“How can you still be wearing those disgusting dirty jeans ?” uttered my wife as she pointed to them with a Barbie umbrella we had just confiscated from our seven-year-old. I was wearing the same pair of unwashed Levi 502’s consistently for four weeks, two days and seven hours.
What she didn’t know was that I was armed with several formative years of wearing football jerseys that were rarely washed and smelled of lorry container dressing rooms, sweat and Deep Heat. More importantly, I had scientific research on my side to prove that my “disgusting dirty jeans” were as clean as anything else we were wearing.
If you type “How often should I wash my jeans ?” into Google you’ll be amazed by how many articles there are on the topic. Results range from one to six weeks or after three to ten days of wear. Answers are mostly based on personal, environmental or scientific opinion.
However, search for “How much water is used to make a pair of jeans” and universally the answer can be anywhere between 7,600 litres to 20,000 litres. That's a staggering amount of water just to produce one pair of jeans.
It's clear that the fashion industry and fast fashion, in particular, has to clean up its act. Ironically without overusing water. But what can I do about it?
Well if you think that most modern washing machines still use about 50 litres of water to do a 7 kg wash and if a pair of jeans weighs on average 1.7 kg simply by washing them only every four to six weeks I could potentially save 45-50 litres of water over the same period.
Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh made a splash (pardon the watery pun) back in 2014 when he announced that you should never wash a pair of jeans. He has a pair that hasn’t been washed in 10 years. He said that he spot cleans them with a toothbrush. He even wore a pair of long unwashed Levi’s on the day of the company’s I.P.O back in March 2019.
However, if you're like my wife and find it disgusting that I’m wearing my current unwashed jeans for over four weeks now I’ll politely point you towards a study done at the University of Alberta back in 2009.
A student Josh Lee wore the same pair of jeans for 15 months without them even seeing a glimpse of a tub door. He then swabbed the jeans for bacteria. Afterwards, he washed them and wore them for another two weeks. He then tested them again to see what the bacterial difference would be.
He and his professor Prof. Rachel McQueen were more than surprised."They were similar, I expected they would still be much lower than that after 15 months.” Amazingly after the 15 months, there was no significant difference in how much bacteria had gathered on them in comparison to the jeans that were washed after only two weeks. (https://www.cbc.ca/news/student-wears-same-jeans-15-months-1.1014258)
Granted the odour was a different proposition. When asked how he dealt with it Lee said, "I triple-bagged them and put them in the freezer.” However, according to Levis Chip Berg putting them in the freezer is “an old wive's tale" and “it doesn’t work”.
In fact, the answer to the bacterial and odour conundrum mightn’t be the fridge but the oven! According to the website www.saclaundromat.com, “Heat also kills odours, germs and bacteria that festers in jeans. Turn the oven on to 300 degrees and put them on the oven rack. Let them bake for one hour.” I’d love to see someone do that for their signature dish on Bake Off.
After the first week, my jeans were grimy and smelly. So after cooking the kids dinner I wrapped them in tin foil and put them in the oven as it cooled down. After an hour they were still warm and definitely felt cleaner when I put them back on. Full declaration here I haven’t told my wife or kids I did this as they would either try and copy it (Tadhg and Sean) or ask me to leave the house forever (Olivia and Lorna). But it didn’t get rid of the smell.
The biggest reason why I wash and over-wash all my clothes is because of yoghurt. If you work for Glenisk I’d like to take the opportunity to thank you for deliciously supplying my children with nearly 99% of their calcium intake but I could honestly do without having to change my trousers daily. This is mostly because of my two-year-old Sean and his compulsion with smudging his yoghurtery paws into me. He sees me as a human towel.
Yoghurt will eventually smell but it will also freeze. So I tried the frosted approach. I put them in a zip lock bag and bunged them in the freezer before I went to bed every night. The next morning I was able to brush off any dairy-based stains easily as they were frozen. They definitely looked and smelled better than my oven-baked variety.
The only downside was my legs were cold and damp for about five minutes every morning and with Olivia's daily shout up the stairs, “Mom! Daddy's taking his trousers out of the fridge again.” I feared that my daily experiment would be put to an end. But it worked.
The jeans I am wearing right now don’t smell and are relatively clean. If you can get used to putting your trousers in the freezer every night you will definitely cut down on the amount of washing you have to do.
The main result was I realised I was washing all my clothes way too often. Prior to my jeans exploration, I didn’t even smell or look at the clothes I threw in the laundry basket. Now I do an “L.S.D” experiment before deciding if my duds needs a spin in the suds. I - Look, Smell, then Decide. L.S.D isn’t possibly the best acronym for saving precious water but if that doesn’t work you can always just pop your jeans in the freezer like a normal person.