One thing that a lot of raw denim owners get confused about are the “rules” of how to soak raw denim.
How you soak your raw denim is not so much a rigid and controlled process at all. It simply boils down to water temperature and soak time. Let me give you the basic ingredients of a good soak which you can then take and use it for your own experimentation.
To help me illustrate my article, we call upon Pronto Denim’s latest video from their Super Review series. This Thailand based multi-brand store have been releasing weekly videos detailing the history of many brands and are getting into instructional videos as well. The original video is embedded below. It’s all in Thai but it has interesting imagery that’s not difficult to understand.
There are two main reasons you would want to soak your raw denim.
1. You just bought Unsanforized denim and was told you need to soak it before wearing.
Sanforized denim is when Unsanforized denim goes through a manufacturing process, where both heat and copious amounts of pressure is applied to the denim fabric, thus removing most of the shrinkage that would naturally occur.
Thus, soaking your Unsanforized denim in heated water aims to remove excess shrinkage in the fabric.
2. You think your jeans are getting dirty/starting to give off an unpleasant odor.
For many denim wearers, there is a rule of thumb where you should soak your raw denim after 6 months. It is six months because this is a good amount of time where your jeans should have already collected a lot of dirt. Other people want to go as long as possible without soaking or washing because it just doesn’t seem dirty. However, it has been my experience that soaking does no harm to your denim’s patina. As long as there isn’t any agitation (cleaning product/dirty water/irritants) while you soak your denim, soaking it often will not affect your fades.
Let’s throw away the guess work. When your denim is dirty, it will start to get greasy. It won’t necessarily stink.
So firstly we prepare the items needed for soaking raw denim:
1. A bath tub/basin for soaking the jeans in
2. A stove top + pot for heating the water in (or any water boiler will do)
So firstly, heat up the water.
The water should be hot – around 60 degrees celsius. By no means use a thermometer to measure it. Just see that it’s not warm, not boiling, and just hot.
Boiling water is also fine but there will be extra precautions to take which we will get into below.
Now, reverse your jeans and dump it into the basin/tub. Reversing your jeans protect the out material such as buttons and leather tag from excessive heat on the sides of the tub.
Proceed to pour some room temperature water on top of the jeans.
Then followed by the hot water until it is submerged by an inch or two.
Keep the jeans submerged with the help of some paperweight (water weight?). Re-use old plastic bottles by filling it with tap water and placing it on top of the jeans.
IF YOU USE BOILING WATER, be it a wooden/plastic/metal pail, ensure that your denim is completely submerged and that the leather patch isn’t touching the sides of the pail. As long as the leather patch is not in contact with a scalding hot surface, it will not fry. Hot water doesn’t affect the leather patch, its merely the surface it gets in contact with that is detrimental to it. I find boiling water helps shrink the denim down more than a hot soak.
Soak it for 2-4 hours. The longer you soak it, the more they shrink. Unsanforized denim can shrink up to 2 inches which is a lot! So please do customize this depending on your preference.
At the half way mark of your preferred timing, refill some hot water so the temperature is maintained.
After you’re done, remove the jeans and squeeze the water out. Place a towel on the ground and lie your jeans on top of it. Then roll it into a tube and wring out the towel.
After that, with the jeans still reversed, hang them out to dry in the sun.
Let’s go back and look at the soak water. If you were soaking your dirty jeans, this is what you should see:
If you were doing a first soak on your unsanforized denim, then this is what you should see:
Remember, Soaking result = water quality + water temperature x time.
You can choose to lie in a tub filled with warm water with your jeans on. (we don’t recommend this over 45 minutes).
Or you can do a sea soak and let the salts scrub away on the jeans. Although we don’t recommend swimming in your pool with a dirty pair of jeans on.