How often should you wash your jeans? The Levi’s CEO settles the debate

How often should you wash your jeans? The Levi’s CEO settles the debate
Photo by Abhidev Vaishnav / Unsplash

When it comes to maintaining our wardrobe, the conversation around jeans has always been a unique one. Unlike other clothing articles that often get tossed into the wash after one or two wears, the denim debate has folks sharply divided. Some say you should never wash them, while others advocate for regular laundering. Surprisingly, some of the ambiguity can be traced back to a statement made by Levi Strauss CEO Charles Bergh.

Back in 2014, at an event, Bergh’s comments on jean care stirred up quite a buzz. The internet went wild with claims saying the CEO had advised against washing jeans at all. But he recently stepped forward to set the record straight.

Speaking with CNBC’s Christine Tan for the “Managing Asia” show, Bergh clarified, “I never said don’t wash your jeans.” However, he did shed light on his personal jean-care routine, stating, “True denim heads, those who genuinely appreciate their denim, will advise against using a washing machine for your jeans. That’s precisely what I follow.”

There’s a logic behind this denim philosophy. Traditionalists believe that refraining from washing preserves the jean's shape, color, and unique character. Over time, natural creases, exposure to elements, and even everyday wear can enhance the jean's appearance. Moreover, abstaining from frequent washing can potentially increase the denim's lifespan, safeguarding the fabric from wear and tear that might result in premature rips or holes.

However, Bergh is not an advocate for wearing dirty jeans. He admits, “If I spill something like curry on my jeans, I won’t leave it there. I’ll spot clean the stain. On days when they need a more thorough clean, like after a sweaty outdoor activity, I prefer washing them while I’m in the shower.”

Yes, you read that right. Bergh’s method involves wearing the jeans in the shower, lathering them with soap similarly to how you'd wash your body. It’s a technique that not only addresses cleanliness but also highlights the environmental aspects of jean care.

One of the more critical concerns Bergh addressed was the environmental footprint of washing jeans. He highlighted that the denim industry is already a significant consumer of water during the production phase. Yet, post-purchase, the number of times consumers wash their jeans also amplifies the environmental impact.

For instance, in the United States, many people tend to wash their jeans after every wear. In contrast, in other parts of the world, jeans might see the inside of a washing machine only after several uses. Such washing habits, when multiplied by millions of jean owners, result in a substantial water footprint.

This washing debate isn’t restricted to jeans alone. The frequency of washing clothes, especially items like pajamas and bedding, has been hotly debated on platforms like social media. This brings forth discussions on hygiene and personal care standards.

However, the discourse also has an environmental tangent. Bergh emphasized that washing machines, by design, consume significant amounts of water. From a sustainability perspective, experts suggest that reducing the frequency of washes can be an environmentally conscious decision. Moreover, many clothing articles, especially those made of synthetic materials, release microplastics during washes, exacerbating the global plastic pollution problem.