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How to Distress Your Jeans: A Step-By-Step Guide

A handy tutorial for DIY distressed denim *perfection*.

“Distressed” is a catch-all term for a vintage denim look — ya know, that kind that makes your jeans feel lived-in and well-loved. It can encompass raw hems, frays, faded stonewash, rips, and whiskering. And it can run the gamut from subtle to substantially more edgy (which we affectionately call a “my-mom-would-definitely-not-approve” kind of style…IYKYK).

Sure, you can buy distressed jeans from a thrift store. Or you can go the long-term route by wearing and washing them for years and years and years. But what if you want to distress a pair of jeans yourself…like…right now?

Get ready for a DIY project, friends!! Here’s how to do it. 

First order of business, decide what kind of distressed details you’re going for

Either faded denim or rips…or both! 

If you’re going to fade your denim jeans…

Make a concoction of five parts water to one part bleach. Mix well and allow your jeans to soak — but keep a close eye on them! This method works quickly, so a quick dip of a few minutes (~5-7) will normally do the trick. 

If you just want a specific part faded, like the knee area, apply the bleach mixture to your jeans with a paintbrush


  • Don’t have a plastic bin that’s big enough? Use your bathtub or washing machine.
  • Bleach works its magic a bit better on damp clothing, so we recommend wetting your jeans first before you submerge them into the mixture. 

If you’re going to rip your jeans…

Step 1: Mark ‘em up 

Because jeans fit differently on different people, and because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to where jeans should be ripped and frayed, it’s best to put your jeans on first, stand in front of a full-length mirror, and mark where you want the distresses to be (typical locations include knees, back pockets, and upper thighs). Chalk, a pen, or a marker will work for this. 

Step 2: Stuff with newspaper or a piece of cardboard 

This way, you won’t accidentally cut the back of your jeans as well. 

Step 3: Choose your own adventure 

  • If you’re looking for some frayed flair
    A disposable razor or piece of grit sandpaper will work here. With the razor, you’ll just carefully scrape, and with the sandpaper, you’ll press down and rub back and forth in order to create a frayed look around the pockets or edges of your jeans. Sandpaper also has the added bonus of helping to soften the denim.
  • If you want subtle whiskering
    We recommend either a bobby pin or safety pin in order to methodically pick at the denim. This will eventually create small holes for a touch of distressed character.
  • If you want full-on ripped jeans
    Grab your box cutter…and be careful, this baby’s sharp!! Slowly cut horizontal strips along the pre-marked lines and make sure to stay away from the seams, which hold your jeans together. Don’t have a box cutter? Use scissors instead. From there, use a pair of tweezers to pull out the blue threads until you’re left with just white threads. Don’t worry about any residual fuzz or fabric…a wash in cold water will help remove that (or a lint roller).


  • Not all jeans are made equal, which means the way that denim reacts to distressing will vary, too. Before you begin, check the tag on your jeans. If the denim weight is at least 20 ounces (1.25 pounds), you should be good to go. If it’s less than that, proceed with caution. 
  • As with any DIY project, there’s a chance you make a mistake…which is okay! There’s nothing “uniform” about distressed jeans anyway. That being said, if this is your first time, we recommend opting for a pair of old jeans that you aren’t TOO precious about. 
  • Remember that less is more when it comes to washing any jeans, but especially DIY distressed jeans.

Looking for more jean hacks? Here’s how to stretch out your jeans without ruining them.

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