The Denim Care Guide

In the second installment of the essential jeans guide Oki-ni focus on how to care for your denim. This is very important – because get it wrong, and you can ruin the fit, colours and quality of your jeans. We all know how much people pay for jeans because they are an investment that never go out of style and can be worn everyday. So if you are willing to spend so much, why would you not care for them properly?! By knowing what to look out for, then you will be able to prolong the lifetime of your jeans and make your cash spread further (particularly in this economy!).

So if you want to know: how to store your jeans, whether your denim will shrink, how to wash (or not!) and how to dry your jeans properly then you have come to the right place! Spend 5 mins reading the article below and save yourself money and quality year after year!

Denim Care Guide

Denim Care SymbolsA bit of advice on how to care for your dry denim, how to wash, dry and store and how to deal with the complications of shrinkage …*Apart from a few basic rules, the long term care of denim is subjective. This guide is informed by the opinions of industry experts.

Dry Denim

Dry denim is at its very best in a raw state – left unwashed the cotton becomes an organic map of its wearer’s body and a record in fabric of their story.

Particular abrasion patterns, locations of wear and whiskering will appear over time as the fabric shifts and settles; the longer the denim is kept dry the more developed and indelible these coveted features become. Knees, ankles and crotch area will always develop wear and fading after a while, which can be accelerated with grease or oil treatments.

With this in mind, raw denim’s first wash should be put off for as long as possible (if it has to happen at all). 6 months is considered the optimum time to let natural creases consolidate in the fabric, but many true denim lovers and collectors will opt out of washing their raw denim altogether. I personally only wash my denim if it HAS to be washed (IE grease stains, colour stains etc.) – Denim doesn’t really collect sweat and odour stains like other items of clothing so do not be put off by this. If you are really worried then stuffing pockets with tumble dryer sheets or hanging jeans outside over night are ways to combat smell without compromising the true nature of raw denim.


As creases and contours mature, dry denim will fall into them naturally when you take them off. The easiest storage is to unbuckle your jeans and leave them where they fall. Aged, unsanforized denim can be hung to air without creases falling out.


Traditionally before denim is woven, the threads it’s made of are treated with wax or resin to stiffen them and make them easier to weave (although with most repro denim starch is used instead). When dry/raw/unwashed denim is washed for the first time the fibres constrict and the denim shrinks (think Levi Original 501’s adverts). Raw denim can be sanforzied (treated with a sanforizing process that lessens shrinkage) but all raw denim will shrink to some degree upon immersion in water, normally up to its third wash.

Un-Sanforized Denim
Raw, unsanforized denim (untreated with the sanforizing process that minimizes shrinkage) will reduce in size between 10% and 30% over its first three washes, even when washed cold (the best way to keep shrinkage to a minimum). This is only an approximation however; shrinkage varies from brand to brand and even from style to style. If your waist measures between 27”-36”, buy your unsanforized raw denim an inch larger in anticipation of shrinking. If your waist is between 38” – 48” go 2 inches bigger. Go for a longer leg too – 3” should do it, you can always cuff or tailor your jeans if they’re still too long after the first wash. Raw denim can come with an inside leg as long as 36” in anticipation of shrinkage. This is a very important point to consider when buying a new pair of jeans, if you are spending qa lot of money make sure you note down this point and look out for it when shopping!

Sanforized Denim
If raw denim has been pre-treated (sanforized), shrinkage is greatly reduced – from the 10%-30% of unsanforized raw denim to an approximate 3-5%. Again, this shrinkage occurs predominantly over the first three washes.


Denim Care SymbolsThere are two schools of thought where washing is concerned.

To wash
Rinsing denim before its first wear has practical advantages – mainly that any loose, transferable indigo will be lessened. The majority of starch will be removed so creases and whiskers will be softer but that is a look in itself that some denim fans want to achieve. A softer crease also lessens the chance of a break through (holes wearing through the denim.)

…or not to wash?!
All indigo is precious and jeans should not be washed. Even if they’re worn all day and night they shouldn’t ever smell too bad (as long as there’s no incidents involving sick/beer etc). If they do need a clean, a proper denim laundry should be able to bake them to kill bacteria without shrinkage. Some people think that cotton becomes weak and dry without washing but there are denim fans who believe the opposite too.

If you do chose to wash your denim use as little soap as possible and if you can find a neutral or non-biological washing powder use this. Biological washing powder contains enzymes best avoided to preserve your denim. Don’t tumble dry. Even if you want shrinkage tumble drying doesn’t guarantee an even reduction.


To maintain consistent colour dry indigo jeans flat. The dye can ‘marble’ when it’s wet if the denim’s resting unevenly.

Dry thoroughly, it can take denim up to 2 days to air dry. Hanging outside is best for your jeans but not always possible. To dry indoors you need a well ventilated room or airing cupboard. Never place directly onto a heat source such as a radiator, this will damage fabric and its finish. Lie flat and allow to dry as naturally as possible.

So there you go, now you know what to look out for and also how to care for those new Levi’s or PRPS properly! It is probably a bit more than you expected, but all the above honestly doesn’t take long to include into your daily routine and will save you money in the long run.