Raw denim means that the denim fabric has not been washed during production, making raw denim jeans stiffer and more susceptible to fading and shrinking than stretch denim. With regular wear, these jeans will stretch and soften, conforming to your unique shape. Raw denim fibers will also develop unique whiskering and wear patterns as you break them in.
Raw denim can be sanforized or unsanforized, which means that it has either gone through a chemical process to reduce shrinking (sanforized) or it hasn't (unsanforized). Unsanforized raw denim will shrink much more than sanforized denim the first time you wash it. It’s important to know which kind of denim you have before washing raw denim for the first time. If you buy unsanforized raw denim jeans, always size up to allow room for shrinkage.
Selvage denim is woven with a special technique, using old shuttle looms that create tightly woven, finished edges, or a "self edge." Selvage jeans may or may not be prewashed, but most often you'll find selvage denim is also raw denim. If your selvage denim is raw, wash using the tips below. If not, you can wash them normally.
Because raw denim is unwashed, a long break-in period is recommended before washing the first time – anywhere from 1 week of consistent wear to several months. A long break-in period lets the raw denim stretch to its maximum allowance so your jeans still fit after you wash them, and it ensures the fabric has enough time to develop its unique wear patterns.
The one exception to the rule of not washing raw denim before breaking it in is unsanforized raw denim. Because this kind of raw denim shrinks so much, we recommend soaking it before wear so the jeans shrink to their actual size before you break them in.
Raw denim should be washed as seldom as possible to maintain color, fit, and shape, but you'll still want to freshen them up from time to time to keep them looking and smelling their best. The first time you wash your raw denim jeans, hand wash using our recommended method: soak in lukewarm water with a teaspoon of gentle detergent for 30 to 60 minutes, agitate to remove any dirt or grime, then air dry. For a custom fit that conforms to your body, slip your raw denim jeans on again when they're still damp and wear them while they finish drying.
If the urge to toss your raw denim into the washing machine strikes, resist! Always hand wash raw denim if you want to avoid changing its shape or color. The best way to combat bleeding and shrinking of raw denim jeans is to keep them out of machines entirely. Lay flat to air dry or hang them inside out from the waist to dry in the sun.
The delicate nature of distressed denim makes washing them in the machine a risky move. Even on gentle, washing machines may be too rigorous for the rips and tears to stay intact without expanding beyond the original design. Hand washing with a mild detergent, followed by air drying, is our preferred way to clean distressed denim and will keep them closest to their original style and design as you wear and wash them.
Whether your jeans are embellished with lace, rhinestones, embroidery, fringe, studs, or something else, washing them in the machine puts all those little details at risk. Instead, hand wash embellished denim inside out with a mild detergent. If you must machine wash, turn inside out and wash on the gentlest cycle. Then, air dry your embellished denim.