How to Distress Jeans: A Definitive Guide

We all love that distressed pair of jeans displayed on the shop window. We want that cool and suave look and the worn-out aura on us. We would love to get our hands on the pair of jeans sans the price tag. So you may think, is it possible to distress a pair of jeans all by ourselves. The answer is yes. We can do it at home.

A distressed pair of jeans sells for more than a regular pair. They are much in demand and both young and mid-age people like it. Distressed jeans have become a cult of their own. Even rock stars, movie divas and fashion models endorse them. Due to their high cost, at times, they are out of reach for the young school and college-goers.

You can distress a pair of jeans all by yourself. There are several important things to know while carrying out the activity. If done in the correct manner, you will end up making yourself a hot pair of denim at no extra cost. We bring you a definitive guide on how to distress your jeans and get the pro look. Follow us step by step to create yourself a masterpiece that you can slip into.

What are jeans and it’s distressing all about?

Jeans are trousers made from denim or dungaree cloth. It is a 100% thick cotton cloth that is for rough use and immune to wear and tear. It is a popular attire in most parts of the world. People have been dying jeans in blue color. Though nowadays they are available in several other colors.

The denim cloth originates from the cities of Genoa, Italy, and Nîmes, France. The term jeans originate from ‘Genoa’. The fabric was in use to make work clothes for the general public. The use of copper rivets is an important event in the evolution of jeans. In 1873, Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis patented the use of copper rivets in jeans. It is to fortify stress points in jeans trousers.

Distressed denim has come from the punk culture movement of the 1970s. Early punks tore clothes apart as a symbol of anger towards society. The use of distressed jeans came back with the grunge culture of the 1990s. Distressing, in general, is an art form where the product gets a weathered look. At times, distressed products are expensive than their normal variants.

Distressed jeans have the characteristic torn and worn outlook. The most common points of distress are at the knees and pocket areas. They have holes and worn-out patches. The more the holes, the hotter they are. The first pair of distressed jeans came up in 1965 at New York’s East Village. It sold for a whopping USD 200. The distress shapes and color washes keep varying, but the style continues to remain in trend.

Advantages of DIY distress jeans

You may wonder about the benefits of tearing away a pair of denim. But hold on, distressing jeans have their advantages.

Reinvent your old pair of jeans

You can upcycle your old jeans into something new and trendy. Within a few hours, you can reinvent that discarded pair of jeans lying at one corner of your closet. It doesn’t cost anything and you get something very much in demand.

Save money

Distressed jeans cost a lot more than an ordinary pair of jeans. By distressing a pair of denim all by yourself, you save enough to buy yourself a couple of new pairs. You can buy a cheap pair of denim from your local stores and convert it into a distressed masterpiece at no cost.

A great hobby

Distressing jeans can become a great hobby for creative ones. You can distress denim for your friends and who knows, end up opening your own boutique. Distressed denim, after all, sell for a premium.

Where to distress a jeans

People usually distress them at knee length, at pockets and edges. Additionally, you can distress the jeans at the thighs, waistbands and lower calf areas. If you are a newbie, stay away from the seams and rivets as they hold the jeans together. Before actually distressing jeans, wear them and mark the points of distress using chalk or a pen.

What you need

You need simple material available at your house. You hardly need to buy anything for your DIY distressing. You need a pair of scissors, bobby pins, sandpaper, tweezers, box cutters and bleach. They are either available at home or you can get them at your local supermarket.

If you are distressing for the first time, use whatever is available at home. Gain experience and then choose your own tools. The pros even make their own tools to distress denim. It’s all a matter of your creativity.

How to distress a pair of jeans

There are several ways to distress jeans. You need common household articles to carry out the distressing activity. We list below a few popular methods for your reference.


You can fade the entire jeans or a part of it to give it an old, used look. Use a 50-50 bleach and water solution for the purpose. Either dip the jeans in it overnight or use a brush to paint the bleach water over selected parts. Using a brush gives a streaky effect. Wash the jeans with cold water afterward to remove any remaining bleach solution.


You can fray the edges to give your jeans a worn-out look. The edges and pockets look best when roughed up with a shaving razor. You can even fray pieces of old denim and stich them onto your jeans to give them a patched-up look.


You can rub the jeans with sandpaper to give them a smooth, worn outlook. Use a piece of sandpaper to rub across sections where you want to smoothen out. The coarser the sandpaper, the quicker the action. Also, if you want to drill some holes, just rub harder.


You can distress your jeans by scraping them with a bobby pin. Straighten a bobby pin and rub it on your jeans. Rub the pin vertically or at any angle. Within a few minutes, the cotton material will start to fluff and you will have a pair of distressed jeans. It’s that easy.


You can pluck your jeans to give them a worn-out look with white streaks. The blue fiber runs from top to bottom and the white fiber runs from left to right. Make a few horizontal cuts of two to three inches long at least an inch apart. Using a pair of tweezers, pluck out the blue fibers so that only the white, horizontal fibers remain. They will give a striped, worn-out appearance.

Tips for exceptionally distressed jeans

There are a few points you may consider for a well-made distressed pair of jeans.

Plan out in advance

First, decide where and how to distress your jeans. You may use any of the methods or their combination. Browse through the latest catalogs and visit the nearby boutiques. You can even talk to your best friend. Mark out the areas with a tailor’s chalk or a pen.

Select the correct jeans

Jeans come in different weights. They usually start with six ounces. For best distressing results, start with at least 20-ounce jeans.

Work slowly

Though distressing is a simple activity, work slowly for best results. Remember the adage – slow and steady wins the race. Work in phases and divide the whole activity into steps if you need to.

Take help

If you know someone who is an expert in distressing jeans, learn from them. Learn by observing them at work and ask whenever you have a doubt. Even better if you can distress your first pair under their supervision.


If you are not confident, first practice on a piece of old denim lying around. You can even graduate into distressing other types of fabrics. The whole idea is to distress your jeans, not destroy them.

Use a lint roller

After distressing, there is bound to be a lot of cotton lint near the distressed areas. Use a lint roller to get rid of them. They otherwise clog the washing machines or cause sneezing.

Be creative

Apart from the usual cuts and holes, use your imagination. Give your distressed jeans a funky look. Use patches, diagonal cuts or star holes to jazz up your denim. You can also use fabric color in spray cans to sparkle up your work of art.


Since distressing jeans is an abrasive action, you need to be cautious while doing it. Here is a list of our dos and don’ts:

Start small

You can always increase the size of the hole or the size of the cut but not the other way round. So be careful while making the holes.

Begin with an old pair

If you are distressing jeans for the first time, do not start with your favorite pair. Instead, choose an old, less wanted pair to experiment. You can even buy a pair for the purpose at the bargain shops.

Use protective gear

You may be dealing with sharp-edged tools or abrasive chemicals. So take suitable precautions. Wear eyeglasses, rubber gloves and an apron if available. Do not overdo any step. If in doubt, stop, think over and then proceed.

Avoid the seams and rivets

They hold the jeans together. If you distress at these areas, the jeans may not be able to take the stress and fall apart within a few days.

Caring for your distressed jeans

Once you have created your masterpiece, you may want to use it for as long as possible. So take good care of your distressed jeans. Here are a few points to remember.

Seldom wash your distressed jeans.

Jeans are anyways not meant for a regular wash. After distressing, the material loses some of its strength. Regular washing will destroy it.

Hand washes your jeans if you have to.

Do not put your distressed jeans in a washing machine. Air dry them for longevity.

Certain jeans have care guidelines written on their labels.

Adhere to them.

Avoid distressing jeans many times at the same spot.

This will otherwise reduce the fabric quality. The jeans will then fall apart.


Distressing jeans is a creative activity. It gives a rusty, worn-out look to a pair of denim. By distressing jeans yourself, you not only save cost, you can also reuse your old and discarded denim. We understood that distressing activity is easy and hardly requires any special tools. We also understood that there are several ways of distressing a pair of jeans.

You can either fade jeans, fray the edges using a blade or smoothen a part using sandpaper. You can even scrape the fabric using a bobby pin or pluck out fibers using a scissor and tweezers. We also came to know of various tips for that pro look. Of course there, were a few precautions to vary about. After all, distressing is an abrasive activity. Once you have distressed your jeans, you also need to take care of them. This ensures that they last a lifetime.

We all love our distressed jeans and find them a way of expressing ourselves. Distressed denim has been in vogue for decades. Both young and old use them to boost their fashion statement. We hope that you will use this guide to create your masterpiece and tell the world what you have wanted to. Happy distressing!

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