any thoughts as to what the right way to go is? I'm tempted to just throw them in the wash.
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Washing machine is perfectly fine. They'll shrink if you didn't already soak them before wearing, but that's what unsanforized denim does.
Cold water, little agitation, inside out (if you don't want as much indigo loss), hang dry.
I've always hung dry because "I was told to" but I'd like to know the reasons why putting raw denim in the dryer is not recommended. Aside from the shrinkage, what other reasons? Is it because you could get unnatural creasing/fades where the creasing/folding occurs?
Less shrinkage is the main reason. Tumble dry cycle will also soften the denim considerably and change its texture.