The Debunker: Should You Freeze Your Jeans?

by Kathleen Richards

February means Fashion Week in New York, where style trends are born and the newest looks are big business. But what about the rest of us? What about you, a randomly chosen non-supermodel reading a short trivia piece on the Internet? What do you know about fashion? Don't get me wrong, you look great today, but there are a lot of sartorial misconceptions that make the rounds in our culture. We've asked Ken Jennings, who is well-dressed at least by the low standards of Jeopardy! contestants, to go through our closets and throw out all the wrong stuff we thought we knew about our clothes.

The Debunker: Should You Freeze Your Jeans?

In 2014, speaking at a business summit on sustainability, Chip Bergh told the crowd that he was wearing a pair of jeans that hadn't been laundered in over a year. That might sound like an odd way to begin a corporate speech, but Bergh had a little credibility: he's the president and CEO of Levi Strauss.

The Debunker

Bergh was just articulating the official Levi's position: when your jeans get smelly, don't put them in the washing machine. Pop them in the freezer next to the Bagel Bites. The theory is that the cold temperature will kill the odor-causing germs on your jeans without wasting water or putting too much wear and tear on the denim. If you have any follow-up questions, you're in luck: there are literally hundreds of YouTube jeans-freezing tutorials out there to fill you in.

If this practice sounds hygienically dicey to you, you're not alone. Craig Cary, a microbial ecologist at the University of Delaware who studies Antarctic bacteria, told Smithsonian in 2011 that many microbes are well-adapted to low temperatures, and it doesn't take that many survivors to get a germ colony back up to speed the jeans are out of the icebox. An expert in skin microflora at the NIH concurred, pointing out that freezing jeans doesn't actually clean anything off of them, so all the sweat and spills and sloughed skin that bacteria feed on are still there. If you want cold jeans, freeze your jeans. But if you want them clean, you might want to give water and detergent a try.

Quick Quiz: What word for denim clothing comes from a village from Mumbai famed for its coarse calico fabric?

Ken Jennings is the author of eleven books, most recently his Junior Genius Guides, Because I Said So!, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.