How To Wash Raw Denim

So you’ve been wearing your raw denim for the last 6 to 12 months and they’re starting to smell kind of rank. Rank to the point where fabreeze won’t even cut it and people are starting to notice. Washing your raw denim for the first time can be a stressful time. Will I lose all the color? Will they shrink a size? What will happen to the sheen?

The first wash is actually kind of exciting, it’s were you get to really see the fruits of your labor. All the creases and wear patterns really pop after the first wash. Yes you will lose some dye, yes the dye will set, yes the jeans will not fade as fast. But at some point you’ve just got to wash them and move on. Another benefit of washing is that it actually increases the lifespan of your jeans. Seriously, the dirt that gets worked into your jeans through daily use actually functions like an abrasive, wearing down the fibers in the denim and weakening them. Go long enough without a wash and you’re asking for pocket holes and a blown out crotch.

I’ve heard of some pretty strange washing method on the interwebs, including wearing your jeans into the ocean, buying special japanese laundry detergent, and soaking them in a tub with shampoo. Given that some people pay upwards of $500 on a pair of raw denim jeans, I guess I can understand where all the insanity comes from. The below method does not require a beach or japanese soaps, just a laundry machine and a store bought laundry detergent.

First a before shot:

Next turn them inside out:

Set your washing machine to a gentle or, preferably, a hand wash setting. The key here is a low or slow spin speed and cold water. The slow spin will reduce dye loss and the cold water will keep the denim from shrinking. Here’s what mine looks like:

Load up your washing machine with Woolite dark. This is available at most grocery stores.

You’ll want to wash the jeans by themselves as the jeans will give up a bit of dye during the wash.

When the cycle is done hang them to dry on a clothes line. Do not put them in the drier. This will cause them to shrink much more than if you air dry them.

Here’s the after:

I did not notice any shrinkage (in the waist or length) and they still look dark. Plus they no longer smell like a jock strap! My goal with this method was to not shrink them at all, as I liked the way they fit. If you are looking for some shrink, wash them in hotter water (maybe start out with warm) and use a drier.


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