Is This the Best Way to Keep Jeans From Fading?

Few things come close to that feeling of triumph you get when you discover a pair of jeans in the perfect wash and form-flattering fit. On the other hand, watching that impeccable hue diminish each time you reclaim your denim from the laundry machine is beyond frustrating. Apart from buying our jeans in threes so our closet resembles that of a fictional cartoon character (and that’s assuming our waistline won’t fluctuate in the foreseeable future—ha), how do you maintain that fresh-off-the-shelves shade? According to popular style legend, freezing your denim is the answer.

The denim experts over at Gap 1969 and Levi’s swear by this cleaning solution. “A lot of people wash their jeans every time they wear them—and that’s going to take the color out of indigo every time you do,” states Rob Crews, one Gap 1969 denim wash specialist. In the instructional video below, he shows devotees of the popular brand how to keep their jeans clean and prevent fading.

Levi Strauss & Company has actively promoted this style “secret,” more out of concern for the environment than the longevity of your go-to pair. According to The New York Times, the typical pair of jeans uses up to 919 gallons of water in its lifetime via repeated washing. In light of this research, Levi’s recommends freezing your denim in order to kill the germs that cause clothes to smell. Help preserve the environment and your coveted wash at the same time? Sounds too good to be true.

…Which it very well might be. In response to all this conjecture about freeze-cleaning, Professor Stephen Craig Cary of the University of Delaware, expert on frozen microbes, debunked the myth in a letter to Smithsonian Magazine. According to Cary, while “one might think that if the temperature drops well below the human body temperature the bacteria on your jeans will not survive, [however] many actually will. Many are preadapted to survive low temperatures.” All it takes is one survivor, and the whole species will repopulate as soon as the material warms up. Myth busted, we suppose.

Is there any alternative as efficient as washing? “I would suggest that you either raise the temperature to 121 degrees Celsius [250 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature used for sterilization] for at least 10 minutes,” wrote Cary “or just wash them! The latter surely is the best alternative to save energy.” Julie Segre of the National Human Genome Research Institute, whose research surrounds the skin’s microbome, supports Cary’s assertion. “The bacteria that would live on your jeans [are likely feeding] on the sloughed skin and the dirt nutrients [on the jeans rather] than the jeans themselves, so detaching the sloughed skin could reduce the microbial load of your jeans.” For this reason, Segre values removing the dirt and skin from jeans over removing any bacteria, even if some of their signature dye may end up as collateral damage. Segre’s only caveat to this opinion? “[I may have] just transitioned from speaking as a scientist to speaking as a mother.” (We can relate.)