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How often do you really need to wash your jeans?

Hint: It’s definitely not after every wear.
Overwashing your jeans can make them wear out more quickly, while underwashing can make odors linger longer, according to experts.
Overwashing your jeans can make them wear out more quickly, while underwashing can make odors linger longer, according to experts.Vivian Le / NBC

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Taxes, death and the sniff test — they’re all certainties in life.  And, whether we’d like to admit it or not, we’ve all grabbed a piece of clothing off the floor (or the chair) and inhaled to see if it’s wearable. While certain pieces of clothing require washing after every use (yes, we’re also talking about lucky underwear), other items can get by with fewer spin cycles. Jeans are one of those items. You don’t need to wash them after every wear — but how often should you clean them?

“Overwashing jeans can cause them to fade, lose their shape and weaken the fabric,” says Daniel Feliciano, co-founder and CEO of Clotheslyne, an on-demand laundry service. “But not washing your jeans enough can lead to bacteria buildup, odors and even skin irritation.” So, what’s the ideal washing schedule for your denim? To answer that question, we spoke with laundry experts — plus, we got their tips on how to clean your jeans.

SKIP AHEAD How often do you really need to wash your jeans? | Does sticking your jeans in the freezer clean them? | What is the best way to wash your jeans? | Should you put your jeans in the dryer? | 5 highly rated detergents to use on your jeans

How often do you really need to wash your jeans?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer regarding how often you should wash your jeans. If you wear your jeans to the garden, the answer may be very different than if you just occasionally throw on a pair for some quick errands. That said, you can follow a general rule of thumb: “In most cases, jeans can be washed every four to five wears,” says Morgan LaLonde, a brand manager for Whirlpool Laundry.  If your jeans look or smell very dirty, wash them. If not, wash them every five or so wears. 

If small areas become soiled (say, you spill a bit of coffee), you can spot-treat stains like you spill a drop of coffee. If jeans become soiled in between washes, you can spot-treat stains, says LaLonde.

Does sticking your jeans in the freezer clean them?

Some say that rather than washing your jeans, you should put them in the freezer to clean them. Have you ever heard of this sorcery? It actually works—kind of. Freezing your jeans can kill bacteria and reduce odors, says Feliciano. 

But just because your jeans may smell less funky doesn’t mean they’re clean. “Freezing them is a temporary solution — it doesn’t actually remove dirt or oils,” adds Feliciano. “A thorough washing is much more effective.”

What is the best way to wash your jeans? 

Both our experts recommend following the care instructions on your jeans’ tag. Generally, you should use cold water and the delicate or gentle cycle of your washing machine, says Feliciano, adding that a mild or gentle detergent is best. 

It’s fine to wash your denim with other items, though if they are a darker wash (think indigo or black) and new, you may want to wash them solo the first few times. The dye used on dark denim may bleed during the first few washes, so if you want to avoid the possibility of other clothes soaking up that dye, wash them on their own. 

Another tip: “Load your jeans inside out to protect against direct exposure to detergent, which could lead to additional wear and tear,” says LaLonde. Finally, suppose your jeans are embellished or ripped. In that case, Feliciano suggests placing them in a mesh washing bag before tossing them in your machine to protect rips from becoming larger or embellishments from falling off.

Should you put your jeans in the dryer? 

Resist the urge to throw your jeans in the dryer. It might be quicker, but your jeans will hold up better if you stick to an alternate drying method. “Drying your jeans in a dryer can cause them to shrink, fade or cause damage to fibers commonly found in denim,” says LaLonde. Instead, you should stick to air drying your jeans whenever possible. “Remove them from the washer and stretch the seams so the jeans lay flat,” says LaLonde. “Then hang them up to dry completely before wearing them.” No time to air dry? If you must, opt for a low- or no-heat dry cycle, and use dryer balls to keep your jeans tumbling, suggests LaLonde.

5 highly rated detergents to use on your jeans

Feliciano and LaLonde both recommend sticking with a mild detergent for washing jeans. “For dark blue or black jeans, opt for detergents specifically made for dark clothing to prevent any fading,” adds Feliciano. Below are detergents that fit those requirements and that have at least a 4.0-star average rating from at least 1,000 reviews.  

Tide Free & Gentle Liquid Laundry Detergent

4.8-star average rating from over 102,450 reviews on Amazon

This mild detergent is free of dyes and perfumes, making it a great hypoallergenic option that can clean all your laundry — including your jeans. This is my go-to detergent and I find that it cleans my toddler’s t-shirts, workout leggings and my favorite wide-leg jeans. This detergent is also available in pods.

Molly’s Suds Liquid Laundry Detergent

4.4-star average rating from over 1,540 reviews on Amazon

If you like natural cleaning products, consider this detergent from Molly’s Suds. According to the brand, it’s mild and made with plant-derived active ingredients. The detergent comes in a handful of scents — including lavender, peppermint and unscented.

Seventh Generation EasyDose Laundry Detergent

4.6-star average rating from over 5,580 reviews on Amazon

Seventh Generation’s EasyDose detergent is super concentrated, so a little goes a long way. You’ll get at least 66 loads from the 23-ounce bottle, making it a great option for those who have to lug their stuff to a laundromat or apartment laundry room. The mild detergent is free of dyes and fragrances, making it gentle on materials and your skin, according to the brand. 

Woolite Darks Defense Liquid Laundry Detergent

4.7-star average rating from more than 5,230 reviews on Amazon

If you have dark blue or black jeans, consider this detergent from Woolite. It’s formulated specifically to maintain the color of darker clothing items and prevent fading, according to the brand. A bottle gets you through 33 loads and the cap can be used to measure your detergent.

Perwoll Renew & Repair Liquid Detergent

4.3-star average rating from over 1,650 reviews on Amazon

Like the detergent from Woolite, this option is also made specifically for dark or black clothing. Not only does this formula help prevent fading, but it can also help restore darker colors and make them look less faded, according to Perwoll. You’ll get up to 24 loads from one bottle and the cap can be used to measure.

Meet our experts

At NBC Select, we work with experts with specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training or experience. We also ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

  • Daniel Feliciano is the co-founder and CEO of Clotheslyne, an on-demand laundry service.
  • Morgan LaLonde is a brand manager for Whirlpool Laundry.

Why trust NBC Select?

Bethany Heitman is a contributor at NBC Select and a journalist who regularly covers beauty, home and lifestyle. For this story, she interviewed two laundry experts.

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