Washing vs not washing jeans

Cotton jeans are my favorite travel pants. They’re not ideal, but I haven’t found anything I like better. I’ve never been a fan of long quick dry pants advertised for travel because they’re too floppy and lack structure.

One of the problems with traveling with jeans is that they’re a nuisance to clean. Unlike all my other travel clothing, jeans take forever to dry, and I need to make sure I’m going to be in the same physical location for at least 2 nights so they’re completely moisture free after a sink wash and hang dry.

A surprisingly common piece of advice I’ve come across on the internet over the last several years states that washing your jeans is unnecessary, period. Some of these people claim to have never washed their jeans even a single time. They’ll even put the jeans in the freezer overnight to deal with any possible bacterial growth.

To this concept, I say: hell no. What the hell is wrong with people.

Look. Even if you’re the cleanest person in the world, your body is still subject to the basic rules of human biology. People sweat. People pee and drop trou in public bathrooms. The pee hits the urinal wall, and small amounts of it we can’t see bounce back on our clothes. Epithelial cells on our epidermis (the protective outer layer of our skin) are in a constant state of shedding and replacing themselves with newer cells. Those cells either fall to the ground or – if we’re wearing clothing – get stuck to the inside of whatever garment we have on at the time. If you wear a pair of jeans 50 times without ever washing them, how many gross layers of dead epithelium do you think are caked onto the inside of those pants? Nasty. And we haven’t even gotten into all the various external environmental contaminants that can absorb into your jeans like cigarette smoke, city pollution, barbecue restaurant odor, whatever that disgusting smell is that floats around New Orleans, butt odor from the big sweaty guy who sat on the public sofa before you, and all the other malodorous things we regularly get exposed to.

I’m not one to wash my clothes after every single wear, especially if it’s for a short amount of time and there’s minimal exposure to dirt and smells. I wash my jeans about once every 5-6 wears on average, depending on the situation. But if I wear them a single time and they smell odd after that one wear, they’re going in the washing machine before I wear them again.

This is a big reason why jeans are problematic for me when I travel. If I was in the camp that never washed my jeans, then it would be simple: just walk around with dirty, smelly pants all the time and no worries. But I insist on my clothes being clean, so jeans are an inconvenient travel garment for the reasons I listed up top.

I’d love to hear the reasoning behind the no-wash method from people who actually do this. Is it to make them last longer and save money? Retain the original color perhaps? I’ve been wearing and regularly washing the same set of jeans for about 5 years now, and they still look fine. By the time I wear them out, they’ll probably be out of style.

In any case, I’d always rather wear clean clothes and replace them more frequently than walk around with 5 year old skin DNA rubbing all against my legs. [Shudder].


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