Levi’s CEO: Stop Washing Jeans

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While we may question the validity of lots of “save the earth” campaigns, an appeal by Levi Strauss & Co. CEO Chip Bergh appeals to the fashion-conscious and frugal among us, as well. Bergh discussed fashion and sustainability at Fortune’s Brainstorm Green conference, and he suggested that people stop washing jeans altogether. Instead, he says jeans last longer with spot-cleaning and putting them in the freezer to chill out odors. The jeans he wore for his presentation hadn’t been washed in a year.

Wash Sparingly to Save Money

If that’s a little extreme for your laundry tastes, consider this: you could use as much as 2,500 gallons of water per year, per pair of jeans, to launder them after each wearing. Your water bill, alone, would benefit from less washing, and Sarah Crossman Sullivan, co-founder and co-CEO of SeeItFit.com, says jeans just don’t need all that washing. She recommends at least cutting back on the number of times we wash our jeans, to keep that investment looking new as long as possible.

Freeze and Thaw, or Sunbathe?

Bergh’s freezer method of preventing bacterial growth has been mostly debunked by scientists, who say it only takes one survivor to repopulate and start smelling up your jeans the minute you put them on. One possible alternative is simply hanging your jeans in the sun. UV rays are a scientifically-proven antibacterial agent, used in treating everything from municipal wastewater to food. The sun’s rays actually have to hit the material to kill bacteria, but leaving your jeans on the laundry line all day could fade them faster than washing would. The easy fix is to turn them inside-out so the sun can disinfect the parts of the jeans that touch your skin, while also protecting the color of the jeans. They’ll need to hang all day (12 hours) in full sun for maximum effectiveness. Urban Clotheslines has a portable air dryer that folds flat, so even apartment-dwellers can use the sun to “wash” their jeans, save water and wear, and “save” the Earth—one 501 at a time.

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