Raw Denim First Wash

Raw selvedge denim, renowned for its durability, unique fade patterns, and bespoke fit potential, can be a bit tricky when it comes to washing. The first wash is particularly crucial due to the possibility of shrinkage. This guide amalgamates insights and practical tips to ensure you achieve that quintessential raw denim aesthetic without compromising on fit and lifespan.

Understanding Shrinkage: A Deep Dive into Denim Dynamics

Denim, particularly raw or unsanforized denim, is a unique fabric with characteristics that evolve over time. When it comes to washing this material, understanding the science of shrinkage is paramount to maintaining its fit and integrity. Let’s delve deeper into what shrinkage is and how it can impact your beloved pair of jeans.

Why Does Denim Shrink?

At its core, denim is woven from cotton yarns. Cotton, as a natural fiber, has a tendency to contract when exposed to water and then expand when worn or stretched. When cotton gets wet, the fibers swell and shorten, leading to the phenomenon of shrinkage. In raw denim, which hasn’t undergone any washing or distressing processes, the fibers are at their most natural state, making them more prone to noticeable contraction when first washed.

Sanforized vs. Unsanforized Denim

The denim market offers both sanforized and unsanforized options. Sanforized denim undergoes a special process before it’s sold, where it’s stretched, fixed, and then shrunk. This pre-shrinking process ensures that the denim won’t shrink drastically when you wash it at home. On average, sanforized denim may shrink about 0%-3% after the first wash.

On the other hand, unsanforized denim doesn’t undergo this pre-shrinking process. As a result, it retains its natural state, which means it can shrink anywhere up to 10% post-washing. While this may seem like a drawback to some, many denim enthusiasts prefer unsanforized jeans for their authenticity and the unique fit they develop over time.

Implications for Fit

The timing of your denim’s first wash is crucial. If you wash your jeans too early, especially before they’ve had a chance to mold to your body’s shape, you may find that they no longer fit post-wash. A jean that once sat comfortably on your waist might become uncomfortably tight, and the once-perfect length might ride up several inches.

Washing Method

Consult the Fabric Care Label

person checking the washing label on a pair of raw denim jeans

Every garment comes with a care label that provides specific instructions on how to wash and maintain the material. It’s your first point of reference.

For the first few washes, it’s advisable to wash your jeans separately. Raw or dark-colored denim tends to bleed, and this precaution prevents dye transfer to other garments, maintaining the color integrity of both your jeans and other clothes.

Regularly consulting the label can save you from mishaps like excessive shrinkage, bleeding, or unintentional distressing.

Preserve the Color: Inside-Out Washing

Denim, especially dark or raw variants, is prone to fading. Turning your jeans inside out before washing can help mitigate this.

The friction during the washing process primarily affects the exposed surface of the fabric. By turning your jeans inside out, you ensure the outer surface remains relatively protected.

This technique not only prevents color loss but also protects any embellishments or designs your jeans may have.

Machine-Wash Tips: Delicate and Cold

man placing shirts into washing machine

The choice of washing cycle can determine how your jeans age. A delicate or gentle cycle is less abrasive on the fabric, ensuring reduced wear and tear.

Cold water is gentler on denim fibers and dye, decreasing chances of shrinkage or fading.

While heat can expedite the washing process, it’s a prime culprit for faded jeans and compromised fits. Cold water remains the ideal choice.

Choose the Right Detergent

The market is flush with specialized detergents designed for particular garment types. For blue or black jeans, a mild detergent, especially one crafted for dark clothes, can preserve the color vibrancy for longer.

These detergents often contain ingredients that bond with dark dyes, ensuring less color runoff during washes.

Notably, Woolite for Dark Fabrics and Denim is specifically crafted with denim care in mind.

Grouping and Hand Washing: Being Gentle with Denim

woman hand washing a pair of jeans

Washing jeans with similarly-colored denim reduces the risk of dye transfer and bleeding. This ensures each pair maintains its distinct color.

Hand washing remains one of the gentlest ways to clean your jeans. It’s a controlled process that allows you to avoid excessive wringing, which can distort the shape of your jeans and stress the fibers.

f you choose the hand wash route, pressing the water out instead of wringing ensures the fabric remains undistorted.

Avoiding Unnecessary Chemicals

Fabric softeners and bleach might be staples for some laundry routines, but they’re not denim’s best friends. These chemicals can alter the structure of the denim, leading to quicker wear and noticeable fading.

Especially for high-quality or raw denim, sticking to mild detergents and natural cleaning agents can extend the life of your jeans.

Drying Denim: The Airy Approach

air drying a pair of jeans

Heat can be detrimental to denim, both in terms of color and fit. Instead of machine drying, opt for air drying.

Hanging jeans by the waistband or laying them flat ensures they retain their shape. This method reduces the chances of unwanted shrinkage or creasing.

If using the hanging method, ensure they’re in a shaded area to prevent direct sunlight from fading the color.


In essence, the allure of raw selvedge denim lies in its transformation story. As it evolves, each pair tells a unique tale of the wearer’s adventures, routines, and nuances. By understanding the intricacies of shrinkage, selecting the right washing techniques, and being patient with the drying process, you are not merely maintaining a garment but curating a personalized piece of wearable art. Remember, every fade, crease, and contour that emerges over time is a testament to your experiences. Caring for raw denim requires diligence and appreciation, but the rewards — a perfectly molded fit and one-of-a-kind aesthetic — are undoubtedly worth the effort. Wear them with pride, knowing you’ve mastered the art of raw denim care.