How to Break in / Care for Your Jeans & Chinos
How to Break in / Care for Your Jeans & Chinos
Erin Gray (Pronoun: she/her) is a Portland, OR based writer with an affinity for working behind the scenes with companies that offer something unique to their market. When she’s not writing, she likes to roam around mossy hiking trails, wear leather hats, and build stuff. You can find her on instagram @rawhidelaces or email her by clicking on the little envelope below:
FUN FACT: Your denim jeans and twill chinos are in the same fabric family.
The fabric we commonly call “denim” is really just heavy cotton twill - the heartier version of the cotton twill that chinos are made of.
That means when it comes to breaking in and caring for your favorite pants, what’s good for jeans is good for chinos too!
Just because these pants were made to take a beating, doesn’t mean they don’t benefit from some TLC. Break them in properly and take good care of them, and they’ll have you stylishly covered for years to come.
But before we get started down this rabbit hole, a disclaimer: there are lots of passionate opinions about the best way to care for denim, so before we spark a great debate, keep in mind these tips are for pre-shrunk pants like the ones you’ll find in most stores (including ours) - NOT raw denim, which is a whole different ball game.
Now that we’re clear, let’s take care of some twill!
Whether you’re rocking jeans or chinos, we’ve got tips for what to do from the moment you pull them on, how often you should wash them, and most importantly how to make them go the distance.
To kick things off...
Don’t stress if they’re a bit snug at the start
When you are trying on a pair of new jeans or chinos for the first time, it’s totally normal that they fit you slightly tighter than pants you’ve had for awhile.
If you’ve ever had a pair of well-fitting pants that feel a bit tight after being in the dryer, it’s that type of tightness you can expect with your new pair - nothing crazy, just a little snug. If they’re the correct size, you should still be able to button them with ease and breathe comfortably.
This initial snugness is from the pre-shrinking process that tightens up the fibers in the twill so that your pants will remain as close as possible to their original size (within 3%) when washed.
Oddly enough, the snugness when you first put them on is actually a sign that the fit is going to be perfect once you’ve worn them around for an hour or so.
As you wear them, the material will begin to “relax” - it will loosen up a bit and conform to the shape of your body. This will make your pants more comfortable and easier to move in.
Wanna speed up this process? Get movin’ in them jeans!
It doesn’t matter if you’re busting out some squats or sweet dance moves - just moving around in your new pants will get them relaxed and comfy in no time.
The more you wear them, the more they’ll begin to feel like a second skin.
This is what we love about pants made of durable materials like twill - they stay with you long enough to develop a unique character.
We recommend starting this break-in process as soon as you receive your pants (and especially before you throw them in the washer for the first time).
If the fit feels not at all snug, or even slightly on the roomy side when you first put them on, you will want to pay attention to how they feel once they loosen up from wearing them a bit. It may be that you need to size down.
Don’t wash after every wear...
Do yourself and the environment a favor and don’t toss your jeans or chinos in the wash after every time you wear them.
Due to the fact that a tight and sturdy weave like twill doesn’t absorb sweat the same way a t-shirt does, you can actually wear them many times without washing and no one will know the difference.
You’ll be saving water and saving yourself from unnecessary laundry, especially due to the fact that less absorbent twill lends itself really well to spot (aka surface) cleaning instead of frequent washings.
Best of all, spot cleaning is easy!
Sometimes all you need is an old toothbrush. If you’ve got something like a spot of dried mud (perhaps you were greeted by an overly jumpy doggo), you can just dry brush it off and go about your merry way.
If you’ve got a tougher stain, use the toothbrush and a half/half solution of water and white vinegar. Dampen the spot you’re cleaning with a wet rag, add a few drops of the water/vinegar solution, and give it a nice gentle brushing with circular motions. If you can’t wait for the spot to air dry, press it with a paper towel. For best results, don’t let a stain set - spot clean it as soon as possible.
Don’t wash them in the washer - soak them instead!
When it is time to give your pants a more thorough cleaning, we’re all about methods that preserve the color and material integrity.
A nice cold water soak is enough to get rid of the dirt and oil that will build up in the material over time.
Here’s our recommended cold water soak method for maximum color preservation:
#1 - Pick a soaking spot
A bathtub or a large laundry sink is ideal because you can soak multiple pairs at once. If you’re just doing one pair, a bathroom sink works great. You can also opt for a large bowl or plastic tub.
Put your garment(s) to be soaked in the tub or sink and fill it with enough cold water to completely submerge them.
#2 - Add one cup of white vinegar
Avoid soap and detergent because it will accelerate the color loss process. Vinegar will thoroughly clean your jeans and chinos while also locking in the dye’s color.
Don’t worry about your pants smelling like vinegar afterwards - the smell will disappear once they are completely dry.
#3 - Wait for one hour
Read a book. Watch a show. Distract your honey if they express the urge to take a bath.
#4 - Soak complete!
Drain the tub and press excess water out of the garment(s) with a towel. Hang them to air dry.
While this soaking method is on the minimalist side as far as cleaning goes, we’re not in the camp that says skip cleaning your jeans all together...
Denim Expert Andrew Chen of 3Sixteen gives this advice: “What we've found is that washing jeans every few months extends the life of your jeans significantly, because you're actively getting out the sweat, dirt and bacteria that will break the fabric down.” Keep in mind, Andrew is talking about raw denim here, but his point applies to pre-shrunk as well.
A nice vinegar soak every few months will help kill bacteria and remove sweat & dirt buildup, and spot cleaning between soaks will keep your jeans looking neat and clean!
So what is the sweet spot as far as frequency? It really comes down to your preference and lifestyle.
Are you getting muddy on the trails or sandy/salty at the beach? Then it’s probably more frequent cleanings for you!
If you wear the same pair pretty often or you just like the idea of frequent cleanings, consider doing the vinegar soak once for every 5-10 wears.
You could also opt to just soak once every few months, especially if you have your jeans and chinos in a rotation where each pair is worn once or twice a week.
If you do put them in the washer, follow these steps...
Even if you do decide to wash your jeans or chinos in the washer, here are simple steps you can take to preserve them during the wash:
#1 - Flip them inside out
Turning your pants inside out (especially dark colors like black and indigo) prevents excess fading and color loss. It also protects the outside of your pants (which are already subject to the most abrasion when you wear them) from further agitation during the wash.
And don’t forget to unroll those cuffs!
#2 - Choose cold water
Washing with cold water also helps to prevent fading and color loss.
Not only that, but it’s more energy efficient and saves you money on your power bill!
#3 - Vinegar instead of soap
Fill the washer with water before adding the clothes and then add one cup of white vinegar (just like the soaking method). Then add in your jeans and chinos.
#4 - Avoid the dryer at all costs
Dryers are convenient, but there is a trade off - they break your clothes down, cycle by cycle.
If at all possible, it’s always worth the extra time to let your jeans and chinos air dry.
They will last longer and retain their shape better. Plus it won’t take as long for the material to relax when you first put them on after drying.
Letting them hang dry in the sun is perfect - just keep them inside out to prevent fading and to let the pockets dry.
Of course, weather doesn’t always allow for that, so keeping a collapsible clothes rack handy is a great indoors option.
Word to the wise: make sure you air dry clothing in a warm and well ventilated room. Don’t hang damp clothing in a dark closet - that’s a recipe for mildew.
Remember… don’t panic if they’re snug at first, just wear them a bit to loosen them up (and confirm you got the right fit).
Follow the best practices above when soaking or washing, keep them out of the dryer, and you’ll be enjoying your jeans and chinos for years to come!