How To Properly Wash Your Denim Jacket

Not all methods are equal.

Originally Published: 
Here's how to wash a denim jacket to prevent damage.
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When it comes to laundry, denim is a touchy subject, especially in jacket form. But have no fear — there are a few things you can do to learn how to wash a denim jacket properly so you can avoid laundry mishaps and major headaches. As every denim jacket fan knows, the piece is a crucial all-season staple in any wardrobe, and tainting it with improper cleaning practices would be a truly devastating outcome.

You might even know this based on personal experience. Many people have quite a few denim jackets that are easily the most-worn and best-loved pieces in their closet. And unless you’re a professional at doing laundry (as in, you’ve never ended up with a bleach-stained T-shirt or cashmere sweater that can now only fit a small dog), your love of denim will require you to thoroughly research the art of washing jean fabric. While anyone can follow the wash-only-with-like-colors rule for jeans, jackets need some extra TLC.

Bustle spoke to denim experts to get these 11 techniques for washing a jean jacket like a pro. From spot cleaning to which washer setting to use, here are a few tips and tricks you can use the next time your fave topper needs a good wash to ensure that your denim jacket comes out looking just as it did when you put it in.

1. Spot Clean

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If you're simply dealing with a single stain, spot cleaning is the best option, because a dollop of mustard or a bit of dirt isn't enough to waste a whole load of laundry on your denim jacket. According to Michelle Marsh, the creative director at ÉTICA Denim, spot cleaning is as simple as rubbing a soapy toothbrush on the fabric. “Just mix a small amount of clear dish soap [or baking soda] with water, then gently brush it with a toothbrush,” she tells Bustle. “Rinse and lay flat to dry.”

When dealing with minor spills, a gentle cloth and soap should suffice, according to Kut from the Kloth denim designer Angela Wong. “Work from the inside out if possible, and put down [another] clean cloth to work on so the rest of your jacket doesn't get wet,” Wong explains.

If the stains are stubborn, Marsh suggests creating a small abrasion over the spot with a file or a Dremel. “When it comes to denim, a small hole is always better than a stain!,” she says. Distressed denim always looks cool, after all.

2. Hand Wash

If it's more than just a small stain, hand washing your denim is the next best thing to spot cleaning. “Hand washing is a great way to save water when you have smaller loads,” Marsh tells Bustle. With just a dollop of basic detergent, soak your jacket in cold water. Wait an hour and rinse with more cold water before letting the jacket dry on its own.

3. If Necessary, Use A Washing Machine

If you can't spot clean or hand wash your denim jacket, you can throw it in the washer. “Denim is meant to withstand tough conditions, so I see no problem using a washing machine when necessary,” says Marsh. It's best to do this at home as opposed to getting your denim jacket dry-cleaned, since the chemicals that many establishments use can take a toll on the fabric. Plus, there are ways to make your wash-at-home method very effective if you're doing a deep clean.

4. Wash It Alone

Yes, laundry is tedious. But when it comes to a precious piece like your denim jacket, taking the time to wash it alone or with other denim pieces really pays off. “Wash your denim jacket separately from other items to avoid wear and tear on your other, more delicate clothes,” Wong tells Bustle. “If you want to wash multiple denim garments together, only wash them with like colors.” Since denim fabric is so sensitive, and most denim pieces have zippers and rivets, letting them circulate freely in the wash will allow them to be thoroughly cleaned.

5. Wash With A Cold Cycle

Cold water will ensure that the dye threads in your denim jacket won't bleed or leach out, thus maintaining the shade and tone without unnecessary wear and tear. According to Marsh, a cold cycle can also help prevent damage and shrinking your denim. “The cold water is better for your clothes and creates less friction and less long-term damage,” she explains. So, whether you have a light wash, dark wash, or even white wash, the right water temperature will make sure your jacket comes out the same as you put it in.

6. Use A Gentle, Short Cycle

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“Denim softens and oxidizes over time, which adds to the authentic vintage look of the wash. With this in mind, you should care for denim differently than other fabrics,” Marsh says. “Unless your jacket is truly ‘dirty,’ avoid traditional washing and drying as much as possible.” Bottom line: Be gentle with your denim. This includes your wash cycle settings.

Even though denim is tough, you still want to avoid beating it up in the wash. Along with cold water, Marsh says you should always use the gentlest cycle possible. Using a short, gentle cycle when washing jean fabric is one of the best ways to ensure it withstands the test of time.

7. Use A Mild Or Natural Detergent

“Consider plant-based natural detergents without fragrance or color,” Marsh tells Bustle. “There is no need for the extra chemicals used in conventional detergents.” Check the labels of your products and see if they've got large amounts of substances you can't pronounce. Ingredients like those can make your denim's dye fade faster and can loosen the fabric's grip. “Cleancult, Blueland, Mrs. Meyers, and Seventh Generation all have great non-toxic options that are better for the planet and better for your skin,” offers Marsh.

8. ...And Just A Little Bit Of It

Don't go putting a whole cup of detergent in the wash with your denim jacket — it only needs a tiny amount. Half a teaspoon will do the trick. “When using a new detergent, I always use less than half the recommended amount,” Marsh tells Bustle. “A little goes a long way!”

9. Wash The Jacket Inside Out

Another way to ensure the color won't fade too much when washing denim is to flip your jean jacket inside out. According to Marsh, it’s a good idea to wash all your denim inside out to protect the hardware. This laundry trick will also thoroughly clean the areas that probably need cleaning (those armpits can get bad), without tampering with the dyes, or at least ensuring they fade evenly. You can also button the jacket completely to add reinforcement.

10. Lay Flat To Dry

Using a dryer isn’t recommended for most denim, according to Marsh. “Tumble drying is certainly faster, but you run the risk of shrinkage, which can ruin a great jacket,” she says. Plus, machine drying will constrict the denim and make it harder for you to mold the shape back into the garment. Instead, Marsh suggests laying it flat to dry.

11. Use A Steam Iron To Reshape

You may notice that after fully drying, the collar and the sleeves of your jacket look unstructured. Don't worry — that can easily be fixed with a quick steam iron. “Using a thicker coat hanger, steam the jacket while hanging, moving the steam along the inside of the jacket,” Marsh explains. “Shake it out, let it hang for a few hours, repeat as necessary.” You can also do this from the inside of the jacket to ensure no damage to the outside.

Finally, you and your jacket are reunited once again! Enjoy your clean topper, and be sure to treat it with care.


Michelle Marsh, creative director at ÉTICA Denim

Angela Wong, Kut from the Kloth denim designer

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