Will Freezing Your Jeans Kill the Germs and Keep the Fit?

Our dermatologist weighs in
Jeans inside the washing machine

Your answer to “What would you take if you were stranded on a desert island?” THESE JEANS. It’s impossible to find jeans that fit like this. The wash, it’s perfect.

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And you may have heard a major jeans manufacturer say it’s OK to rarely wash your jeans. Instead, “pop them in the freezer,” they advise. Great! Now they’ll stay perfect for-ev-er.

But that voice in the back of your head is asking, “Is it really OK to use the freezer as a washing machine (and finally toss that 3-year-old package of ravioli to make room)?”

It’s probably time to toss the ravioli anyway. Regarding the jean-cleaning, dermatologist Alok Vij, MD, gives us the skinny on keeping your jeans comfortable and healthy.

Q: Do freezing temperatures sanitize laundry?

A: Nope (said with a chuckle)! To kill bacteria, you typically have to reach 80 degrees below freezing. Since freezers sit around zero to four degrees, that’s nowhere near cold enough.

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Q: Just what are the nasties hiding in my jeans?

A: Your jeans retain dead skin cells, oils from the skin, food and dirt that will help bacteria flourish during daily wear. Laundering is the only way to remove those germ magnets.

Q: OK, that’s gross. So, the bacteria and fungus you mention … what can they cause?

A: Excess bacteria on your skin can cause folliculitis, an acne-like rash on your legs! Or, think about fungal infections or jock itch, for example. Let’s say you have a foot fungus and you put on your jeans. As you do, the fungal organism gets on your pant leg as you pull them up.

If you wear the jeans again and again, you may pass the fungus to your groin or thigh. Now you don’t just have foot fungus, you’ve got jock itch, too.

Q: But washing my jeans ruins them. How often do I need to sacrifice comfort and style for cleanliness?

A: When your beloved jeans have reached well-worn perfection, you want to preserve the look and feel of the denim. The good news is you don’t need to wash jeans every time you wear them. A good rule of thumb is to wash them every two to three wears, as often as you would wash your bras.

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You should also throw your jeans in the wash when:

  • They are visibly soiled or stained.
  • You’ve been sweating to the point where moisture has wicked into the jeans.

Q: Do I have to wash them in hot water? That totally blows the fit and fabric.

A: Not at all. Cold water helps preserve the fabric better. It also helps reduce the leaching of color. The soaps in laundry detergent are good enough to get rid of the bacteria in your jeans.

Q: If the laundry soap effectively disinfects clothing, does it matter if they are line-dried or put in a dryer?

A: Nope! Dry is dry. But if you leave damp clothing in a humid or warm environment, the bacteria could grow back and thrive. So, whether you use the dryer or the line, just make sure they get totally dry.

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