The perfect pair of jeans can be a pretty serious investment—some labels clock in upwards of $200—yet when it comes to taking care of these precious commodities, there seems to be a great deal of mystery. Use the machine, don’t use the machine, wash by hand, don’t ever wash—it can get really, really confusing.
In the interest of prolonging the life of your jeans no matter how much they cost—and helping you get them perfectly broken in—we’ve compiled 12 truly useful tips including how to wash them, when you should wash them, and how to fold like ’em like a pro.
1. Serious denim aficionados know that raw denim (super-stiff jeans with no washes, fading, etc.) can take up to six months to break in and shouldn’t be washed until then. Why? Jeans really do conform to your body, and when you wash them, most of the shape is lost.
2. Most jeans today, however, are treated (pre-washed to achieve a faded look) and don’t need to be broken in. These you can wash more often but only when they’re stained or when they start to sag.
3. Between washes, zap the smell that comes with wear by hanging your jeans in the bathroom before a shower (the steam will freshen them up) or freezing them in a plastic bag for two days (yup, this one really works).
4. To prevent fading, wash jeans inside out in cold water on the delicate cycle or by hand with Woolite. If you actually want denim to fade quickly, wash once in hot water.
5. Add half a cup of distilled white vinegar to the final rinse cycle while doing laundry to maintain the wash of your favorite pair of dark jeans.
6. Air-dry denim pieces. If you have to use a machine, turn it to the lowest possible heat setting, and remove the jeans before they’re completely dry. Lay flat or hang upside down to dry.
7. How to fold jeans like a pro: Lay a pair on a flat surface, fold in half from left to right. Grab the stacked jean legs and fold them in half so the hems of the legs line up with the waistband. Fold the legs in half one more time. Voilà!
9. Denim fibers need to breathe, so don’t pack folded pairs too tightly together on a shelf or hang denim jackets or vests in a crowded closet.
10. Wash new jeans twice before taking them to the tailor. Why? Because jeans will always shrink in length when washed.
11. If you don’t have time to try on jeans in the store, try the Neck Method: You can determine your size by placing the waistline of the jeans around the diameter of your neck. If the waistline of the pant comfortably meets at back of your neck, then the jeans will fit.
12. Jeans a bit too tight? Let them air dry, and tug the damp waistband by hand. For extra stretching, tug the damp band while blasting it with a hairdryer or going over it with a super-hot, steam-filled iron.