In Defense of the Frequent Wash

The raw denim niche is kinda stupid. A niche founded on blue trousers, fabric weight, and the way a garment changes color? A niche founded on warps, wefts, and slubs? (even Dr. Seuss would giggle).

But stupidity isn’t bad. I find solace in this stupidity; a trivial yet pure appreciation of something simple. The raw denim niche is a bit stupid, sure. But hidden within this stupidity, I find the preservation and understanding of good old things. This stupid niche is founded on authenticity, craftsmanship, and longevity. In our shared stupidity, denim geeks find solace and joy.

But even in stupidity, I have my limits. I draw these limits when washing our stupid jeans. I write this article half in jest, half in annoyance of Reddit scientists, and fully in defense of the frequent wash.


Image via Bespoke Post

Like many other denim geeks, learning how to wash raw denim is part of my orientation process of getting into raw denim. Hours on end were spent consulting the experts of Reddit and YouTube. But these experts seemed to have given me alchemy recipes, not laundry tips.

“…Add around 1 spoonful of mild non-bleach liquid detergent and white vinegar.
Wash in a washing machine at maximum 40°C (100°F) and a spin cycle of no more than 900 RPMs…”

“… submerge them in lukewarm water. Allow the jeans to soak for at least an hour, agitating gently every fifteen minutes or so, then rinse them repeatedly until no trace of cleaner remains.”

“Let your jeans get dirty as long as possible, go swimming in the ocean wearing your jeans, rub them with dry sand and repeat several times. Rinse in fresh (not salt) water and let dry in the sun.”

The repair procedures of a Ferrari are undoubtedly more troublesome than that of a Toyota. The care instructions of a pure cashmere sweater are more complicated and delicate than a Gildan hoodie. So, surely a pair of Samurais deserve more attention and steps than a pair of mall-bought Levi’s? Perhaps when we buy something expensive, we expect the complexity of the care process to reflect the luxury? I guess inconvenience is the facade of quality.


80’s Levis Ad showing the tub wash technique. Image via Levi’s.

But unlike Ferraris and Cashmere, raw denim is not luxury, it’s quality. Denim is workwear (admittedly, not always workwear anymore). It’s tough, it’s gritty.

Us denimheads jeer at the sloppy construction of mall-brand jeans. We love to advertise the longevity of our jeans. But for a group so hellbent on longevity and quality, we seem awfully unconfident in how our jeans fare against some water and soap.

Truth be told, longevity has never been an issue for me. As much as I like to justify my $200 purchases, neither raw denim nor mall-brand jeans have really given me rips or quality issues. Perhaps longevity is important to actual laborers like my dad, but I’m a sheltered city slicker. There isn’t too much wear and tear in between my trips to the bookshop and the coffee shop. But that’s a ramble for another time


The beauty of the frequent wash. Image via Zabou Blog

In a niche that’s founded on authenticity, the washing processes pedaled by some denim heads feel strangely unauthentic. The raw denim niche obsessed over the fabric weight, the precise hue of indigo, and even thread material, all for the search of the preservation of heritage and quality. Is this sewing machine used period correct? Is the rivet hidden or shown? Does it have belt loops or suspender buttons?


A well-faded pair of Resolute 710s. Image via Fort General Store

Maybe this obsession with details translates to an obsession with care. But for all the details and heritage we have maintained, some of us have forgotten the essence of raw denim. The best patina comes from constant wear, patience, a dose of nonchalance, and most importantly, not thinking too hard about the patina. The best patina does not come from calculated washes and rigid guidelines.

What Does Frequent Washing Do to Raw Denim?

When you buy a pair of raw denim jeans, the advice is classically to wear them a lot, and wash them as little as possible. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this approach, but it gives rise to a host of problems – dirt, smell, a weird hand feel, and an ideological precedent that washing your jeans will somehow hinder your fades.

If you want high-contrast, comics strip-looking fades, then washing your denim as little as possible is the way to go. But if you just want some authentically faded denim that has a patina unique to your lifestyle, with some solid honeycombs, whiskers, and other hallmarks, then chucking your jeans in the washing machine or tub every few weeks is not an issue.

What I will say, however, is washing your jeans too early is the only mistake you can make that will negatively impact your fades. You want to wait until the perennial creases in the lap, behind the knees, and towards the hems have formed before laundering your jeans for the first time. Washing too early can soften the fabric to the point where these creases won’t form properly. I wouls say wait 20-25 wears. After than, you can follow the Hayashi Way.

The Hayashi Way

So how should you wash a pair of jeans? Once a week? Once a fortnight? Once a month? Resolute founder and designer Hayashi-san is a high-profile advocate of the frequent wash. Even Hayashi-san’s (now defunct) blog is named after his nonchalant attitude towards washing jeans: “ただがジーパンや!” (Eng: “It’s just jeans!”).


A well-worn Levi’s 501 ’66 model from Hayashi-san’s personal collection. Image via Zabou

Hayashi tells us,

“It’s just jeans! We recommend that you wear it and wash it normally. If dirt containing oil such as sebum is left on the denim fabric, it will become brittle and cause tears. So you have to wash with detergent. Even if you think it’s clean with just water or hot water, the dirt isn’t actually removed. And plus, washing is essential to fully enjoy the “ブリブリ” fades (train track fades) and the natural colour of blue denim! Regarding the timing of washing, just wash it when it gets dirty. It’ll depend on the number of times you wear it, the amount of time you wear it, the timing you sweat, or whether you sit on the floor, just like any other clothing.”

Wise words, Hayashi-san. Afterall, it’s just jeans.