New selvedge jeans dye rubbing off?
November 4, 2012 5:03 AM   Subscribe

New selvedge jeans. How do I minimize the blue rubbing off on everything? Or is that more of a cya for the manufacturer.

I just purchased a nice pair of jeans. I'm a guy and I generally go through 2-3 pairs of jeans. I got a pair if selvedge jeans that I like but I'm not to keen on having to worry about where I sit and having blue rub off on my white shirts. Is there a way to prevent this? Do I admit defeat and return them? Or would washing first help? If I wash before wearing will they then lose all the stretch to them? I'm not too into the wash once a yr bit anyways....
posted by burlsube to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (12 answers total)
Wash them.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:12 AM on November 4, 2012

Wash inside out, line dry and then use the dryer for a few minutes to fluff it up. You probably will have to wash a couple times before the colour stops rubbing off.
posted by lucia_engel at 5:30 AM on November 4, 2012

Wash, wash, wash. Indigo is a marvellous dye; it's been used by humans for thousands of years. But in our modern world, many manufacturers don't take the scrupulous care that a traditional dyer would in making sure that all of the loose indigo molecules are rinsed out in the post-processing of the fabric. The blue that rubs off on things - it's called "crocking", by the way - are stray dye particles that haven't bonded properly, and the only way to get rid of them is to wash & rinse thoroughly enough to dislodge them from where they're caught between the threads of the fabric.

There's a product called Synthropol - it's a soap that has a particular affinity for grabbing loose dye particles. It can be found in some big-box craft stores or ordered online from places that sell dyes (try Dharma Trading).

Back in the day, indigo was a precious and expensive dyestuff - the traditional way of using it involves several time-consuming steps, a high degree of chemical skill and a great quantity of carefully-curated urine. To have skin stained blue from indigo clothing meant that you were wearing something that was very richly and heavily dyed; it was obvious you were an extremely wealthy and well-connected individual.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 5:39 AM on November 4, 2012 [12 favorites]

Any concern that washing before wearing will shrink? Or since is sanforized it doesnt really matter?
posted by burlsube at 5:46 AM on November 4, 2012

If you always wash them inside-out the color will last longer. It's the dryer than will make things shrink, not the washer, so line-dry if possible.

An old-fashioned way to set dye is to soak the item in lukewarm salt water; table salt is fine, just use lots of it, and let the jeans soak for several hours then wash them.
posted by easily confused at 5:53 AM on November 4, 2012

Shrinkage is caused by heat, water and agitation. Avoid any one of those things, and shrinkage is minimized. For example, you can soak in very hot water with detergent, but don't agitate the garment very much (wash by hand, or use the appropriate cycle on your washing machine if you have a fancier one than mine). Or agitate lots, but use cold water. Dry on a clothesline instead of a hot, agitating dryer.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 5:55 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Last time I bought a new pair of dark jeans the very helpful salesperson recommended washing before wearing in cold water, and adding a a splash of vinegar to the washing machine. Worked well for me.
posted by Atalanta at 6:00 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would not expose them to any kind of heat at all. Jeans that fit well on me then tend to go a LITTLE too tight with any warm to hot washing, or any use of dryer. But yeah, you will lose some blue when you wash them, which, better than not being able to sit down on anything fabric ever again.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:08 AM on November 4, 2012

Soaking in salt water can work with certain kinds of dyes on cottons (reactive dyes in particular). Soaking in acidified water can work with certain kinds of dyes on wools and silks (acid dyes in particular). Neither one of these methods of really works with indigo, but they can't hurt - and most of what you want to accomplish is caused by the act of just washing the fabric, independent of whatever you might want to add to the water.

Indigo is a completely different sort dye - a rather unique and fascinating one, actually. Indigo breaks all the rules; it works just as well on protein fibres as it does on cellulose fibres. Indigo is neither a reactive or acid dye. The chemical reaction that fixes the dye doesn't even happen in the dye vat - it happens when you remove the fabric from the vat and expose it to oxygen; the contents of vat itself are deoxygenated. When you first pull things out of the dye vat, they are bright green (!) and only turn blue when you hang them in the wind and watch the magic happen.

Indigo is so cool.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 6:09 AM on November 4, 2012 [13 favorites]

Do NOT over-wash your expensive jeans. There are plenty of websites and forums with information about selvedge denim care. I did a quick search and here are a few links:
1, 2, 3, 4

I don't know that much about denim but I do know that high quality selvedge jeans are not supposed to be washed too much. Each wash cycle will alter the aging process of the denim. You won't get that accentuated gradation of indigo tones that is the hallmark of selvedge denim.
posted by quosimosaur at 6:57 AM on November 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

In my experience, this is not a big problem if the fabric is dry, even with very cheap denim like $40 Levis 501s. Is it already rubbing off on your shirts, or is this just a theoretical worry?

I'm surprised at all the advice to wash, wash, wash. If you want to keep the dark selvedge look while forming high-contrast personal wear patterns (which is sort of the whole point of wearing raw denim), you should go as long as you possibly can between washings. Here's a segment from Put This On on caring for raw denim. The basic procedure is to soak your new jeans in cold water to shrink and remove excess dye, let them dry, and then wear them as long as possible before washing them gently by hand. Never put them in the washing machine, and never ever put them in the dryer.

It does feel strange to realize you really can wear dark jeans for months between washings, but once you take the indigo pill, you may discover you've been washing all your other clothes way too often, too.
posted by ecmendenhall at 1:43 PM on November 4, 2012

@ecmendenhall - this is mostly a hypothetical question. More of a concern that I have....
posted by burlsube at 3:16 PM on November 4, 2012

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