The Washington Post

Jeans: How often do you wash them?

What do jeans that haven’t been washed in three months smell like? According to one Australian woman, they don’t smell unlike jeans that have been worn for just a day or two. Tullia Jack, a Melbourne researcher, is trying to encourage people to save water by keeping their jeans out of the wash — would you?


(Deb Lindsey/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Denim is one of the most durable of fabrics, designed to be worn by workers and cowboys — neither of which, ostensibly, washed their jeans too often. But today, Americans are more preoccupied with cleanliness than our ancestors ever were, so many people wash their clothes after just one wear.

That’s unnecessary when it comes to jeans. Even Levi Strauss & Co. employees say that when it comes to denim, the fewer washes the better. "The less people wash their jeans, the better their jeans become. Denim really does shape to people's bodies, and when you wash a jean you lose some of that shape," said Carl Chiara, Levi’s director of brand concepts and special projects, to the Wall Street Journal. Chiara typically goes six months between washes, favoring spot-cleaners like Windex for any stains, and using white vinegar and cold water for his biannual cleaning.

In Australia, Jack has set up an exhibition, “Nobody Was Dirty,” from the 30 pairs of unwashed jeans from her study participants. She’s encouraging people to come take a whiff to prove once and for all that unwashed clothes don’t smell, even after enduring stains ranging from avocado to motor oil. "The jeans don't smell socially challenging. They just smell like people," she says.

In addition to lightening your laundry load, leaving jeans unwashed saves soap and water from being wasted on behalf of an already wasteful product: To grow enough cotton to produce a pair of jeans requires 1,800 gallons of water.

How often do you wash your jeans?

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts.
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