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Revisiting the Raw Denim Ocean Wash – Is It Worth It?

In our early days, we published an article extolling the virtues of the Ocean Wash and now, older and wiser, we return to this controversial wash technique, much in the same way we revisited our Freezer article from the same year (2011).

Revisiting-the-Raw-Denim-Ocean-Wash---Is-It-Worth-It The 2011 beach wash for Heddels. Image via Heddels.

The 2011 beach wash for Heddels.

The beach wash is officially endorsed on A.P.C.’s website and it seems that the conversation about washing (specifically A.P.C.) jeans in saltwater goes back as far as 2006 on Superfuture. So if you’re walking into the ocean with your raw denim in 2018, you’re part of a long tradition of being that guy on the beach.


Youtuber, Kei, washing his APCs at the beach in 2015. Image via Youtube.

The beach treatment, typically involves dunking your jeans in the ocean (as you wear them) and then rubbing them down with sand, getting back in the ocean to get the sand out, and finally concluding with a freshwater rinse. With the benefit of hindsight, some of us at Heddels wonder if this technique might be a prank by Jean Touitou of “Poop-di-scoop” proportions. (Can you imagine convincing someone outside of the raw denim universe to never wash their jeans for a year and then walk into the ocean wearing them?)

From a purely marketing standpoint, A.P.C. and Nudie‘s insistence that you hold off washing your jeans for as long as humanly possible makes for a more interesting narrative than Self Edge‘s admittedly more conservative wash instructions, which suggest that wearers machine-wash every 45 to 60 wears. The former recipe might mean good fades, but it also means a radical weakening of the garment and ensures you’ll be shredding your first pair and buying a second. The fact of the matter is, if you want jeans that last, your best bet is your washing machine – yes, with detergent – and yes with agitation.


13 months of constant wear and now sand. Image via I am Jonnelle.

However; raw denim isn’t about following a set of rules, it’s fundamentally about individuality, about wabi-sabi, about living in your jeans honestly. If to you that means wearing denim at the beach, then fine, but I’ll just say that I spent the last week at the beach and when I washed my Iron Heart 888s,  I did so in the machine at the house.

Why Wash in the Ocean in the First Place?


Sandy combs. Image via Heddels.

The point of ocean washing seems to be getting saltwater and sand in your pants. While the benefits of saltwater are slightly unclear, the scraping your pants with sand seems to be a pretty good way to accelerate fades. Fast fashion brands use sandpaper and used to use sand-blasting all the time to get a pair of dark indigo jeans to look more distressed, so it’s a pretty tried-and-true technique.

If you’re someone who keeps track of all the washes over a pair’s life, the ocean wash might be a fun ritual that you note on the pocket bag and remember fondly when you throw them on in the morning. Who am I to criticize someone who loves the beach and denim and wants to bring their two loves together?

Why Spare Your Jeans the Salty Baptism?


Image via Medium.

As far as we’re concerned, ocean washing isn’t actually washing. In fact, soaking (hot or cold) doesn’t count as washing either. While moving through saltwater is perhaps marginally better than letting your jeans stew in their own juices, there are still consequences.

A big reason we wash our jeans is to clean out the oil and grit that works its way into the fibers of the denim and can grate on the threads, which often leads to blowouts. The big draw for ocean washing is precisely the reason we try to clean our jeans, the abrasiveness of sand and salt. While scraping your legs with sand will certainly influence your fades for the more dramatic, even with a freshwater rinse, doing so adds more grit to the weave of your jeans.

But I still want to…


Clean them! Image via Heddels.

But if you are dead-set on “washing” your jeans in the world’s biggest fish-toilet, there’s a right way to do things. Follow the instructions from the original article (and try to do so at high tide), but throw your jeans in a machine wash at the end. If there’s a shower on the beach, rinse your jeans out before getting home and then toss them in a machine pronto.

If you only wash your jeans every six months or so, make it count and ensure that your jeans are actually clean. You’ll get the accelerated distressing that sand provides, but you’ll also be certain that your jeans are gunk-free and that you haven’t drastically accelerated a blowout. The machine wash will fully penetrate the weave, cleaning out grit that has firmly embedded in the garment over its life-time and will simultaneously hydrate and saturate the threads, making them healthier and revivifying a by-now tired fabric.

Ocean Wash – The Final Say

How you wear your jeans is entirely up to you. Wash them or don’t, but know from a purely practical standpoint that washing will change your jeans for the better. Then again, if you don’t mind having briny pants, you do you.

Whether as a prank or a marketing ploy, we have too long been convinced that jeans must never be washed. But as older, wiser denim heads (and productive, good-smelling members of society), we must balance our urges to get the sickest fades with the obligations of being a conscientious person. On that note, please wash your jeans before you take them to anyone to repair them. You can do what you want, when you want in your own pants, but make sure they’re at least clean for other people to deal with.

You’re an individual and your jeans are a product of the unique way you live your life, but I can’t promise you won’t get an eye roll if I see you wading around my neck of the woods in your best raw denim.

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