ACL Advisor | How to Wash Your Denim

One of the things that makes denim such a lovable thing is the process and uniqueness of its aging. I have been working on a pair of A.P.C. jeans (Original Standard) for the past twelve or so months. The jeans started, like all other A.P.C. denim (excluding the Butler collection of course), as an unwashed raw selvage fabric. Over time the jeans gradually became more faded, whiskered, wrinkled and distressed. In the previous year of wear, the only form of cleaning has been a single trip to the dry cleaner. Lately, it has become obvious that I can’t hold out on washing the jeans any longer. Over the weekend I decided to give my jeans their first official cleaning.

A side by side comparison of one year old jeans next to a new unworn version.

The process of washing your jeans is simple. Opt for a soak over using a conventional washing machine. Fill the sink or bathtub with warm water, add in a small amount of Woolite Black, and soak for one hour. You can turn your jeans inside out if you really want to preserve the dark indigo color in the cotton. I decided to wash my pair right-side-out, since my jeans had collected a healthy layer of soot. I also took further steps to better expunge the dirt. At the half hour mark I rolled the jeans, squeezed out the water and placed back in the Woolite water solution.

The before comparison. On the left my 2007 Original Standard jeans and on the right a new, unworn pair.

All you need to wash your jeans.

That pink cap sort of weirds me out.

Soak for 1 hour.

After an hour has elapsed, drain, rinse and hang until dry. Smelling better already.

The final product, clean jeans. One year of wear on the left, brand new on the right.

Comments on “ACL Advisor | How to Wash Your Denim

    jeremy on September 29, 2008 11:18 AM:

    Nice wear.
    On the new ones did you get the the bottom hem chain stitched? It looks really good.

    Joshua on September 29, 2008 11:30 AM:

    Just had a conversation regarding denim washing this weekend. Thanks for the advice!

    Michael Williams on September 29, 2008 11:32 AM:

    Yes — the new pair have been hemmed with a chain stitch machine. I should have hemmed the old pair that way too.

    Zach on September 29, 2008 11:39 AM:

    I’m only at about 6 months and might hold out till the full year for my first wash…Did the dry cleaning help at all?

    Michael Williams on September 29, 2008 11:41 AM:

    Dry cleaning helped eliminate any odors, but not the dirt. It is worth pointing out that some denim makers recommend NOT dry cleaning.


    r on September 29, 2008 11:49 AM:

    Something I read recently suggested an occasional walk into the ocean with your jeans, to clean and maintain firmness of the denim…….any takers?

    mango on September 29, 2008 12:06 PM:

    Does anyone know how to keep/maintain Dark Jean dark? -thanks…

    mango on September 29, 2008 12:14 PM:

    Between “soak for 1 hour” and “hang until dry”, what happened to Rinse? -thanks

    rhr on September 29, 2008 12:18 PM:

    Great report. I bought a pair of APC’s about 2 months ago and love them, but have avoided hemming them because I know I’ll need to wash them at some point [and have assumed washing –> shrinking]. When you finally washed them, did they shrink much? I really want to hem mine as I not a fan of the cuffed jean look.

    Rob on September 29, 2008 12:18 PM:

    I just spent £140 on a pair of vintage Levis 1947s this weekend, and they’re sat at home right now waiting for their first wash, bit scared about the whole shrinking thing but the guy in the shop was pretty helpful so hopefully it will all go ok.

    trip on September 29, 2008 12:19 PM:

    Did you soak them when you originally bought them to get them to fit better? If not, did you size down from your regular size?

    Michael Williams on September 29, 2008 12:19 PM:

    Good catch, er, Mango. I updated to note the rinse step.

    RHR / Trip — I would have them hemmed and then wear for a few months before washing. Once you do wash them they will shrink (some denim more dramatically than others), but from my experience I like to wear my jeans for a while before I introduce water. When I washed these 12 month old jeans they didn’t really “shrink” as much as they regained their shape. I did not / do not soak when I get a pair of jeans. I buy them a little tight and let them loosen up over time. You will be surprised how quickly that starts to happen. Some people may disagree with this approach, but as my father says, that’s what makes horse racing.


    james fox on September 29, 2008 12:59 PM:

    i like r’s idea… then go to the next level pacific/atlantic…or japanese saltwater rinsed etc.
    gap in the market?? like when sea soaked clothes dry on their own and they are all sort of crumbly feeling…love that. Ensuing salt stains; good or bad discuss.

    Mark on September 29, 2008 1:24 PM:

    APCs are sanforized. They do not require a soak before you wear them.

    I would advise against not soaking something unsanforized (such as the 47′ 501s that Rob is talking about up there). If you don’t soak them when you eventually wash them, you will be stuck with a completely different fit.

    Brandon M.Capps on September 29, 2008 3:52 PM:

    Great post. Add Vinegar and Salt to the wash to keep the color and keep them more stiff than a normal wash.

    Michael Williams on September 29, 2008 3:54 PM:

    Great tips fellas, thanks. Just a side note, Brandon’s suggestions also work for french fries.


    rye on the rocks on September 29, 2008 4:23 PM:

    Great post. I did this to mine after 6 months. Instead of making a trip to the beach (extremist recipe).

    I think 6 months is too soon. I tried to wear them about 4 times a week.

    After the first wash, they feel so soft. I now sleep in them like pajamas.

    rye on the rocks on September 29, 2008 4:24 PM:

    Oops. I meant instead of the seawater recipe which I really wanted to try.

    Ian on September 29, 2008 5:52 PM:

    Funny, I just put a load of jeans through the wash yesterday. Using Woolite Black is a good suggestion. I hadn’t thought of that before. I think I’ll just turn my jeans inside out and use the washing machine as usual thanks. Who has time to wash(soak) and rinse jeans by hand? Not me.

    Michael Williams on September 29, 2008 5:55 PM:


    You don’t have to stand there and watch them soak, go watch some Mad Men or something. Also, you only do this ONCE A YEAR!


    angelo on September 29, 2008 6:46 PM:

    I actually get my jeans dirty, so once a year won’t work for me. But about once every month I take my Levi’s into the ocean for a couple minutes. The only way to clean your jeans.

    Keith on September 30, 2008 1:16 AM:

    I almost did the samething with my PRPS denim. I just washed them too just recently, but I didn’t follow the ACL steps. I wish I would have read this post before I did my technique of wearing them for a yr (same as you did) washing them inside out, no woolite black(reg. TIDE) and hang dry. I got them hemmed for the first time after first wash because they were really long in length(just never altered them). I must say I was satisfied with the result, but I have a new pair and I got them hemmed. I am going to follow your steps and do the ACL execution of washing denim. Also awesome post your beyond resourceful…

    retep tterrab on September 30, 2008 4:30 AM:

    Wow, so many great responses to such a worthwhile post; I’ve been a slave of good – to great – jeans for years now and have learned that “the better the denim the less the washing” rule holds true; think about it: your nice sweaters, made of cashmere and lambswool, don’t require constant cleaning, due to their natural ability to resist the elements. Though high quality denim doesn’t have the same defenses as wool, it does have the ability to absorb your usage and reflect it in an amplified manner; much as waxed cotton or Herringbone tweed does. Leave it alone! rinse your better jeans in the sink and hang them on the porch! Let your daily use and regular habits bestow the denim with the unique patine that they are only more than willing to display!

    pitboss12 on September 30, 2008 3:34 PM:

    I’m working on my 9th month with a pair of $30 STF 501xx’s. I love all the creases and subtle variations in color. They should look pretty good after the first soak. I’m trying to hold out until New Year’s Day.

    Patrick on September 30, 2008 10:29 PM:

    How do you notice the chain-stitching.

    Michael Williams on September 30, 2008 10:38 PM:

    You can tell by the fact that the hem is much shorter on the chain stitch version than a single needle hem.

    You can see it better here:

    Go to the “original” size to really get a close up.

    Here is another shot:

    david dewese on October 1, 2008 12:58 AM:

    wow, i usually wash and dry my jeans every couple weeks. maybe i need to start buying with not washing in mind.

    rhr on October 1, 2008 11:30 AM:


    Kudos on this post and on TCL in general – it’s refreshing to see someone put this kind of energy and taste into a site about “trad”-ish aesthetics and things without fetishizing that overly restricted idea of what trad/preppy/whatever-you-want-to-call-it is [i.e. “only” OCBD, sack suits…]. Also, I followed your lead and dropped the APC’s off at the tailor this morning for hemming – hopefully the eventual soak/wash will not cause too much shortening of the legs.

    Rye On The Rocks on October 1, 2008 9:15 PM:

    pitboss12, I’ve always wanted to try it with Levi’s STFs but I heard from denim snobs that the creases and such will look out of place once you shrink them.

    Keep us updated.

    pitboss12 on October 2, 2008 11:02 PM:


    I’ve heard the same thing on all the denim sites, but screw them. When my friends that work in the blue collar trades wear their new jeans, they don’t pre-soak or any of that stuff. They just wear ’em. I’ve decided to do the same thing.

    jamie on October 8, 2008 3:23 PM:

    I just bought the Levis STF 31×32. My normal pant size is 29×29 and the directions say wash and dry in hot. I cannot wear them as they are, too big in the waist and too long. What do I do?

    Josh on October 9, 2008 7:11 PM:

    ^^^ jamie: They’re Levi STF – Shrink To Fits.

    You need to wash them (or soak them) in hot water, get in them when they’re damp, and let them dry on you. They will (Shrink) to (Fit) you. Does that help? :)

    Eric on October 10, 2008 10:56 AM:

    OK, forgive me if I sound like an idiot; I have never heard of this before…

    So, you have washed your jeans only once in a year’s time? How do you keep them clean in between washings? Do they not stretch out terribly? I can barely stand to wear my jeans more than twice without washing (I like them snug)…am I doing something wrong?

    Simon on October 10, 2008 12:30 PM:

    Bought a pair of RRL Bleeckers Aug ’07 and they wore out after 6 months.
    So, bought a pair of APC New Standards in Feb ’08 and again, they wore out at 6 months.
    Both right before my intended ‘wash’ date.
    Just bought a pair of Jean Shop Classics and hope they’ll last longer.
    It’s all right in the middle of the crotch – that’s right, proud to have thunder thighs from endurance road cycling.
    Has anyone ever patched? At home or did you take it somewhere? Does it matter where the hole is?

    Doc Fleagle on October 14, 2008 9:15 PM:

    Please, don’t wear the jeans into salt water without rinsing later.
    The seawater contains tiny microorganisms that will smell vile when they die.

    Ryan on November 2, 2008 10:54 AM:

    You should find tougher or cheaper pants you don’t care about to bike ride in. I had a pair of Crate pants that I wore only a few times bicycling and they made a 4 inch slit in the crotch. Now whenever I’m on a bike I try to stick to my Levi’s 511 Skinny. I’ve had them about 9 months and they’re pretty tough, no holes just some discoloration the shape of a bike seat.

    Martin on November 10, 2008 5:08 PM:

    Just stumbled to this site and I am kinda lost. I am kind of a newbie in the whole jeans-washing thing. I am in love with dark colored slim jeans and I always get disappointed because they tend to lose their color. I just want to make sure, from what I am reading here, you only wash your jeans after a year of use? Sometimes, the jeans tend to feel so heavy and “weird” after wearing them for a couple of weeks.

    Mark on November 13, 2008 5:47 PM:

    This post is great – I had no idea that there were blogs for jean obsessives!

    I’m pretty much in agreement with a lot of the guys here – if you buy a nice pair of dry denims just wear em’ for as long as poss before you soak or wash em’ (unless they are these STF’s I hear of)..I’ve learnt my lesson from accidentally shrinking jeans or washing them out to one bland colour because they haven’t worn enough!

    Anyone know much about the way Edwin ED-77’s wash? Mine are nowhere near washing time yet but if they shrink and don’t stretch back I’d be gutted!

    Kerri on April 20, 2009 8:37 AM:

    I’m with Eric. As a college student, I thought I was pushing the bounds in waiting to wash my jeans, but six months? A year? I’ve never heard of waiting that long, so when reading the comments with everybody thinking it was totally common, I had a little Twilight Zone moment.
    Why wait that long to wash? What about cleanliness? Are these special jeans? I’m most familiar with Levi’s, but I’ve never heard of washing them like this. I would assume these aren’t your rough and tumble jeans that I always wear.

    Josh on May 21, 2009 4:07 PM:

    question about sizing. just got a pair of apc new standards from denim bar, which suggested going TWO sizes down, which i did. i am wearing the jeans now, and they. are. insanely tight. can this possibly be right? i can imagine one size down being kind of fun to break in but this feels silly. should i suck it up (or in) and wait it out, or return them and size up?

    E on June 21, 2009 8:16 PM:

    I was just introduced to raw denim through a friend at work last week. I did some research, and A.P.C.’s seemed like the kind of thing I’d be into. I saw a pair in person Just 2 nights ago, and I decided to get a pair. I went with the new cures, The tightest fit A.P.C. makes. They were so tight, that I tried to button them the first time and gave up. I walked out of the dressing room, convinced I couldn’t squeez into these things. I eventually bit the bullet and went into the dressing room for round two. I got them buttoned, and decided they might fit right after they stretch properly.

    So far I’ve had them on since buying them, aside from showering. Sleeping in them helped a lot, but walking around the city today made a big difference. Now I’m left wondering how much more these will stretch. There’s still some room for them to get a but larger in the waist, but will they continue to stretch at the same rate much longer?

    P.S. This is the blog for the store I got them at. Find the post from Thursday June 18, 2009 to see the jeans that convinced me to go with A.P.C.’s.

    Brad M. on July 3, 2009 7:30 PM:

    I picked up a pair of APC New Standards last Nov/Dec and have been wearing them daily since. No washing, no dry cleaning.

    I happened upon a perfect solution that has left them a great dark blue with noticeable whiskers and wear marks:

    I ended up lost and stuck walking around downtown Chicago for two hours in the pouring rain last month. I hung them up to dry and now they’re perfect.

    So if you get the chance, give it a try!

    salaam on July 11, 2009 7:49 PM:

    if the jeans are dyed well, you don’t have to wait a long time to wash, esp. if you are rocking them really hard. but APCs aren’t that well-dyed, so they will look washed-out quicker than a repro-quality denim. if you wait a long time without washing, the fabric won’t last as long due to the grime/sweat/bacteria thats festering amonst the fibers. skull, pbj, and flat-head, and somet offer slim jeans with better denim. it costs more, but you gotta pay how you weigh…

    salaam on July 11, 2009 7:51 PM:

    oh yeah, dr. bronner’s(any scent) is better than anything woolite makes….

    eli on July 28, 2009 2:42 PM:

    i’ve had a pair of these for two months now, semi-regular wear. planning to hold out on washing/soaking for a full year, but need to get them hemmed. how much shrinkage should i anticipate post wash, if any at all? should i just hem to fit?

    Sarah on September 10, 2009 3:01 PM:

    I just bought a pair of pre-owned but unworn APC jeans that I’m sure have been sitting in a closet for nearly a year. Is the “wearing” part important in keeping the color? Or does the dark color set with time alone?
    Like the post before me, I’d also like to hear any thoughts on how much shrinkage to expect after washing as I’d like to get them hemmed now.
    And, finally, has any one had any luck/experience with wet cleaning? Done by a dry cleaner but usually better at getting soil out?
    Many thanks!

    Jstokes on October 10, 2009 2:17 PM:

    the jeans tht youve had for a year do not look like they are the same jeans because of the whiskering effect on the front wearing jeans for a full year will not give it tht effect so u may wanna explain

    Ian on November 12, 2009 1:49 PM:

    Quick question:

    How much salt and vinegar should I add? Or was that a joke?


    gabe on November 12, 2009 5:06 PM:

    how many times have you soaked your jeans before they got to look like the photos above?

    gabe on November 12, 2009 5:11 PM:

    how many times did you soak your jeans before they got to look like the photos above?

Comments are closed.