Here's the deal with denim. If you're buying good quality, this fabric is tough and will stick by you through years and years of wear. And don't even get me started on how damn good it looks with everything - it's a staple for good reason. But a lot of things will factor into the lifespan of your denim: the weight of it, the nature of it (100% cotton versus stretch), how you wear it, how often, and how you take care of it.
Here's a look into how I take care of my raw and rinsed denim:
First things first - I'm gross. Let's just get that out of the way now. I will go as long as possible without washing my denim (be it rinsed or raw) until it really, really smells. Sorry friends and loved ones that you have to put up with this. Now some people do this because they're denim purists. I support you, denimheads of the world. But to be honest, I just don't wash my jeans because I'm lazy. And because I'm usually wearing them which it makes it difficult to want to take 'em out of commission for a couple of days while they soak and air dry. I think the longest I've gone without washing a piece of denim is 3 years. That heavyweight title belongs to my denim jacket. I pretty much wore that thing every damn day since I got it, spot cleaning it whenever I spilled something on it along the way. Believe it or not, it didn't even smell that terrible by the time I got around to washing it. I think. I don't have the best sense of smell, so maybe don't trust me on that.
But trust me on this: Holy hell, the fades on that jacket are AMAZING. Now I bought it vintage, so it had a whole life before it met me and who knows how it was treated. But I put three years of hard wear on it, and you can see in the photos below how the color and lines of the denim warped with my wear. I don't have a before photo of the jacket when initially purchased, but that deeper blue color on the inside of the jacket lining is pretty close to how the whole thing started out when I picked it up. That sort of yellowish-lighter blue on the sleeve is what it faded into.
Now a jacket's a little bit different than a pair of jeans. There's a lot more friction and movement going on with the lower half of your body from walking around and living life. You're probably not doing pull-ups in your denim jacket, but you might be climbing a hill in your jeans. That means there's a lot more friction and sweat soaking into what you're wearing there. I wash my jeans about once a year. Again, pretty much to the point of it smelling pretty gnarly - with the occasional spot clean for any messes or dirt that happens along the way. Some people wash it more or less than that. Some people don't wash it at all. My rule of thumb is infrequent washing because dirt and sweat can actually break down the fibers in denim faster, especially in areas of high friction (think crotch and knee blowouts). So I usually stick to once a year, though you can wash at whatever interval suits you best: 3 months, 6 months, 8 months, whenever the hell you feel like it, etc.
The most important thing to me when it comes to washing denim is not the frequency of the wash, but the golden rule of denim care: DO NOT PUT IT IN THE DRYER. Don't do it. I know it's easy. I know it's quick. But the heat and tumbling of the dryer will break down your denim far faster than pretty much anything else. It will weaken your denim, no matter the quality you buy. I know, ladies, that sometimes your stretch jeans get a little too big after wear and you want to shrink 'em back to fit. In that case, hot soak them and air dry in the sun. Also if that's the case in the first place, you're either buying too low quality of denim, too lightweight of denim (related to quality), denim with too much percentage of stretch mixed in, or you're buying the wrong size from the get-go. All issues that can be resolved by discussing your denim purchases with your local, quality retailer (oh heyyy, didn't see ya there ;).
So please please, air dry your denim. It might take a little longer and be a little more annoying to do, but it will help your denim last. As far as the process of washing it goes, there are choices as to what's best to do. Personally, I like a tub soak. For this method, all you do is fill up your tub with water, mix in a small amount of denim-friendly detergent, turn your jeans inside out and soak them in there for a half hour to an hour, depending on how much shrinkage you want. A hot soak is good for if your raw jeans are fitting a little too big in certain spots and you want them to get a bit smaller for a better fit (you can also dart your jeans for a better fit in the waist and taper them for a better fit down the leg, too). A cold soak is good for if you're already pretty happy with the fit of your jeans. So choose the water temp that's best by you and then just leave them in there. Remove and let air dry, then go right on back to wearing the hell out of them.
I recently hot soaked my Imogene Rigids for the first time since purchasing them. After a recent woodworking session that left them a little dinged up and dusty, I decided to hot soak them after 8 months of moderate wear. There was some very faint whisker fading around the hips and butt, and some baby honeycombs starting to peek through, but for the most part, the most noticeable fading was a pretty even all-over fade with the indigo turning into a slightly richer blue color than it started out as. I have pretty big hips and a big butt, so in order to get the Rigids on in the first place, I had to size up two whole sizes from my normal 27 (stretch is helpful for fitting over curves, hence why it's a lot more popular in women's cuts, aside from the obvious reason of: it's also tighter). But sizing up to a 29 left me with a little more room in the waist band and through the leg than I wanted. So I hot soaked these guys to see what improvement could be made. Overall, the fit is a hell of a lot better through the leg now and the waist has major improvement as well. There's still a little bit of a waist gap going on, but a simple dart there from my local denim tailor will resolve that issue pretty easily. Sometimes ya gotta customize your jeans to make 'em truly yours.
So what do you do if you don't want to cold or hot soak your denim? Your best bet is to turn them inside out and toss them in the washer on cold. Wash them alone so the indigo doesn't bleed into any other clothing you may have. I urge you again that even if you go the machine-wash route for the actual cleaning process, to definitely not go the machine-route for drying them. Thank me later, years from now when your jeans are still alive thanks to this sage advice.
If you don't wanna wash your denim, you have some options to keep the smell and bacteria at bay. You can stick them in your freezer to destroy the bacteria that's causing them to smell. You can spray it with fabric freshener to mask it. Hell, you can even stick it in an oven too. Point is, whether it comes to wearing, rinsing or washing your denim - ya got options, and the best denim care is really just about what's doing best by you. It's your denim, do what ya want with it. Just as long as you're really rocking it. Remember, we live by the motto "Well-Made, Worn Better" for a reason. Check out our denim collection here to add to your collection and find out what's best for you.