If you have a favourite pair of jeans, you may want to consider holding off on popping them into the wash every laundry day, according to a study a University of Alberta researcher is preparing to do.
Rachel McQueen, an assistant professor in the U of A’s Department of Human Ecology, is conducting a six-month study on the lifespan of blue jeans in order to determine the effects that the number of washings have on the fabric.
“We’re just looking at the more mechanical properties of the jeans and changes in the physical properties of the jeans — so things like changes in colour. Because of the way jeans are, that colour change is not just a loss of colour, but actually it’s a loss of the fibers coming off of the jeans,” she said.
“You know how you get fading in particular areas of the jeans? Actually, it’s sort of an abrasion that’s happening.”
In order to get their findings, McQueen and her research team are looking for volunteer participants to wear test jeans over the next few months and wash them according to a schedule the team provides.
“We … have on the jeans labels that really clearly say wash after two wears, wash after 20 wears, so they know which jeans they’re supposed to be washing and how often. And, of course, people will complete a logbook, and the logbook is online,” she said.
The jean study research team has had an incredible response from women wanting to be part of the study, but McQueen says she would like the interest of more men.
“We just want to make sure we do balance that male and female combination … If it can’t be completely balanced, it can’t be completely balanced, but we want it to be as close as possible,” she said.
“People who participate in this study would get about five and a half to six months of wear out of these (test) jeans, but they do have to return them at the end. As a thank-you for participating, we give them a $100 (supermarket) gift certificate,” she said.
McQueen’s research team needs the jeans back so they can examine the overall effects of the washing regimens.
“We have something called a tensile tester … You cut strips of fabric from the jeans or from whatever piece of fabric you’re testing … and it mechanically pulls the jeans apart. It’s the force that it takes to actually break the piece of fabric,” she said.
Although on the surface the study seeks to provide the public with information on how to save their favourite denim, McQueen admits that her primary focus lies in the sustainability aspect the findings may indirectly promote.
“Compared to once a week, if you washed your jeans once a month, you can save about 40 per cent of energy use and 30 per cent or 35 per cent, I think, of water consumption,” she said.
McQueen believes addressing the consumer side of the public may help people to consider changing their laundering habits.
“If we do find what we’re sort of expecting to find, (which) is that jeans that were washed more frequently will not be as strong afterwards, they would have had a lot more colour change,” she said.
“They would have factors that would have made these jeans wear out sooner than jeans that had only been worn and washed infrequently. Then that’s likely to have a greater impact in terms of public awareness.”
The study is recruiting male volunteers until mid-November, and interested parties can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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