Soaking your raw denim

When the whole selvedge/raw denim craze began in Western countries, a lot of people would wear brands like Nudie, etc ‘dry’, and defer the first soak or wash as long as possible. Many reasons exist for this – some people wanted to prevent indigo loss, some wanted to keep the stiffness/starch in the denim so creases would form better, some just did it because everyone else was doing it 😛

 

I guess it’s all a matter of opinion, I just find the “I’ll never wash my jeans” thinking a tad weird. Imagine if a vintage shirt craze started, and everyone walked around in shirts that haven’t been washed in months… A lot of Japanese denim nuts do that too, but that’s beside the point.

 

Most artisan denim makers, though, meant for their jeans to be soaked before wear – the old Levi’s ‘Shrink-to-fit’ concept. Many advantages exist in soaking your jeans before you wear them, including (but not limited to): better fit, increased fabric density & strength, corrected stitch tension to fabric pull balance, removal of chemical coatings used during the manufacturing process, and removal of excess indigo (most companies tend to over-dye) so your furniture won’t be ruined. Rest assured, well-dyed Japanese denim will not suffer from excessive indigo loss – most makers actually recommend washing their denim once every month or so, to prevent bacteria & grit degradation of the denim, thus prolonging the life of the jeans (preventing crotch blow-outs, butt rips, etc).

 

Furthermore, what you’ll find is that vintage denim hobbyists tend to do it the old fashioned way too: shrink-to-fit (soaking or washing) before wearing them & washing them more regularly (Samurai Jeans recommends monthly wash, Sugar Cane recommends quarterly wash). In this way, you will get more authentic vintage ageing, i.e. the creases & ridges will form on the different seams, the twist in the legs will become apparent, the denim will be stronger and therefore allow longer wear, the fading will become less contrasting and more vertical, achieveing more ‘hue’, etc. This is my preferred method! I would soak before wearing even for sanforised denim, because they do shrink as well, just not as much as unsanforised denim.

 

However, the same may not be said of Nudies, etc – my comments only applies to Japanese makes. For the care of brands like APC, Nudies, etc please refer to the mynudies.com forum 🙂

 

Of course, always keep common sense in mind. If you’re wearing a pair of Studio D’Artisan 23oz jeans in the Australian summer, you would want to wash them frequently – there is a fine line between dry denim hobby & hygiene hazard 😛

 
How do you soak a pair of Japanese denim?

There are many different methods, but this is the one that I have found to be the best, after having pre-soaked more than 20 pairs…
1. Hot soak at around 50 degrees C (a bit lower if natural indigo) for 1 hour
2. Change water, soak another 1 hour in same conditions
3. Repeat step two
4. Oil the leather patch
5. Dry in shade

 

For jeans that are a tad big, or heavily dyed, I chuck the jeans, inside out, after Step 1 into the washing machine. 30 to 40 degree C hand-wash cycle (or gentle wash). Proceed to Step 4 afterwards.

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11 thoughts on “Soaking your raw denim

  1. Hi,

    I am still pretty new to this Japanese denim world.

    I have a pair of SugarCane 1966 (paper patch so no need to worry about leather fiewww…) and have been wearing it for ~3 months.

    I live in a tropical place (Indonesia) and have been thinking of washing it but some denim blogs I read says it is better if you wait ~6 months until washing to let the honeycomb and creases fade in.

    What do you think?

    Thank you,
    Felix

    (Awesome blog!)

    1. Hi Felix!
      Yes, this is an often debated question. The “6 months” thing, I’ve found, just comes from people regurgitating information they read on the web, and was started when the Nudies craze began.
      While it is true that the longer you wear a pair of denim dry, the sharper & faster it fades…but this is bad for the denim fabric, and I think it defeats the purpose of having the jeans age with you.
      After the first couple of years of raw denim wearing, I begin to realise that my jeans should age according to me, and not the other way round.
      So, I wash it around every month now!

      As you can see in my other posts, my whiskering is quite sharp.
      My honey-combing isn’t very defined because I wear jeans on the loose side, but they do develop.
      A bit of starch on the back of the knees every now & then solves any crease setting issues.

      Ultimately it’s your choice, and since you’re new to the hobby, you should probably do some experimentation!
      I believe you’ll find your own method soon enough, just don’t be afraid to try out different methods in the meanwhile.
      Hope this helps 🙂

      1. Sorry but I will bother you with another trivial question:

        What is the logic behind the 3 hours initial soak?

        Thank you for the succinct explanation. 🙂

        Cheers!
        Felix

      2. Hi Felix, the slightly longer initial soak is to get most of shrinkage & starch out of the fabric.
        Sometimes I do a initial wash instead, depending on how the jeans fit when raw.

  2. Back with a small question:

    Why lower the temperature for natural indigo denim?

    Cheers!
    (enjoying your blog as always, though turning abit towards leather then the ol’ blues. :P)

    1. Cheers mate~ I was told by a couple of Japanese shop owners when I first started that natural indigo dyes are heat sensitive, so near-boiling water and the dryer could potentially alter the colour.

  3. Hello there,

    I am also new into the raw denim scene. I just purchased a pair of 99bsp from 3sixteen+ I was wondering if I should soak them first before wearing them or should I do that after a few months of wear.

    1. Hi!
      I would soak them before wear – I find that an initial soak (or even a wash) will result in ageing with a lot more character…little aspects such as rippling along the seams, etc will only show if the fabric touches water at a not-too-infrequent basis. If you’re after high contrast fading in areas such as the honey-combs, you can still soak frequently and apply starch to stiffen the denim a little.
      A lot of it comes down to experimentation and personal preference, and there isn’t a right or wrong way 🙂

  4. Hi,
    Your blog is very interesting you are the first guy, that is saying washing raw denim every month is good.
    Anyways I bought yesterday a pair of N&F WG low tension weave, you said the pre shrink will correct the stitch tension, is it good to pre soak this pair too or will I destroy the low tension weave?

    Btw: now I know why all my nudies die after 1 year without no washing :p

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