The Freezer Will Not Clean Your Jeans

Editor’s note: This is an updated version of a post published on January 4, 2011.

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Back in 2010, we asked the question,  “Can the freezer really clean your jeans?” We had heard many stories from denim enthusiasts who would do anything to maintain the wash of their jeans, including going months without washing or dry cleaning them. Freezing was named as one method for getting denim clean without subjecting them to water or harsh chemicals.

The theory is that you can kill the bacteria (and smell) by freezing and killing the bacteria.

Well, folks, the theory is false.

Back before I started editing Eat Sleep Denim, I investigated this issue for Gizmodo. I found a few hands-on experiments and interviewed a few scientists. All of the findings came to pretty much the same conclusion: The freezer won’t kill all of the bacteria, and they will repopulate your pants once they thaw. All it takes is a single survivor.

But, raw denim aficionados, don’t fret too much if you can’t bear the thought of washing away your denim’s personalized imprint. One experiment found that jeans left unwashed for 15 weeks had nearly the same amount of bacteria as jeans worn for 13 days. The bacteria probably dies off rapidly enough that it doesn’t accumulate as much as you might think.

That’s notwithstanding spills (the drink and/or falling variety), barf, or other potentially grossifying substances. In those cases, might as well wash them on the gentle cycle with some ridiculously expensive organic laundry detergent. Any loss to your personal fade marks will be paid back in your improved social standing.

[Photo via Heddels]


  1. January 5, 2011 / 8:19 am

    interesting- I had heard of this technique and great that you tested the theory. While I don’t fret about my blue jeans, my black ones, especially a pair I have that i adore, are very dear to me and I do worry that each time I wash them I am condemning them to a paler appearance and that even from the 1st wash the shade is not as vibrant. I’m guessing you have quite an efficient freezer? I doubt I could do this with my tiny ice-box 🙂

  2. January 5, 2011 / 8:28 am

    Hmmm good to know! This could be the way to freshen up my new skinny jeans without the fear of washing them and them shrinking!

  3. January 5, 2011 / 8:43 am

    so interesting–i’ve never had blue jeans i cared enough about to worry about washing them, but i agree with the first comment: i have a fav pair of black jeans that are no longer made and i worry all the time that i’ll ruin them forever!

  4. Sacha Cruse
    January 5, 2011 / 8:52 am

    Would steam mess up the wash/finish? It seems so much faster than leaving jeans in the freezer for a week.

  5. January 5, 2011 / 11:06 am

    This is so cool and much easier than attempting to get that black laundry detergent – which you totally need to test next!

  6. January 5, 2011 / 2:42 pm

    Great experiment.

  7. Jennine
    January 6, 2011 / 7:54 am

    @fashionlimbo… tell me about it! i push it to the limit with my black jeans, because i HATE the color of faded black. i’ve even tried re-dying my blacks, but the dye in the store never seems to hold up as well as dry cleaning. ah, keeping the blacks black, it’s a never ending cycle!
    @ashe, certainly! it’s good to push off the washing as much as possible!
    @rachel, oh yeah, well you could try re-dying them, to maintain the black…but that might affect any distressing.
    @fasshonaburu, oh yes, i live in a building with no laundry, so i have it “done” (only in NY right)… i bet they would charge so much more to use special detergent!

  8. Dayna
    January 11, 2011 / 8:11 pm

    I would really like to know more about steaming them! I don’t think it would fade them or mess up the details…I wash my jeans to get them to tighten up again, as they can get a little baggy. Steam would maybe help this?

  9. September 11, 2011 / 10:47 am

    can you use something other than a ziplock bag

  10. March 1, 2012 / 9:28 pm

    Other things that could be causing the chest freezer not to cool are a faulty compressor or a low level of refrigerant. In both instances. you’ll need specialized equipment to check and repair.

  11. Anthony
    April 26, 2012 / 5:22 pm

    Could also be that there’s not oxygen in the bag as well? Maybe the bacteria suffocate and freeze? Just a thought

  12. Jen
    February 3, 2013 / 8:34 pm

    You can throw a handful of rock salt in a cold wash with no soap when you first get your jeans. This will set the dye and keep them from fading anywhere near as fast — and keep them from bleeding on other clothes you may wash with them.

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