Raise your hand if you live in your jeans. Yep, us too. Now, raise your hand if you’ve shed actual tears over having to toss your favorite pair. There’s almost nothing more heartbreaking than having to part ways with your best blues. So, in order to help extend the life of our fave denim, we turned to the mother ship: Levi’s. Jill Guenza, Global Vice-President of Women’s Design, gave us the lowdown on everything from how to wash our jeans to how to repair them. Consider this your go-to guide.

Brit + Co: Okay, so once and for all: Should you wash your denim?

Jill Guenza: We recommend washing denim as little as possible to preserve the lifespan of your jeans and to minimize the impact on the environment. However, how long you are willing to bear stinky jeans is a matter of personal preference. Spot cleaning will take care of any small stains. Hanging jeans out in fresh air for a day can knock back some of the smelliness built up over time and wear. As a last resort, turn your jeans inside out and rinse in cool water, then hang dry.

B+C: But if you do wash, how often is okay?

JG: Wash as little as possible. Stretch denim generally requires washing or rinsing more frequently than jeans without stretch to bring them back to their original shape (and reactivate the stretchy fibers). Avoid the dryer altogether, as that makes the fibers brittle and prone to breakage. Again, how frequently you should wash denim is a matter of preference and how deeply you associate your personal identity with clean-smelling jeans. I have a pair of 501s that I’ve washed once in four years of frequent wear and I still have lots of friends, so the stink isn’t something to fear.

B+C: Impressive! How do you keep jeans from shrinking in the laundry?

JG: All denim fabric shrinks because of the cotton content. We try to process most of this shrinkage out at the factory prior to delivering them to you. However, the darker the jeans are when you buy them, the more likely they are to shrink in the length. That’s because they were minimally processed at the factory in order to retain the dark shade. Washing in cold on a short cycle (or better yet, washing by hand in the sink) and air drying will minimize shrinkage.

B+C: What about holes and tears? What is the best way to fix them?

JG: There are so many ways to repair jeans — patch on top of the hole, patch behind, stitch through, stitch around, or hand stitch. The best method of repair is the one that most reflects your personality. Don’t be too precious about it. If you aren’t good with a needle and thread, find a good denim tailor (like the ones at the Levi’s Tailor Shop) and make it a collaboration!

B+C: Now that embellished jeans are everywhere, do you have any tricks to keep them looking like new?

JG: Spot clean stains and wash inside out in cold water when they need an all-over refresh. Hang dry. Or embrace the beauty of worn and loved jeans and consider the evolution of their appearance as part of the embellishment.

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(Photos via Levi’s)