How to Wash and Care for Raw Denim

Raw denim refers to jeans made from denim fabric that is unwashed and untreated after being dyed. This allows the indigo dye to slowly fade over time, creating a unique, customized look. Raw denim requires special care and washing methods to preserve the raw, rigid texture and achieve the desired fades. Follow this guide to properly wash and care for your raw denim.

Introduction to Washing Raw Denim

Washing raw denim too often or improperly can lead to premature fading, loss of color, and breakdown of the fabric. Most raw denim enthusiasts wash their jeans infrequently, from every 6 months to 2 years. This allows natural wear, whiskers, honeycombs, and fades to develop. However, you’ll eventually need to wash raw denim to remove odors and excess dirt.

When you do wash raw denim, it’s important to use the proper techniques to preserve the color, rigid texture, and customize fading. Follow these best practices for washing raw denim:

Wash Infrequently

Wash raw denim as infrequently as possible – every 6-12 months for light wearers or up to 2 years for heavy wearers. Let the jeans develop fading naturally from wear before washing.

Wash By Hand

Hand washing allows you to gently clean the jeans without abrasion from machines. Fill a tub with cold water and gently swish jeans to release dirt.

Use Mild Detergent

Avoid using regular detergents which can be too harsh on raw denim. Opt for specialty denim detergents, mild shampoo, or gentle soap flakes.

Wash Inside-Out

Flip jeans inside-out before washing to prevent indigo loss on the exterior surfaces that fade.

Air Dry

Line dry your raw denim to prevent shrinkage from heat drying. Hang jeans upside down to maintain the rigid denim texture.

Washing Methods for Raw Denim

From hand washing to freezer tricks, here are 5 recommended methods to wash raw denim:

1. Hand Wash in Cold Water

Hand washing raw denim in cold water is the most traditional method. Fill up a tub or sink with cold water and add a small amount of mild detergent. Soak the jeans for 15-20 minutes, swishing gently. Drain the water and rinse thoroughly until the water runs clear. Hang jeans inside-out to air dry.

2. Wash in a Bathtub

For a deeper clean, fill up a bath tub with lukewarm water and add mild detergent. Immerse jeans fully and let soak for 45 minutes, swishing occasionally. Drain the dirty water and refill the tub to rinse twice with clean water. Hang dry inside-out.

3. Freeze Before Washing

Freezing raw denim for 24 hours before washing can help preserve indigo color. The cold temperature contracts the denim fibers to prevent dye loss. After freezing, wash jeans by hand in cold water and air dry as usual.

4. Wash with Color Catchers

Color catchers are designed to absorb loose dye in the wash to prevent fading and bleaching of fabrics. Add 2-3 color catchers to the wash tub or machine when cleaning raw denim to preserve the rich color.

5. Bathtub Wash with Vinegar

For a raw denim bath that helps set the dye, fill a tub with lukewarm water. Add 1 cup of vinegar and soak jeans for 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly with clean water. The vinegar helps seal the indigo dye.

Denim Wash Frequency Guidelines

How often you should wash raw denim depends on how heavily the jeans are worn:

  • Light wearers: wash every 6-9 months
  • Medium wearers: wash every 9-12 months
  • Heavy wearers: wash every 12-24 months

Signs it’s time to wash include:

  • Noticeable dirt or stains
  • Foul odors
  • Loss of shape or bagginess
  • Excess stretching or knee bagginess

Play it by feel and wash only when needed. Washing too often will cause premature fading.

Caring for Raw Denim

In addition to proper washing methods, there are some care tips that can help preserve and extend the life of your raw denim:

  • Spot clean stains as needed with damp cloth
  • Use a garment brush to remove dirt and surface debris
  • Hang jeans to air out rather than washing when odorous
  • Store folded loosely rather than on hangers to prevent knee bagging
  • Turn jeans inside-out before washing and drying
  • Consider wearing over long johns in winter to reduce frequency of washing

Frequently Asked Questions About Washing Raw Denim

How long can you really go without washing raw denim?

Most raw denim enthusiasts can go 6 months to 1 year without washing, but it depends on how heavily the jeans are worn. Light wearers may wash every 9-12 months, while people who wear jeans daily may need to wash every 6 months.

Does freezing raw denim before washing help preserve color?

Yes, freezing raw denim for 24 hours before washing can minimize dye loss by contracting the denim fibers. Make sure to wash inside-out in cold water after taking jeans out of the freezer.

Is hand washing better than machine washing raw denim?

Hand washing is highly recommended for raw denim to gently clean and preserve the color without abrasion and stress from washing machines. Soak and swish jeans by hand in cold water.

Should you wash new raw denim before wearing it?

It’s not necessary to pre-wash new raw denim. Part of the appeal of raw denim is developing personalized fades, whiskers and wear patterns over time. Washing before wearing will produce premature and artificial looking fades.

What is the best way to dry raw denim?

Always hang dry raw denim jeans to prevent shrinking. Hang or lay flat upside down to maintain the proper rigid denim texture. Avoid drying over heat which can negatively impact the fabric.


  • Raw denim requires gentle, infrequent washing to create personalized fading effects.
  • Hand wash inside-out in cold water using mild detergent.
  • Air dry jeans upside down to maintain rigid texture.
  • Freeze denim before washing to preserve color.
  • Wash based on wear, from 6 months to 2 years.
  • Spot clean when possible and use garment brush to care for jeans.
  • Follow these tips to care for your raw denim and achieve desired fades!