeans I ever picked out for myself. They were J.Crew, boot cut, and I needed (needed!) them because I’d seen Hannah Montana wear a similar pair under a pink, sparkly dress on Disney Channel the week before. As I slid them across the checkout counter with uncontrollable glee, my mother leaned down to look me in the eyes and said, “Now, remember, good jeans never go in the laundry.” Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh happens to agree with my mom; denim doesn’t appreciate the washer-dryer cycle.
Berg told CNN viewers last week that he still hasn’t washed a pair of jeans he’s owned for 10 years (and he considers the freezer trick an old wives’ tale). Abstaining from washing your pants shaves off days and days of laundry-time, but there’s still the ick factor, right?
Not exactly, according to Jason Tetro, a microbiologist and author of The Germ Files. Referencing a study conducted by the University of Alberta, the germ expert explains that the majority of bacteria found on denim come straight from your own skin. “Nothing more. No pathogens. Nothing that’s really going to cause a problem,” he tells me.
Kelly Love, co-founder and CEO of Branch Basics (a brand that makes non-toxic cleaning products), agrees with Tetro. “Of course it depends on where you’re wearing your jeans and what’s getting on them, but normal wear is not going to pose a health threat and doesn’t warrant fear of grossness. At least not from the microbes picked up from your skin and from being out and about town,” she says.
As for putting your jeans in the freezer to rid them of microbes, Tetro explains that the tactic is not a total sham—it just takes more than one round of freezing and thawing. “It will [work], but you need water and it has to be below -18 degrees celsius [that’s -0.4 degrees Fahrenheit]. If you do that, then there’s a good chance you’re going to kill off 90 percent of the bugs, which means about 10 percent are going to survive,” the microbiologist says. Research suggests that to get all rid of every last bug hiding in your skinnies, straight-legs, and trousers, you’d have to repeat the process 48 times. (Ha, yeah right.)
What should you do if you can’t stand the idea of doing nothing to sanitize your denim? Experts have a few pointers for how to wash jeans (if you must).
Let them soak up the sun: “Sunning outside in the hot sun for several days (ideally until there is no odor) is actually better than washing for breaking down the VOCs [volatile organic compounds],” says Love. “Sunning is also better for the environment, conserves water and energy, and, in fact, is a good practice for all clothes because it reduces the number of washings required to remove chemical residues.”
Spot treatment: Branch Basics sells a variety of products to help you spot wash your jeans for both oil-based stains and other varieties alike. If you’re the DIY-type though, Allison Evans, the company’s co-founder, says, “you can also spray with a vodka solution to help break down odors, as vodka is a great natural air freshener. Hang your jeans up (outside or inside) and spray with a half a cup vodka to one cup distilled water solution.”
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