How often should you wash jeans anyway? Science weighed in, and the answer will probably make you uncomfortable.
If you’re sitting back thinking to yourself “Oh, I’m fine, I don’t even wear jeans because I’m into skirts and stuff,” think again. This is for you if you own a single ounce of denim, even denim dresses and horrendous booty shorts cut from old jeans. We caught up with a top microbiologist to answer the age old “how often should you wash jeans” question, but also weigh in on laundering our denim overall. BRACE YOURSELVES FOR SOME TRUTH BOMBS.
“Denim is a very durable material that we tend to wear for long periods of time before washing,” explains Anthony J Troiano Jr, Ph.D., a clinical microbiologist and scientific consultant. “The longer we wear them without washing, the more dirt, oil, and bacteria accumulate on them. Microbes are ubiquitous, whether it’s your gastrointestinal tract or a hydrothermal vent underwater — if they fit they sit.” That means if your denim is exposed to warmth and humidity (from the air or your body), your denim shorts, pants, skirts, and shirts become virtual bacterial condominiums towers.
If you’re wondering how often you should wash jeans in a timing sense, it comes down to often often you wear them and just how disgusting your lifestyle is.
“The good ‘ole sniff test actually services a purpose,” explains Anthony J Troiano Jr, Ph.D., a clinical microbiologist and scientific consultant. We should probably all stop mocking our men for sniffing their clothes now. “Depending on where you live or where you take your jeans (i.e. sitting on a park bench in 90 degree weather sweating versus just a casual night out) determines just how much dirt, sweat, body oils, dead skin cells, and bacteria are on them. Once they start to give off odors, that’s a pretty good indicator you’ve got a nice community of microbes living on them.”
It turns out that just storing your cellphone in your jeans pocket could contaminate your entire outfit with coliform bacteria (poop), and Anthony says, “I’d caution everyone against going commando for this reason.” Crap. One out of every six phones is already contaminated, so, maybe don’t share phones with five friends.
“Jean enthusiasts like to put their jeans in the freezer to stave off the smell, when in reality all you’re doing is delaying the microbes from returning for a little while because most on your jeans can survive low temperatures,” he explains. If you’re thinking you can delay washing and keep that worn-in look a little longer by shoving your denim in the freezer, the answer is a major league no. “Typical detergents do a good job of removing oils and stains from jeans through the chemical process of saponification, which helps limit bacterial communities. A good scrub in warm water should do the trick. So, how often should you wash jeans? Aim for every two to three wears.” That’s even more often than the frequency of washing your sheets.
Anthony stresses that he doesn’t think it’d be typical to come down with a serious illness from dirty denim, it’s definitely possible and likely to compromise your immune system if you’re already stressed and fighting off other microbes.
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