Who Needs Clean Clothes?

May 22, 2014 - 4:34 pm
Irradiated by LabRat

CEO of Levi’s: Don’t Wash Your Jeans.

The CEO of Levis Strauss, Chip Bergh, has some advice for you: Don’t wash your jeans.
As in don’t wash them … ever. Speaking at Fortune’s Brainstorm Green conference, Chip said he was sporting a pair that had “yet to see a washing machine” in over a year.

Worried about germs, you germaphobes? No problem, he says. Just stick your jeans in the freezer once a month next to the frozen waffles to kill off the bacteria. Apparently getting them icy will neutralize the sweat, coffee spills and other bodily fluids that might collect in the zipper or “seating” area. He also suggests spot cleaning with a sponge or a toothbrush.

While that could work for the stuff on the outside of your jeans, what about all the stuff your body cooked up that’s on the flip side? Once you get ’em back up to body temperature, won’t you be warming up those germs again? Yuck.

The CNN reporter seems about as nonplussed as I am, noting that freezing and spot cleaning don’t actually kill bacteria. At best it might stave off the inevitable stench; over the long term, no, and that Chip must not be actually addressing the audience that actually buys the bulk of his jeans, but those who wear them as a fashion accessory and don’t actually wear them more than a handful of times.

Bless her for her incredulous deconstruction of the silly notion, but the part where she seems exclusively worried about the inevitable body odor miasma strikes me as rather telling of her own lifestyle.

If I stopped washing my jeans altogether- and yes they are Levi’s- here is what would happen:

They would smell, yes. But they’d also rapidly become caked with successive layers of mud, spit, dog fur that had bonded in the mud and spit and eventually into the cloth itself, and home to an increasingly treacherous collection of foxtails, goatheads, and the occasional splinter. They would not look “like new”. They’d look like something you’d find on a homeless person who’d been squatting in a barn by pretending to be one of the cows. And I’m not THAT rural, I just have pets and sometimes work outside. There’d be spilled coffee in there too, it’d just be the least of my worries.

Given the origin of Levi’s, I find it more than a little sad that the CEO seems to no longer have the faintest clue what his product was designed for. And is still used for by the majority of its customers.

22 Responses to “Who Needs Clean Clothes?”

  1. Old NFO Says:

    I’m thinking the CEO does NOT understand honest labor… Just sayin…

  2. Robert Says:

    Yup. If I don’t do any manual labor in them, I will usually go for a week without washing my jeans with no ill effects…but usually after single day of working on the farm – sometimes even less depending on how muddy it is – I have to wash them just to keep them from getting everything else dirty.

  3. Rat Says:

    @Robert, exactly – spend a week sitting on my ass in front of the computer, my jeans will just need a good airing out to get rid of the office chair smell and various stretched-out spots. Spend one day tending to dogs at the shelter, though? Damn right they’ll be due for an urgent meeting with the washing machine.

  4. Jennifer Says:

    Jeans I wear to the office get a few wearings between washing, but no, can’t just go skipping that entirely

  5. LMB Says:

    Wow, I’m dumber for having read that. What kind of nasty, do-nothing idiot would even do that?!?

    I’m guessing he’s done nothing more stressful and dirty than sitting his ass on the couch and sucking down food while watching Jersey Shore.

  6. Wing and a Whim Says:

    Um, when I come home from work at the end of the day, I often look like I have a grey tan from dust and grime. If I wore jeans for more than two days in a row, they’d stop bending from dust and grit caked with sweat.

    Work gave us the option of wearing shorts. A couple people took ’em up on it, and the rest of us looked at each other and said “So there’s nothing between me and all the sharp corners and splinters? Yeah, no.”

  7. Kristophr Says:

    I’m sure Chip probably sends his Levis off to the Goodwill after a year, since they no longer look new at that point, and does absolutely no manual labor ( as Labrat noted ).

    So his advice actually makes sense for his privileged little group.

  8. Kristophr Says:

    LMB: A clotheshorse who is more worried about having his jeans look new instead of machine washing them.

    If you are the kind of fashionista that disposes of jeans once they have been machine washed, then this makes a warped and twisted kind of sense.

  9. aczarnowski Says:

    This goes a long way toward explaining why Levi’s have taken a nosedive in fit and usability for me.

  10. Kristophr Says:

    Damned straight, AcornZombie.

    I wear Carhartts.

  11. pediem Says:

    My jeans will usually make it a couple of days before they have to get washed, but if I’m down in Georgia riding horses, there’s just no way. They’re covered in sweat (mine and horse), hair (ditto), dust, and plants from the trail.

    Last I checked, that’s not the sort of stuff I want to chuck into my freezer.

  12. tweell Says:

    Cowpokes of a hundred years and more ago didn’t wash their jeans much – when your clothes can stand up by themselves, they stop the wind better. Washing also wears them out quicker. Yes, you develop a certain… aroma (and grime layer), but cleanliness wasn’t a prime consideration in those times.

    So… that advice is good for cowboys with a long cattle drive and nowhere to wash, or CEO’s that don’t get their hands (or anything else) dirty.

  13. Ruth Says:

    I saw that and just shook my head.

    I mean sure, if I’ve had a lazy day my jeans’ll be good for at least one more day, maybe more. But if I’ve actually done WORK in them? Heck no.

    not that I’ve worn Levi’s in forever…..

  14. Heath J Says:

    Levis hasn’t made a pair of jeans capable of actual work in many years. No surprise that the current management doesn’t get that.

    They can keep the fashionable pants, I’ll buy Carhartts.

  15. LabRat Says:

    I love Carhartts for durability and functionality, but unfortunately they don’t seem to acknowledge the existence of women or for that matter men with a lot of mass in their thighs and hips relative to their waist. They fit very, very badly.

  16. Nomad Says:

    You might be in luck with the Duluth pants for women. It’d be at least worth checking. I find them superior to both carhartts and any denim.

  17. LabRat Says:

    I’ve got a pair. They’re better than Carhartts and I do wear them for work, but they have the same “if you have mass on your hips and thighs it’s definitely fat and your waist is definitely big” problem.

  18. joannapaul Says:

    Freezing up the jean seems to sound odd. But if it is said to kill the bacteria and germs then it could be the finest choice as it saves the resources and time that needs to be spent for the wash.

  19. BMH Says:

    I took it as ‘don’t wash them until they’re actually dirty’ and thought it seemed sensible. Obviously if you’re working outdoors, particularly in a hot climate, that might happen pretty quickly.

    But a lot of people I meet seem unreasonably obsessive about washing all clothes extremely frequently, whether they’re actually dirty or not. And being raised by very frugal parents, we were taught that this was needlessly wasteful both of water and electricity, as well as of our clothes, and that we should actually inspect (look at, sniff) an item of clothing before deciding to put it in the laundry. When I wear my jeans in the winter, for example, with long johns under them and nothing but snow touching them outside, it takes forever for them to get dirty. It would just be silly and hugely wasteful to wash them every day or two. Even in warmer weather it would be fairly rare for mine to need washing after just one day or two of wear. (For me if it’s hot enough that I’m all sweaty I’m normally wearing shorts anyway).

    Never wash them at all regardless of their look and smell would obviously be equally silly and obsessive, though.

  20. Heath J Says:

    My wife has the same complaint of Carhartts. It seems that proper women’s work jeans aren’t a thing.

    Not jeans, but Woolrich is supposed to make quality women’s stuff.

    I love their lightweight/hot weather tac pants. If the women’s offering is comparable, you’d probably like it.

  21. Kristophr Says:

    I think it might snow in hell if Carhartts started making women’s jeans …

  22. fillyjonk Says:

    Two thoughts:

    1. I’m a field ecologist by trade, and I also like to garden. (And I have to spend a certain amount of time cutting out the brush that seems to spontaneously generate on my property). As you said, my jeans would very quickly become stiff with mud and also tree sap (and poison ivy sap). Not washing is fine if all you do is sit in an office, but when I wear jeans, I’m usually actually getting them dirty.

    2. “Scrub them with a toothbrush to spot clean.” Oh, (blank) me sideways. Like I’m gonna take time to do that when I can just hurl the dirty jeans in with a load of other “dark” laundry and let the washing machine take care of it. I work a full time job and then some, I don’t have time to do a more time-consuming but allegedly more “green” method of cleaning.

    I don’t wash my jeans EVERY wearing, but if they are dirty or if I’ve been mucking about where there might be poisonous plants, in the washer they go.