Black jeans tend to fade in the laundry cycle due to hot water washes, harsh detergents, agitation during washing and overdrying. The dye itself can also cause bleeding and fading if it is not well-set or if the wrong type of dye was used. Friction between articles of clothing can also cause fabric fibres to break in jeans, resulting in a faded appearance. These factors affect the dye in jeans, but they can be minimised by a few different methods according to Kathleen Bell, smol’s sustainable cleaning expert.
She said: “Black jeans are a staple in most people’s wardrobes but they can have a tendency to fade over time, especially with frequent washing. But while some fading may be inevitable, there are some easy ways to slow down the process and increase the longevity of your beloved black jeans.”
While it may sound counterproductive, Kathleen recommended households minimise the amount of times they wash their black jeans.
She said: “It may sound surprising to advocate for less cleaning, but the quickest way to fade your black jeans is putting them in a washing machine and dryer.
“Instead, I recommend spot cleaning your jeans for small spills and stains and only washing them when necessary, which is usually around every four weeks if you’re wearing them regularly.”
When households do get round to washing their black jeans, the cleaning pro advises putting them on a cold wash.
She warned: “Hot water can cause dyes to bleed out of clothing, so using cold water is your best bet to prevent dye from running and black jeans fading.”
Hand washing is also a great alternative to machine washing as the movement of a machine cycle can “cause your black jeans to fade quicker”.
For those who do choose to use a washing machine, turn the jeans inside out and use cool water to help them maintain their colour.
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Kathleen added: “A gentle or shorter wash will also help protect the colour, similarly to hand washing, the reduced friction means less breakage of dye bonds.”
Washing at the right temperature not only helps for energy-saving but can also “keep your clothes looking better for longer”, too.
The expert claimed that most detergents nowadays work perfectly, and sometimes even better, at lower temperatures, because anything too hot can denature the enzymes in them that break down stains.
Whatever method households decide to use to clean their jeans, to preserve their quality, be sure to air dry them afterwards.
Kathleen said: “If you’re drying outside, make sure jeans are in the shade as sun can bleach dyes. I would recommend avoiding leaving wet clothes in the machine for too long before hanging up, as the dye can leach out, and it is easier for bacteria to grow in that environment.”
When putting jeans on a wash cycle, it is also important to only wash them with other similar dark colours, if not this will result in the jeans fading.
The laundry pro explained: “Just as you wouldn’t add a red sock to a white wash, I would recommend washing similar colours together. Avoid mixing your black jeans with different colours and instead wash them with other black or similar dark-coloured clothing to minimise fading.”
As an “extra tip”, when doing laundry, Kathleen recommended always waiting until households have a full load of washing. She warned: “A half full drum still uses the same energy and water as a full load, so you could potentially be wasting hundreds a year.
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“To check if your machine is full, use your hand to measure a palm’s width between the top of your laundry and the top inside of the drum – any less and the washing won’t have room to clean, any more space than the width of your palm then you know you’re not at capacity.”
While many may be told that pre-soaking black jeans in salt or white vinegar will prevent them from fading, the expert claimed that this is a “myth”.
She said: “Vinegar and salt are often suggested as a method of locking in the colour of black jeans. However, while these can help set during the dyeing process, they do not work for already dyed clothes.”
Similarly, putting jeans in the freezer is a popular method for eliminating odours from jeans without washing but “this does not kill bacteria as the myth suggests”, noted Kathleen.
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