15 ways to make your own distressed jeans

how to distress jeans

How to distress your jeans

If you have bought raw denim jeans or jeans with denim fabric with even coloring you are not at all wrong in wanting a worn look. The been there, done that jeans has an undeniable charm. It is totally justifiable that you need some custom personal touches to the jeans you have bought and feels that it looks brand new – no do. Who wants to wait for 100 years or pay thousands to get that distressed look you covet.

It is possible to add a little craziness and creativity to the denim. Let us look at how the professionals do it and maybe some of them we can replicate at home

Do you know that a long time ago you would have had to wash your new jeans necessarily before you can wear them straight from the retailer? It was almost impossible to wear them. They were very stiff. It is impossible to imagine today. 

The jeans you get nowadays comes through so many treatments and processes and washes that you can wear them straight off the shelf. No uncomfortable scratching or stiff as stick feeling. The denim you get molds itself on your body like a second skin. Most of the jeans come prewashed and pretreated – Unless you prefer raw denim.

The denim industry has invented many ways to make denim the way people want it. Designers and denim manufacturers use many techniques like Laser engraving ( in which laser light is used to remove the color of the denim) to get a faded & worn-out look. Acid washes, sandblasting, enzyme washes sun washing, water jet fading, overdye tinting, ozone fading are some of the many complicated methods used by jeans manufacturers today for that desired distressed look.

You need some basic tools in your kitty to start distressing your jeans – nothing complicated.

distressed jeans

Different ways to distress jeans

1. Stone washing

This is the most commonly used method, in which Pumice stone is used to give an abrasion to the denim. Freshly made denim jeans are tumbled in the washer with stones. Pumice stone is a lightweight stone with a rough surface. When it is put in the washer with the fabric the resultant abrasion gives the fabric a nice weathered & worn look. Turkish stone which is porous and clean is used generally.

The advantage of stone washing is that when the fabric is treated with stone, the fibers on the surface break and the white yarn on the inside of the denim is visible from the outside. 

How to do it at home – I would not advise you to do it in your washing machine. A washer is costlier than denim jeans. You can keep your denim in a tub of water and some stones to replicate the process. But you need to do a lot to make much change.

Scrapping and rubbing the surface of denim with a pumice stone can achieve an almost similar effect and is better than tumbling with stones. One – washing machine is destroyed, another – the rivets and other metal hardware are all abraded. There is no selective abrasion in stone washing in the washer.

2. Rinse wash

This involves washing the jeans in high-temperature water.

How to do it at home – Wash the jeans in water which is heated to about 50 degrees celsius. This will fade the color of the jeans. If you want to brighten up the color of an old faded one, you can add it to this wash alongside your new one to get some of the dye on it.

 3. Acid wash

It is a chemical wash used on denim that strips the color from the fabric. The color in the surface is removed from the top layer of fibers whereas the lower fibers retain the color. The result is a very faded and patchy look which is very much sought after.

The acid used is Sodium hypochlorite ( 5 to 10%) or potassium permanganate ( 3-6%)

How to do it at home – You can splatter diluted  bleach rubbed on the jeans or keep jeans tied in a bleach solution. Just checkout the video for a demonstration

YouTube video

4. Whiskering

This is known so after the cat’s whiskers and appears as fine lines from the crotch and hip area quite naturally with time and use. Selective Fading jeans on creases can make these whiskers unnaturally.

In an industrial set up this process is done by stretching the fabric on balloons shaped like the creases in the fabric. Whiskering is done with the help of machine sanding, sandblasting, or laser technology in an industrial setup. This is also called atari in Japanese.

How to do it a home – Mark the lines you need to make, which look like the creases that are made naturally. Do Hand sanding with sandpaper. Sandpaper is used on specifically marked pattern lines.

Where to make the whiskers – Usually along the Hips, front thigh area, back of knees and side of knees.

5. Grinding

This will produce worn fibers on selective areas of the denim, especially the edges. A special tool is used to scrap areas of the fabric.

You can do it with the help of pumice stone rubbing, sandpaper rubbing, and a grinder tool. You can do this along the hem, on belt loops, and along pocket edges.

6. Sandblasting

In this process, Denim is shot with high-speed guns of sand (granular or powdered) mixed with air to make a weathered look on the fabric. The selective areas which are sandblasted reveal the white yarn under the top layer of denim.
Sandblasting uses granular sand which is shot through the nozzle of a gun. Machine sanding is highly skilled and uses specialized machinery ( rolls).

How to do it at home – You can hand sand/ hand scrub your denim with sand paper to get a similar look. You can create a number of beautiful looks with this method.

Do not forget to wear a protective mask.
The crotch area and back of knees are given aged look by fading or highlighting. Stretching the fabric ( In a professional set up the denim is stretched on inflated balloons) selective area is scrubbed. The areas you do this are the front thigh, back seat, back panel near the bottom, or front panel near the knee.

7. Bleaching /bleach wash

Bleaching will completely reduce the dark indigo colour of denim to a very light shade. Hydrogen peroxide, and sodium hypochlorite are the chemicals used in bleaching.  It is done along with the stone washing or alone.

How to do it at home – You can fade denim by giving a wash of diluted bleach. The effect you get will depend on the amount of bleach you use and the duration. Remember to properly wash off the bleach after beaching so that your fabric is not damaged. Yellowing will result from overzealous bleaching.

Some precautions :

Never take bleach in a stainless steel pot
Use mask when using bleach
Use good quality bleach

Do not keep for too long – yellow is not an attractive colour on denim

Here is a post on using bleach on clothes. And also how to paint on fabric with bleach

Checkout an excellent video explaining how to bleach denim

YouTube video

8. Wrinkling

By this process, a crease is made on the fabric. Usually, in all other clothes, we look for wrinkle-resistant material but denim is one where no one thinks about wrinkles as an undesirable quality.

In an industrial set up wrinkles or folds are made on the fabric with the help of a resin and treated under heat to get the look of permanent folds/creases. The denim fabric is tied tightly and then treated with the resin.

How to get the look of wrinkles – After washing the jeans, tie it tightly and then wring it and dry. Do not iron

9. Tacking

Denim fabric is folded ( 2-5 folds) where you want to tack (fix in place with tacks or stitches). The area is tacked through the folds. Denim is then washed or treated which will create patterns on the fabric.

This is usually done on selected areas like the waistband / hems and pockets.

10. Spraying

Potassium permanganate solution is sprayed on the fabric. This is usually done in areas where you have done the sandblasting. A spray gun is used to spray this solution on the area in desired patterns. A deep brown color is obtained on the area where you have sprayed. Sponging is also done for a similar effect. 

How to do it at home – Spraying the denim with a diluted bleach solution or dye will produce creative patterns.

11. Patterns – Chevron / star shapes

how to distress

Mark the pattern on the garment (Use a stencil for similar and interesting shapes). Use emery paper rolled on a wooden stick or plastic stick to make (scrub) these patterns.

12. Ripping pilling and cutting

This involves making holes in jeans; clippers, knives and blades are used to make these effects.
Warp yarn is cut by the blade and white weft yarn is left in place. Cuts should always be kept weft wise ie horizontal in the garment. The weft will be kept in place and warp thread will be removed when you wash the garment.

Checkout the easy way to rip your jeans without removing the white thread in this tutorial.


Cutting the edges at the hem, pocket edges,  fly and knee area before the (stone) washing also creates a very distressed look.

13. Overdyeing 

This involves additional dyeing with a dark colour after the jeans is made. Checkout how you can get that effect and more with this video tutorial

YouTube video

14. Tinting

Tinting means dyeing to give a change of tone / hue of the denim. Tinting on selected areas is usually done to give a very vintage look to the denim.

15. Snow washing 

This denim washing ( a type of acid wash)involves tumbling of jeans with pumice stone soaked in chlorine bleach. A snow-like pattern that looks like frosting is formed by this process. Where the stone touches the fabric the color is stripped off from there.

Checkout the 8 ways you can patch jeans

patch jeans.

Related posts : Jeans Repairs – 7 common scenarios; How to repair holes on jeansHow to alter tight jeans ; How to replace jeans buttons; How to make a cuff on jeans ; How to recycle old jeans

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