Maybe you earned each rip and fray through years of wearing your favorite jeans – or maybe you finally found the perfect pair of distressed jeans in a store. The origins of your favorite ripped jeans don't matter. However those stylish tears and holes were made, washing distressed jeans the right way allows you to keep them in your wardrobe for years to come.
Machine Washing Ripped Jeans
Machine washing is never ideal for jeans. Putting denim in the washing machine tends to make the color fade, and dye from new jeans may also transfer to other fabrics even if you've washed the jeans a few times already. The buttons and zippers on your favorite jeans makes them prone to snagging on other fabric during the spin cycle, which may cause clothes to stretch or tear. Naturally, this risk is greater when you're washing ripped jeans: Every tear in the fabric is a weak spot that could be further ripped during a tumble in the machine.
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But life is busy, and getting your jeans clean quickly may be your priority. Before putting ripped jeans in the washing machine, close any zippers and turn the pants inside out. Use laundry-safe sock clips to pinch closed any large holes or rips, which should prevent them from catching on anything. (This is a better alternative to closing the rips with safety pins; not only will pins leave holes in the fabric, but they could open up in the washing machine.) Alternately, put a pair of ripped jeans in a mesh laundry bag before washing.
Machine wash jeans in cold water on a delicate cycle. Unless you're washing old denim or want the fabric's color to fade, use mild detergent that's designed to protect colors. Lay jeans flat to dry; they may shrink or tear in the dryer.
Spot Treating Ripped Jeans
So you dropped lunch on your lap, and now you have a noticeable stain on your favorite ripped jeans. Spot treating your denim is an ideal solution for extending the time between washes. None of your perfectly-placed rips or tears have to be disturbed.
Start by placing a washcloth inside the jeans, under the area you plan to spot treat. It'll keep liquid from soaking into the other side of the jeans and may absorb the stain. Dilute a few drops of detergent in a cup of water and use cotton swabs to dab the liquid onto the stain. You can also try this with plain white vinegar, or rub a stain remover stick over the area. Follow by rinsing the area and letting it air dry.
Note that spot cleaning can sometimes backfire by creating lighter patches on your ripped jeans. The darker the fabric, the more noticeable the effect. If you're washing new jeans that are still bleeding dye, spot treating is probably not the best approach.
Hand Washing Distressed Jeans
When your denim is too dirty for spot cleaning, hand washing distressed jeans is generally the best option. Fill a laundry basin or clean laundry sink with enough water to cover the jeans. (Cool water is generally best, but check the care label on your jeans to be sure.) Add a squirt of laundry detergent and swirl the water to distribute the soap.
Submerge the jeans in the water. Move them around with your hands for a few minutes to make sure the fabric is well coated with soapy water. Scrub the denim against itself in any visibly dirty areas. Let the jeans soak for about 30 to 45 minutes, then pour out the soapy water and cover the jeans with clean water. Swish them around in the water to release any soap that's clinging to the fabric, then pour out the water and cover them with clean water again.
Repeat this process until the water and denim are clear of soap. Squeeze out any excess water and lay the jeans flat to dry.