I'll admit that nothing is more heavenly than the feel of soft and clean clothes. And thanks to a got-to fabric softener, you can easily achieve that soft and snug feel with each wash. But while some softeners make cottons and linens extra cuddly, using such products on denim can be bit of a tricky situation.
Unlike your towels and sheets which can benefit from some softener formula, denim proves to be less straightforward, especially since there are so many types available. And with so many variations of denim on the market, it’s important to note that some denim pieces can tolerate softeners better than others.
“Adding softener to denim (pre-washed, pre-stressed and stone washed items, for example) can enhance softness without causing other problems,” Clorox’s laundry experts Mary Gagliardi tells me via email. “Raw denim, on the other hand, has a cult following of wearers who hardly ever wash a garment.”
To further find out if fabric softener is safe for use on your jeans, I consulted some experts to provide full lowdown on softener dos and don’ts. And with some basic product recommendations and laundry tips to try, you don’t have to worry about ruining your jeans ever again.
1. Consider Your Water Temperature
When it comes to using fabric softener properly, the temperature in which you wash your clothes is important to consider, since some softening products work better on different temperatures. If you wash clothes with hot water for example, liquid detergent can be used, while colder water temperatures can use softening materials like dryer sheets.
“If you wash your clothes in hot water with a good detergent and the appropriate laundry additive, then you are best using a liquid softener,” Gagliardi says. “Contrariwise, if someone prefers to wash in cooler temperatures and has a clothes washer with gentle agitation, then dryer sheets can be used instead. These products usually provide good softening, which is less likely to build up wash after wash.”
2. Use The Delicate Cycle
The cycle in which you wash your clothes also is worth considering too, being that certain washing cycles can be too harsh on denim, contributing to color fade and longstanding damage, whether you use softener or not. Washing jeans inside out on the delicate cycle is often recommended, according to Gagliardi.
“With less agitation and lower spin speeds than regular or permanent press cycles, the delicate cycle reduces the rubbing and creasing of the fabric that contributes to color loss,” she says. “You can also hand wash your denim jeans; just be sure to rinse them thoroughly, and roll in a towel to squeeze out excess moisture instead of wringing the water out, which will crease the fabric.”
But if you are a raw denim lover, it’s best to skip the softeners, and wash jeans as infrequently as possible. Doing so can prolong the life of your denim, and help avoid unwanted shrinkage.
“If you're breaking in a raw denim, and want to speed the process up a bit, you can soak your jeans in a tub of cold water and add a cup of vinegar,” says DSTLD Creative Director, Corey Epstein. “This will help to remove excess dye that might transfer to lighter fabrics."
3. Allow Your Denim To Air Dry
And while it may be tempting to throw your jeans in the dryer with some softening sheets, experts like Gagliardi find that it’s best to your allow your denim to air dry naturally. This helps avoid color loss, and unwanted shrinkage.
“Keeping denim (and really any dark item) out of a hot dryer is important for limiting overall fading, as well as avoiding color loss from the abrasion that results when items tumble together,” she says. “Another bonus: Air drying can also help prevent shrinkage.”
4. Pay Attention To The Labels
Fabric softeners can add an unbeatable softness to just about any washable fabric, but it’s important to use such formulas with caution, being that fabric softeners often reduce the absorbency of the treated fabric. No matter what you're washing, t’s always smart to read the washing labels on your clothing first, to avoid causing damage.
“Even if a fabric softener is labeled safe to use, it isn’t always appropriate or a good idea because fabric softener also reduces the absorbency of the treated fabric,” says Mary Gagliardi “So, for textiles where absorbency is an important quality (like bath towels, for example) fabric softeners should not be used."
And while some denims can tolerate fabric softeners, such products can be hard on raw denim materials, being that softening formulas can damage both the fibers and color.
"I don't recommend using fabric softener on denim, especially stretch denim,” explains Corey Epstein, DSTLD Co-founder and Creative Director via email. “Denim is meant to gradually break and softener will just damage the Lycra or stretch fibers, and can often ruin the color.”
If you decide to use fabric softener though, it’s important to investigate your ingredients first, before actually heading off to the store. Doing so, can help you find a product that will keep your denim soft, and damage free.
“Look for brands that disclose all of their ingredients so you can make an informed decision about what you bring into your home,” Kay Gebhardt, Senior Product Analyst at Seventh Generation tells me over email. “It’s always wise to look for vegetable based ingredients and fragrances from essential oils and botanical extracts.
For a gentle and chemical-free clean, look for products like the Loads Of Laugh Natural Laundry Suds and Softener ($18) and Seventh Generation Natural Liquid Fabric Softener ($12.99), as they are free of dyes, optical brighteners, and synthetic fragrances. But for a traditional brand that also does the trick, Downy Fabric Softener ($6.99) helps jeans look newer for longer, by shielding denim fibers, while providing a soft broken-in feel.
Happy denim washing, friends.
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