Just wash your pants, people

Levi's recommends freezing jeans, instead of washing them, as a way to save water. The idea is that freezing will kill the bacteria that make your pants smell. But Stephen Craig Cary, an expert in low-temperature microbial life, begs to differ.


  1. While the alternatives are at least as unlikely to actually save energy, does anybody know how the microbes would respond to some proper cold? Saturation with liquid nitrogen isn’t exactly a trip to the freezer.

    Also, are our bacterial antagonists capable of survival in the anaerobic conditions that(in a sealed container) would follow as the nitrogen displaced all the oxygen? 

  2. Well, the obvious solution is to genetically engineer bacteria to give off pleasant smells and to out-compete their wild, smelly brethren.   You’d just go into the store, sprinkle “Axe Wild Musk” on your Jeans and go ahead.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  3. I guess this shows who Levis believes wears their Jeans – people who don’t get dirty. Interesting marketing for a jeans company.

  4. This just reminds me of a student prank pulled on my house mate’s brother. Taking all of the underwear out his draw and soaking them in water, then freezing them overnight in to a solid block. He was not a happy bunny the following morning.

  5. I’ve actually wondered about low-temps and bacteria from a different angle.  For food borne bacteria, the key temperature range is 40F-130F.  As I understand it, most of the harmful bacteria thrive in that temperature range.  
    For most people, the domestic hot water circuit (ie. the Hot tap on the sink) comes out in the 120F range.  Normal cold tap water comes out around 50F (45F in the winter and 55F in the summer)
    Common knowledge has it that its best to wash things in hot soapy water to kill off any bacteria.  Leaving the effects of soap aside, is there anything to suggest that 120F water is better at doing away with bacteria than 45F water? TL;DR:  Do food borne bacteria do equally as well at either end of the 40-130F range?   If so, then does it make any difference if you wash things with hot or cold water?
    Useful Bacteria / Temp range chart:

    1. my plumber actually told me it’s the dryer that kills the bugs, not the temperature of the water in the washer. makes sense to me!

      1. sorry – I wasn’t clear;  I’m going offtopic and talking about food-borne illnesses in the  kitchen (cutting boards, utensils, cooking equipment, etc.) 

    2. You use hot water to help remove things from the things you’re washing (grease and food), I’ve never seen it as a way to kill anything.  That’s what soap is for.

      1. You use hot water to help remove things from the things you’re washing (grease and food), I’ve never seen it as a way to kill anything.  That’s what soap is for.

        Are you for real?

        1. Most Japanese washing machines don’t use hot water, yet somehow the Japanese still manage do clean their clothes.

        2. You’ve never heard of washing linens, towels etc. at high temperatures to kill bacteria? Hospitals and hotels do that all the time for obvious reasons. I find that even washing towels at not-so-high but still elevated temperatures (say 60°C instead of 40°) really helps keep them smell-free longer.

        (PS: Disqus really _does_ suck equine testes. Refuses to load sometimes for no good reason, takes forever when it does. Hope you find something better soon.)

  6. Isn’t this saving something reasonably cheap and easy to produce (water) and instead using something incredibly inefficient and expensive (electric powered cooling) to give a worse effect (yes it kills bacteria but does it remove stains?)

    Overall, I’m sure it’s cheaper to heat something from an ambient 20degrees or so, to about 40degrees or so (normal washing temperature) rather than cooling it to below zero.

    Seems like a pretty pointless move to me.

    1. Except you likely have your freezer on all the time, and it works more efficiently the more that’s in it; whereas you probably specifically heat water to wash clothes.

      So actually freezing your jeans might save you energy, full stop.

      1. Who washes their clothes in hot water? Underoos maybe, but jeans?

        I’m probably preaching to the dumpster behind the church, but…..you buy clothing that fits and then you clean it in a way that maintains the size and color. Unless you want to look like an unmade bed or a bratwurst.

        1. People who have actual dirty clothes often use hot water to wash clothes. Greatly aids detergent ability to cut oils. Though you don’t see denim often washed this way anymore, because denim seems to be somewhat obsolete for dirty jobs and most often used for modern casual wear. Use of a clothes dryer seems to have a bigger effect on maintaining size and color.

          I’d be curious about the effect of washing machine temperature on bacteria. Plain old soap/detergent is useful enough to remove and kill plenty bacteria (along with the grunge that bacteria like to eat), and my hot water, while hot to the touch, isn’t all that hot. Maybe a professional laundry service can provide real sterilization from hot water, but that’s beyond the capability of many households.

          It’s amazing how precious denim has become since my youth. A quick search yields an array of detailed rituals for making jeans suit one’s particular sense of fashion, from washing, to wearing, to shrinking, to preserving, etc.

          1. There may be a cultural misunderstanding going on here.

            Just about any washing machine in continental Europe allows you to choose the temperature, from not heating the water at all to 90°C (pretty damn close to boiling) in my case. While there is a trend towards lower temperatures for energy saving reasons, most people around here wash their clothes somewhere in the 30-60°C range. Washing your bed sheets at 80-90°C is not that uncommon (this is quite a bit hotter than “hot to the touch” and will in fact kill most bacteria — not all of course, but it _does_ keep your stuff from getting smelly for much longer).

  7. I think this may have less to do with water conservation and more to do with the raw denim trend. See, to get character into the colour of these jeans, you need to wear them for a long time before washing and have the indigo naturally wear off at high points, in creases, etc. 6 months of almost daily wear is good, 1 year is better. In that time, there’s a good chance they’re going to get smelly, depending on your lifestyle, so perhaps the freezing recommendation is related to that, killing off the smelly bacteria.

  8. Hmmm. I don’t think a standard household freezer would actually kill that many bacteria that would be found on/in jeans, though it would probably slow them down for a time after they returned to room temperature.
    However, it seems like the bacteria’s waste products are the real problem here, since that’s what gives off offensive odors. Freezing wouldn’t do much to the volatile molecules, save slowing their evaporation while cold, and so seems like it would actually be worse than hanging the jeans to air out.
    I’d think a 5-10 minute trip through a household dryer on the “cotton” setting would kill more bacteria, and also volatilize more odorous compounds, perhaps assisted by a dryer sheet, to mask any remaining odors.
    Me, I tend to wear a pair of jeans 2-4 times between washings, and wash them inside out, to help prevent the outside face of the fabric from wearing. I wash pretty much everything inside-out, actually – seems to work.

  9. If Levi’s recommendation is to believe, I reckon if you kept pieces of uncooked meat in the five pockets of their jeans, freeze the jean once in a while, by golly it is going to stay edible, not to mention odor free. 

    Maybe that’s why they are expensive shit.

  10. Jesus, people. Science class 101.  Soap bursts the little lipid shells on bacteria and water washes the muck away.  I’ve seen the “dryer” thing recommended for bedding where the prior user suffered a virus. 

    Either way, just wash your damn pants like the article says and don’t be a smelly hipster.

    One of the most annoying trends of these times is the psuedo-scientific caa-caa that people have license to spout against ANY modern hygenic/health advancement:  Vaccines, toothpaste, regular bathing with soap, antibiotics, cancer treatments, etc.  Like yesterday, I just had an almost-argument with a good friend who was arguing that drinking half and half is technically healthier than milk, because “milk has added sugar.”  Also, he insisted that “fruit is one of the worst things you can eat” because of the sugar levels, and that all carbs are equally “addictive.” 

    But, at least he washes his jeans.

  11. Yeah Nudie Jeans suggest this. It seems stupid to me; you are just putting the bacteria into dormancy right? And making your threads smell like peas?

    To conserve the pigments in raw denim all I do is light agitation in a bucket with warm water and weak detergent. Otherwise, if it’s summer or sunny I just use natural UV. I do this once a month or two.

    1. This “site” doesn’t advocate anything, and if you’d paid attention, you might have noticed the post you linked to has a different author than this one.

  12. I’ve been freezing my raw denims for years now. The point of it is to retain the properties of raw denim which is much stiffer than regular jeans and makes for a completely different fit, feel and shape. One that I like, but that’s just me. Laundry completely messes raw denim up, but no laundry makes it smell pretty bad. So enter freezing. It helps a lot against the smell, which does return but only after a week or so, or multiple weeks if you alternate between pants. Major stains I remove by hand. Overall dirt I just accept.

    Of course, if you have stonewashed or otherwise not raw denim, the no washing is pointless as the denim has already been softened during manufacturing.

    And in reply to Daniel Ewing: I think Levi’s seems to be marketing at people who don’t wanna get clean again.  

  13. I wouldn’t freeze my jeans, but I do wonder about people who wash their jeans after only one wear.  I wear them about 3-5 times before I wash ’em, unless I get really dirty, then I’ll wash sooner.

      1. Wow. 2-3 days tops here before I consider them to be to smelly to wear in public. Does your dirty laundry not smell at all or do you just not care?

        (Edit: Okay, considering the context you’re probably kidding.)

  14. “blue jeans, they never get dirty, the longer you wear them the stiffer they get …”

    and if you know the next lyric then you no doubt went to summer camp.  wisdom of the campfire.  :)

  15. According to the NY Times article, Levi’s is advocating washing jeans rarely and freezing them to get rid of the smell.  (It’s one of a long list of environmentally friendly initiatives that they’re advocating).  Seems pretty reasonable to me.   I rarely wash my clothes because they are noticeably dirty – just noticeably smelly.  If freezing them is a more energy efficient way (assuming you already have a freezer running in your house) to get clothes less smelly, then great.

  16. Can’t say I’ll ever get behind this one. But for you Very Serious Raw Denim Purists, just remember to ziplock ’em first – the last thing you want spooning with your ice cubes and other things that’ll later be put in your mouth is whatever the denim absorbed when you plopped your azz down on a MUNI seat.

  17. Unless you’re the type to wash your jeans separate from everything else, the amount of water and energy used is negligible. 

  18. But if I don’t freeze my pants, how am I supposed to keep my scrotum taught and wrinkled first thing in the morning? Ice baths? Gold Bond triple strength? Tiger balm?????

  19. I file don’t-wash-your-jeans in the utter bullshit file, next to “don’t shower with soap or use deodorant because they’re bad for you and you don’t really smell bad anyway.”

    To people who embrace this “logic,” I have news for you: your jeans stink and so do you.

    You might have a terrible sense of smell, but I have a phenomenal one.  You’re used to it, but it’s still foul.


    That is all.

  20. Some people use more water to wash their hands than a good front-loading washing machine needs to do a whole load of laundry. If you’re that concerned about water usage, just buy yourself a nice Samsung machine and save untold gallons on all of your clothes.

  21. It’s been pointed out to me a couple of times that after I’ve owned a pair of jeans for six months, they could be sold to hipsters at a markup.

  22. I’ve dabbled in raw denim and the like. In fact I’m wearing something along those lines now… and have been wearing them for a week straight (including to sleep in) because of my current circumstances (traveling and only brought this pair of jeans and some “dress” pants). There have been days without showers in that time. I haven’t laundered them in months, though I only wore them for maybe an additional couple weeks in total since last laundering them.

    I’m a pretty sweaty person, generally, and I’m overdressed for NYC at the moment (I was expecting it to be a lot colder, like it usually is) and I normally live in CA where I sweat a lot. My jeans don’t smell fresh… but they don’t reek. There is barely a smell, and it mostly goes away after airing them out.

    I know this for a couple reasons: one is that I have clothes with me right now that do smell bad and it’s a night-and-day comparison. Second is that when you take a shower, you’re no longer used to the smell and smelly clothes become obvious.

    I find that simply airing them out is generally fine. I do wonder about those who wear their jeans daily for 6 months to a year without laundering, but I suspect they don’t get as smelly as many here seem to be assuming they would.

    If you don’t have jeans whose appearance and feel will be greatly affected by normal laundering (i.e. most jeans), you wouldn’t even consider things like freezing them instead of laundering them anyway. But if you have raw denim and such and don’t want to turn them into normal jeans (and yes it’s a fashion thing, though the way they ultimately conform to your body is also uniquely comfortable), you will do what it takes. Some people definitely take it too far, of course.

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