How to wash denim?
February 4, 2012 3:39 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to wash a pair of vintage men's jeans? I bought a pair of deadstock dungarees on Etsy, and they are stiff enough to stand up on their own. The color is great, and the fit is okay, but I'd like to soften them up a bit without causing them to shrink. Help!
posted by pxe2000 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just keep wearing them. They'll break themselves in. If you have to wash them, soak them in cold water and then hang them to dry. This will probably just make them more brittle though. If they are vintage though they have probably been shrunk already, so you can do a cold wash on a gentle cycle too. Woolite, of course.
posted by anewnadir at 3:41 PM on February 4, 2012

Best answer: What kinds of jeans are they? Whether or not they will shrink depends on if they're sanforized. If they aren't, they're going to shrink the first time they get wet.

If they are sanforized, you can soften them by soaking them in cold water in your bathtub. Gently agitate to get any sizing/starch out and then hang dry. They'll still be stiff, just less so. Alternately, you can just wear them as-is and that will eventually soften them up, though that can take awhile.
posted by cosmic osmo at 3:50 PM on February 4, 2012

I don't know if this is a wive's tale or not, but I'm old enough to remember when all jeans started out like that. We used to was them twice in cold water before wearing them and then nothing special after that (warm wash, I think?). That's how we did it with 70's Levi's that were so stiff you almost couldn't walk up stairs with them.
posted by Rafaelloello at 4:03 PM on February 4, 2012

Response by poster: cosmic osmo, I just looked over all the original tags, and nothing on the tags says they're sanforized. Would they be marked as sanforized if they were treated this way?
posted by pxe2000 at 4:12 PM on February 4, 2012

Not necessarily. Try googling "[make/model (and maybe even year) of jean]" and "sanforized" and see what comes up. If all else fails, some denim nerd at superfuture probably knows.
posted by cosmic osmo at 4:25 PM on February 4, 2012

The other trick with 70's levis was to get into the bathtub with them on, so that they shrunk to fit you. If you have a couple hours to spare, that is.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 4:27 PM on February 4, 2012

If you just wear them while unbelievably stiff, the fade will be much more dramatic and high contrast. Worth the pain!
posted by TheCoug at 4:28 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I should say that you might as well soak them, sanforized or no. There's no point in wearing unsoaked unsanforized jeans because they're just going to shrink the first time you wash them, so the whole point in soaking them is to get that out of the way before you spend any time breaking them in. And if they are sanforized, the soak won't do anything major to the fit.

If you want to go real old school, you can wear them in the bathtub and then wear them while they dry (though I personally find this stretches out the knees more than I'd like.)
posted by cosmic osmo at 4:34 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Use Woolite Dark, or Cheer Dark. These don't have the optical brighteners which make them lighter even if they don't technically fade.
posted by caclwmr4 at 5:01 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you have a tumble dryer you could try to throw them in with a pair of clean tennis shoes on the "air fluff" setting and let them be bashed around a bit by the shoes to see if that would soften them up a bit.
posted by that girl at 1:43 AM on February 5, 2012

Best answer: OK, from the depths of my early teenage years, halfbuckaroo and cosmic osmo have it. You need to get into the bathtub with them on and then wear them wet for a few hours so that they shrink to fit you exactly. I never quite managed this myself - I was okay with the sitting in the tub part but the walking around in wet jeans gets old really fast. The other option is to go swimming in them, ideally in salt water. Soaking in sea water is highly recommended and if you can bash them around a little while you're doing it, so much the better. My brother was in the merchant marine in the 70s and IIRC he claimed they would tow a sack full of new jeans behind the boat to get them properly faded and softened.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:16 AM on February 5, 2012

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