How to Distress a New Pair of Jeans

You bought a new pair of jeans but want that designer distressed look? Here's how to distress a new pair of jeans, all by yourself, using things you have on hand at home. So....you want your jeans to not only "feel" comfortable, but you want them to LOOK comfortable! Well, there are ways to make them distressed. Distressing them will make them look years older than they are and will give you a more comfortable feel as well as a comfortable look. A little preparation, a few supplies and a little time is all you need to make a great pair of distressed jeans. Let's get to it!

Prepare Ahead

Gathering together the items you will use will be the best tool you have! The first thing you need to do is to decide is what level of distressing you want for your jeans. There are several things that can be done to make your jeans look older and well loved. Pick the ones that work for you and the look you want. My favorite old jeans have faded spots, rips, worn areas, and even some "stains" that show they are faithful favorites. That is all easily duplicated. Doing it well will take time, so plan ahead. Purchase or gather the items you need to accomplish the look you have in mind. Set your goal and get started!

Some items you may need include: laundry soap, bleach, paint brush, toothbrush, spoon, one or two lemons, a sharp knife, a tea bag, a handful of grass, a zester or cheese grater, a fork, wire brush, scissors, a clip board, and cardboard.

These are items that were used to distress the jeans in the pictures. You may find other items that work better for you or are more readily available in your area. The idea is that you make the jeans look YOUR way.

Careful use of household bleach can give jeans a worn and faded look.
Careful use of household bleach can give jeans a worn and faded look. | Source

Fading Out....And Staining

Begin washing your jeans with lots of soap. Soap will fade your jeans and so will warm or hot water. Run them through several rinse cycles. They need to Remember hot water will shrink them too, so you may need to keep it to warm water. Next, while they are drying, find something to put inside them to keep your work from going through to the back. Having the front and back identically stressed will show that it is fake! That is not our goal!

To make those great faded spots there are two ways: bleaching and lemon fading. Let's begin with lemon fading. Cut a lemon into wedges with a sharp knife. Rub the wedges into the upper thigh in stripes to create the "whisker" effect that comes with time and wearing. You can also rub the lemon wedges over the knees and the bottom area. These are the areas that wear and fade out. Once they have been rubbed down, place them in a sunny spot and allow the sun to "bleach" or fade them out. Be sure to turn them over to fade out the back side!

If you want them faded down to white, and to get it done quickly, then break out the bleach! Before you begin, I have one warning. Bleach will not only fade out the color, but when left on too long, it will "eat" a hole in your jeans. That might be okay for some parts of your jeans, but be careful! It will also take the color out of anything else it touches, so use caution and be aware of the area surrounding your work zone. You may not be happy with bleach spots on the counter top or living room carpet. I work outdoors on concrete or in the bathtub. That being said, there are several ways that you can use bleach to fade out your jeans.

To fade out large areas, pour an inch of bleach into a glass. Dip a toothbrush into the bleach, then brush the area with the bristles. Be sure to brush up and down as well as across to completely and evenly cover the area. For gentle splatters, use the toothbrush to create small dots or use a spoon and fling the bleach across the jeans. You can also use a paint brush to create strokes, splatters and even shapes! Place the jeans in the sun to dry to quicken and intensify the fade. Once they are dry, be sure to run them through a cold rinse cycle in your washer. Rinsing out the bleach will keep it from eating a hole AND will protect other clothing that you may wash with your jeans.

Okay, you have your bleach spots, now lets stain the jeans some. Put a mug with one inch of water into the microwave and get it boiling hot. Add a tea bag and let it steep for a minute or two. The darker the water, the darker the stain on the jeans. Now, you can take the water and dip, spill, brush on or splatter it onto the jeans. You can also take the tea bag and rub it onto the jeans, leave it on the jeans and let them soak into the knee or hem. The look a tea bag will give is similar to the aged look. Be careful, you want your brown spots placed carefully in order to make sure your jeans don't look tacky. You can also stain them with a handful of grass. Hold the grass in your fist and rub across the area you wish to stain. Another product to use for staining a darker stain is motor oil. I suggest you use this VERY judiciously however! It can be VERY dark and stubborn to remove if you don't like it. Getting stains darker are easy. Be gentle and be aware that the stain will gradually fade. Stains, however, will be easy to redo!


Using a cheese grater on your jeans can give a gentle shred that will create a designer distressed look!
Using a cheese grater on your jeans can give a gentle shred that will create a designer distressed look! | Source

Shredding is Distressing!

The final phase of destruction which distresses jeans is the shredding or tattering phase. The amount of shredding, tattering or tearing you want is completely up to you. There are several tools that will help you accomplish the look you want. I always begin by placing a board or other hard surface beneath the jeans to help keep it from going through. I actually used an old clip board this time. It slips easily into the leg. Sometimes the shredding and tearing will go through to the item underneath. Another tip is that the areas you have bleached will be easier to shred as the denim has already begun to break down.

A cheese grater will give you several grades of shredding. My favorite trick is the smaller holes are like a zester and will shred out the jeans gently and quickly. They tend to be more effective with less work. You can also use a wire brush, fork or even a pair of scissors. For the scissors, you can use the straight edge or the sharp tips. The trick here is to make sure to do it gently, because it is difficult to repair mistakes here! Work a small area at a time. Work slowly. If you go quickly, you may make permanent errors! A little goes a long way. The fork is excellent to pull threads and gradually grow the shredded area without making big holes. If you overdo, then you can iron on a patch onto the back for a realistic repair! One last step, be sure to slice the edge of the hemline, tear the threads and pull them to create the worn look that comes from walking on them day after day.

You Did It!

You have softened, faded, stained and shredded your way into a masterpiece created by you! You were the designer of these jeans! Wear them with pride and know that you can do it any way, any day! Enjoy and share your results with us! Remember that some places do not consider your amazing new distressed jeans appropriate. A teacher will probably not be allowed to wear distressed jeans even on Jean Friday! Keep that in mind and you will be set in style!

Text and Photo Copyright 2012 Deborah M. Carey

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