The great jean debate: Freeze 'em or wash 'em?

Story highlights

  • Mel Robbins: Levi's CEO says save water, don't wash your jeans, freeze them to freshen
  • Robbins: That's gross
  • She says science doesn't support this, even though there's lots of online info on how to do it
  • Robbins: People who buy new jeans frequently could do it; for the rest of us, it's unsanitary

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.

Jean freezing has become quite the craze in the past few years. It even comes with its own video tutorials and folding techniques posted online by bloggers around the country. Interesting, but somehow I doubt an overnight stay in the freezer is going to silence the filth festival that accumulates on a pair of jeans over the course of wearing them for 30 days straight.

Mel Robbins

The only time I tried jean freezing was during a family fishing trip a few years ago in the Wind River Range. We "washed" a load in the river and hung a line up for our laundry to dry overnight. I woke up to unexpected frost and a pair of Carhartts that felt like plywood. If you think it's hard to pull on your jeggings, ladies, try cracking open a pair of jeans that are frozen solid.

Bergh claims that not washing your jeans keeps them in mint condition and helps conserve water. Both noble pursuits. But what about conserving the cleanliness of your lower extremities and not subjecting your colleagues to the stench of dirty denim? Have you ever cooked bacon or mucked a stall in a pair of jeans? It's a gift that keeps on giving.

    And with this thought, it has dawned on me. He's not talking to people like my Uncle Warren, who rise with the sun to work the Angus cattle farm that's been in my family for generations. He's talking to people who like to look fancy in their jeans.

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    The people that benefit most from not washing denim are the ones who'll throw down what is for many Americans a monthly salary to buy something they'll never wash, because, quite frankly, they'll probably be worn no more than four times before their next new pair of jeans.

    And listen, science says this "freezing jean" phenomena doesn't stand up to analysis. In plain English: No, freezing your jeans will not kill all bacteria, but throwing them in the microwave just might. Stephen Craig Cary, a University of Delaware expert on frozen microbes suggests "you either raise the temperature to 121 degrees Celsius for at least 10 minutes or just wash them! The latter surely is the best alternative to save energy."

    He adds: "One might think that if the temperature drops well below the human body temperature they (bacteria) will not survive, but actually many will. Many are pre-adapted to survive low temperatures."

    Then again, since much of a CEO's job is to drum up as much marketing buzz as possible, it's no wonder that Bergh is making this unsanitary claim -- thereby bringing Levi's back to the forefront of a conversation. Even if it makes him smell like a farm animal.

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