What are the Best Tips for Distressing Jeans?

K. Gierok

Despite being torn, faded, and otherwise destructed, distressed jeans can be a popular fashion choice. As pre-distressed jeans can be quite expensive, some individuals have turned to distressing these products on their own. To successfully distress jeans, individuals should start with inexpensive jeans that have been washed and dried a few times. Using the right distressing tools and evaluating the progression of the distressing process are important steps that can dramatically improve the look of distressed jeans. Trial and error is often required to determine which techniques and tools provide the best results.

A model in distressed jeans.
A model in distressed jeans.

When distressing jeans, start with a product that is relatively inexpensive. This is especially important for those who have never distressed jeans before, as adopting the right technique can take a bit of time and practice. If an irreparable mistake is made on a pair of inexpensive jeans, they can be discarded with no great distress. In contrast, accidentally ruining a pair of very expensive jeans during the distressing process can be very upsetting.

Household bleach can be used to make a pair of distressed jeans.
Household bleach can be used to make a pair of distressed jeans.

Jeans should be washed a few times before they are distressed. Brand new jeans will shrink and fade quite dramatically during their first few washes. Failing to wash a new pair of jeans before beginning the distressing process can result in jeans which are even lighter in color and more worn-in than first anticipated.

In order to have good results when it comes to distressing jeans, it is important to choose the right tools for the job. Some of the most effective include cheese graters, pumice stones, and sandpaper. These products can usually be purchased for a low price at home improvement or grocery stores.

Bleach, soft rags, and cotton swabs are also necessary products when it comes to distressing jeans. When applied properly, bleach can make a new pair of jeans appear quite worn in. Place a small piece of wood under the part of the jean that is being distressed in order to protect the opposite side of the leg. Soft rags dipped in bleach can be used to lighten large areas of denim, while cotton swabs can be used for smaller areas.

When distressing jeans, individuals should work on only a small area at a time, and review the look of the jean before moving on to a new section. In most cases, less is more when it comes to distressing jeans. Evaluate what has already been done, and determine if a particular spot needs additional distressing before moving on to another location.

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Discussion Comments


I have to say that I just hate this whole distressed jeans trend. I don't see what's so attractive about basically wearing a pair of destroyed jeans!

However, my sister is really into keeping up with the latest fashions. She doesn't have that much money, so I told her I'd help her make her own distressed jeans. We have some jeans we got on sale for $10 we're going to try this with.

I think the article is right to recommend trying this technique on cheap jeans first. It would be a shame to ruin a really expensive pair trying out this technique!


@sunnySkys - I can understand why some people just pay for the store bought distress jeans. I would say this is a question of time versus money. If you have a lot of money, and like the distressed jean look, why not pay for it and spend your time doing something else? However, if you're short on cash then it's worth the time investment.

Anyway, one thing that can help distress a pair of skinny jeans is the dryer. Simply throw your jeans in the dryer with a pair of shoes or tennis balls. The friction will speed up the distressing process.


I've never quite understood why people pay tons of money for distressed denim jeans that are already ripped and worn in. As the article said, you can easily do that yourself at home for very cheap.

When I was in high school, a lot of my friends did this. They used the tools mentioned in the article, as well as a few other random household tools. I had one friend who used to use a small saw to cut rips in the knees of his jeans!

Anyway, when you distress jeans yourself they look much better and more individualized than an expensive store bought pair anyway!


@accordion- I agree with you. I have a friend who tried distressing jeans himself. Of course he could barely do laundry, let alone follow directions on how to distress jeans, but he made a big mess the first couple of times he tried. I think he figured it out finally, but it seemed like a lot of work to me, although the jeans he did successfully did look pretty nice.


Instead of distressing new jeans, you could always go to a thrift store and buy some that are already worn in. Goodwill in particular is a store that often has worn out ones for very cheap; when I was in high school, the one in my town used to sell "work jeans", which were basically worn and ripped jeans, for as little as a dollar or even fifty cents. It was especially popular whenever ripped pants went back into style among teenagers.

While I know that it's a fashion thing and people do it, I say see if you can reuse some old ones for your purposes first.

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