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Finally, you found the perfect pair of jeans. They fit great and feel fantastic. Basically, you want them to last forever, but that’s not going to happen. In fact, just the opposite is what I’m hearing from my readers: These days, jeans seem to rip and fall apart long before their time, a problem that sent me in search of a solution for how to make jeans last longer.

What I’ve learned is fascinating. The problem is our laundry habits. We’re pretty much washing our jeans to death.

Six pairs fashionably faded blue denim jeans neatly stacked

 

Truth be told, your dream that your favorite pair of jeans should pretty much last forever is not that far from reality. They really should, and they can if you learn these seven simple secrets for how to make denim jeans last longer:

Wash rarely

And when I say “rarely,” I mean once every few months—not every wearing or even every week. The trick is to immediately spot treat any spills or stains, then launder them much less frequently. Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh says that a good pair of jeans worn regularly doesn’t really need to be washed in the washing machine, except for infrequently—once every six months. (While I’m not quite ready to follow that extreme practice myself, I have no doubt that I’ve been guilty of washing jeans to death.)

Cold water only

When jeans need to be washed in the washing machine, make sure they’re turned inside out. Then use cold water only, with a small amount of detergent on a delicate or gentle cycle. Even warm water will cause denim to shrink and fade, albeit a little at a time. Still, there goes that great fit and length. Cold water with detergent will clean jeans sufficiently without fading or shrinking. Make sure they’re turned inside out.

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Whenever I write about the benefits of using wool dryer balls in place of laundry softeners, I get a few responses gently raking me over the coals for suggesting we should spend money for commercially manufactured products when it’s so easy to make your own wool dryer balls.

Yes, I could do that and so could you. But unless you have a super cheap source of 100% wool yarn, it could cost more to make them than to buy them, which would be counterintuitive.

A basket of balls of feltable yarn in various colors to make wool dryer balls

 

 

100% wool yarn

First of all, wool dryer balls must be made from 100% wool that has not been treated with chemicals to make it “superwash” or “machine washable.” As a result, natural wool yarn will allow the dryer balls to become “felted.” Otherwise, they will just unwind and fall apart in the dryer. Take a look at these Smart Sheep 100% Wool Dryer Balls to see what beautifully felted dryer balls look like.

Felting is a process by which the tiny wool fibers are allowed to rub against one another vigorously.  As a result, the fibers become hopelessly entangled creating a type of stable “fabric.”

You’ll need lots of yarn

To make one dryer ball requires one skein of 100% wool yarn. Each dryer ball needs to be weighty. This is because each one needs enough heft to bounce around in the dryer as it fluffs and separate the folds of the wet laundry. One skein per dryer ball is the absolute minimum.

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If you’ve ever wondered if it’s okay to wash your down comforter instead of taking it to the dry cleaner, the answer is yes. You can absolutely wash a down comforter without spending upwards of $60 (depending on the size, where you live, and how dirty it is) to have it dry cleaned professionally.

You need a mild detergent, wool dryer balls (or tennis balls); a few hours to spend at a laundromat, and patience. And if yours is a king-size comforter, a lot of patience.

A row of industrial washing machines in a public laundromat.

To do this, you’ll need mild detergent (our homemade detergent is ideal, or Woolite), wool dryer balls (or tennis balls work as well), an extra-large front loading washing machine (most home models are too small for this task) and an extra-large dryer. Here are step-by-step instructions:

Step 1

Big machine

Load your down comforter into the largest extra large front-loading washing machine at your local laundromat. The less crowded the comforter is in the washer and dryer, the better the results.

Step 2

Detergent

Add a small amount of mild detergent. Be careful here as too much detergent will strip the down or feathers of their natural coating that makes down or feathers such a superb  thermal insulator.

Step 3

Warm and gentle

You want to wash a down comforter using these settings on the washer: Warm wash, cold rinse; gentle (delicate) agitation and two rinse cycles.  It is very important that the last bit of detergent be rinsed out.

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As you consider gifts for the grads on your list, think of that person’s “next step.” For a high-school grad, perhaps it’s college. For a college grad, it’s a job, apartment or grad school.

The next step may be pulling long hours preparing for a state bar exam or taking a trip abroad. Select a gift that addresses that next step.

Prepaid anything

Your grad is sure to love anything that’s already paid for: movie tickets, gasoline, groceries, fast food, Walmart, Starbucks, Ikea, the currency of the country he or she will be visiting, Amazon of course!—let your mind go wild.

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A previous post, Fabric Softener Products are the Problem Not the Solution, struck a chord with thousands of readers. I know because you send me messages and letters, which I love—even ones from some who are not 100% satisfied making the switch from problematic laundry softeners to what I find are amazing wool dryer balls.

But first, let’s review the problem:

Wool dryer balls how and why you should use them

The trouble with fabric softeners

The medical website, WebMD.com, reports that the perfumes and additives in laundry products may cause skin problems. Fabric softeners are very allergenic and can cause eczema, which appears as dry, itchy skin.

Dryer sheets contain fragrance and volatile organic compounds like acetaldehyde and butane, which can cause respiratory irritation. Fabric softener chemicals known as quaternary ammonium compounds have been linked to asthma. Acetone, also used in dryer sheets, can cause nervous system effects like headaches or dizziness.

Why wool dryer balls?

These things look like overgrown tennis balls, made of 100% wool yarn, that over time becomes “felted,” making them especially durable and not at all prone to unraveling. One set of wool dryer balls will last what seems like forever, softening thousands of loads of laundry—no batteries, refills, repairs or reconditioning required. It’s one [purchase] and done! Read more

What do stinky, yellowed, and crayon-stained laundry items have in common? They’re the reason lots of people write to me. Fortunately, each of these problems has a unique remedy—a way to reverse the stains and get those items back to looking good as new.

Stinky towels

No matter how many times you wash those items, you just cannot get rid of the disgusting sour, mildewy odor. They’ve become stiff and scratchy and have begun to repel rather than absorb water. The problem is clear evidence of a build-up bacteria that continue to live along with soap and softeners that have not been rinsed out—despite having been previously washed and dried.

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It looks and feels for all the world like laundry detergent. White. Coarse. Powdery.

A mineral mined from vegetation in dry lake bottoms in the Middle East, kelp from Scotland and seaweed from Spain, it’s used to make glass, bricks, paper, rayon, and toothpaste. It cleans silver and softens water.

Its real name is sodium carbonate, but this stuff also goes by soda ash, Na2CO3, and good old Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda.

Yellow Arm & Hammer box of super washing soda

Washing soda and I go way back. For years, I have added washing soda to the washer for cleaner, whiter, brighter laundry. More recently, it has become one of the ingredients in our homemade laundry detergent.

Best of all, washing soda (aka sodium carbonate) is cheap. Depending on the source, expect to pay around $.10 per ounce.

More recently, I am discovering that washing soda is much more than a laundry detergent booster. With a powerful pH of 11, washing soda acts as a solvent all around the house, garage. Sodium carbonate removes dirt, grime, greasy build-up and a range of stains.

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I love to do laundry. I’m crazy that way. And I enjoy discovering ways to do it more efficiently—and by efficient I do mean cheaper, better and faster.

 

Blue jeans hanging on a cloths wire outside

In fact, I was about ready to give myself a proper title, The Laundress, until I discovered a couple of very bright young women in New York City beat me to it. It’s OK. They can keep the title and charge an arm and a leg for their chi-chi laundry products in little bottles.

Me? I’d rather use every tip I can find to create equally beautiful results and keep my money, too. Are you with me? Great! Here are some of my favorite laundry tips to get going.

When wrong is right

Wash your clothes inside-out to keep them looking newer longer. In this way, the wrong side of the garment takes all of the abuse and fading caused by the agitation—not the right side. Clothes get just as clean when washed inside-out.

Soft dry jeans

You’ll never experience the heartbreak of shrunken jeans if you do this: Put them in the dryer for only 10 minutes. That’s enough to soften them. Take them out still wet and hang on a hanger from ankles. The weight of the semi-wet jeans will pull out the wrinkles and keep them at their proper length when fully dry.

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