How To Stop Your Thirsty-Ass Jeans From Fading

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Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She'll be here periodically to answer your filthiest questions.

Long-time listener, first-time caller. I rarely clean anything, but I always read your columns, because I find them so amusing. Now, however, I actually have a question: How do I keep my new black jeans from fading when I wash them?

I've read the online methods that say soak them in cold water and vinegar (or salt) to seal in the color, then wash them inside-out and hang dry. But, I figured, why not ask an expert for the definitive answer? And yes, I'm going to wash them (I think not washing them is gross).

Yup, soaking them in vinegar and cold water, washing them inside-out, and air-drying them is pretty much the solution to keeping your jeans from losing their color. Man, you guys don't even need me anymore—you've apparently learned everything you need to know. So, look, it's been fun, but I guess I'll pack it in. I solved the gender gap in cleaning—I'm going to Disney World! You're on your own now, fellers.

Yeah, no, I'm just joshin' with you. You can't get rid of me that easily.

So yes, the answer, or at least one of them, is to set the dye in your jeans by soaking them in cold water and white vinegar. One cup of white vinegar will do. You can add a few tablespoons of salt, or not; it won't really make or break the process, but if it makes you feel better, then by all means, be my guest.


In terms of mechanics, if you've got your own washing machine, that's great: Allow the drum to fill up with cold water, add the vinegar, toss the jeans in, and pause the cycle for 30 minutes to allow the jeans to soak. Then restart the cycle and let the jeans run through, which will leave them rinsed and ready to be worn.

Well, wait, no. You should probably dry them before you wear them. Which leads us to the next part of your question, because it's true that heat drying will cause those jeans to fade. Air-drying is always the best way to go with jeans that you don't want to fade. But that's not always a great or realistic option for people, in which case the next-best options, in descending order of effectiveness, are: machine dry, no heat; machine dry, low heat; machine dry, medium heat; machine dry, high heat. Which should be pretty easy to remember.


If you don't have your own machine, you can still set the dye using the vinegar technique—you'll just do your soaking in the sink or tub, or in a bucket or other vessel large enough to hold the jeans and some liquid. Once the jeans have soaked, wring them out so they're not dripping all over the place and transport them to whichever washing machine you use.

If you hate vinegar, or truly want to know the best product for dye setting in denim and other fabrics, allow me to introduce you to Retayne Color Fixative. You'll follow the same steps I laid out for you when working with the vinegar.


But maybe that seems like more effort than you're willing to put in? Fair. Easier options exist, in the form of Carbona Color Grabber or Shout Color Catcher. Those products work in essentially the same way: Toss 'em in the wash with the clothes in need of dye-setting and continue on with your regular laundering routine.

For even more information on best practices when it comes to denim care, check out this rather monstrous post I did last year that goes into, well, just about every single thing you could ever want to know about denim care.


Jolie Kerr is the author of the book My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume). Are you dirty? Check The Squalor Archive for assistance. Are you still dirty? Email her.


Image by Sam Woolley, photo via Shutterstock.

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