Learn To Distress Denim!

Distressing denim is a fun and exciting process, but it can also be scary! You just invested countless hours lovingly crafting your denim garment and now…You are going to attack it with sandpaper and bleach!?! I get it, but the secret is to start slow. You can add more layers of distressing over time and stop when you are happy with the results. There are countless methods for distressing. Below, I will show you the methods that worked well for me.

Before we jump in, let’s discuss how distressing stretch denim differs from distressing non-stretch denim. Stretch denim contains spandex and this affects the process in a couple of ways.  Spandex can be damaged by over bleaching and lose elasticity and recovery.  When I am working with a denim that has a high stretch percentage, I am careful to only lightly bleach, and have had successful results.  The spandex content also affects whether or not you can add holes to your denim. Jeans with holes often have white threads that run across the width of the hole; these are the weft threads of the denim.  Denim with spandex has weft threads that contain spandex and the threads are more likely to break, leaving you with an open hole.

 In this tutorial I used two types of denim that we will refer to as Denim A & C. Denim A has a high stretch percentage of 25% and denim C has only 10%. Let’s take a look at each one and explore the type of distressing that I was able to achieve with each.

Denim A distressing process:

  1. Sand the front while wearing the shorts to highlight “whiskers” and then continue to sand the “whiskers while the denim is placed on a flat surface.
  2. Lightly sand the entire surface of the denim.
  3. Soak in a bleach mixture of 1 ½ gallons of water and 1/3 cup concentrated bleach. (regular bleach will work, but you will need to add more.)
  4. Rinse & Dry

The video below will show how to lightly distress your high stretch denim. If you are heavily distressing, you will follow both the part 1 and part 2 videos.

Here you can see the results I achieved through each step of the process.


Denim C distressing process

  1. Sand the front to add “whiskers”
  2. Heavily sand the entire surface
  3. Sand whiskers again
  4. Soak in a bleach mixture of 1 ½ gallons of water and 1/3 cup concentrated bleach. (regular bleach will work, but you will need to add more.)
  5. Wash and dry (you could probably skip this step, but it is the way I did it)
  6. Hand bleach using the technique in the video. Use a bleach mixture of ¼ cup of water to 2-3 tbsp. of concentrated bleach.
  7. Let sit until desired color is reached.
  8. Rinse & Dry
  9. Add holes & line holes with fabric

If you are using a low stretch percentage denim and plan to heavily distress, follow the video below.



A few things to remember when bleaching

  • Always rinse the garment to deactivate the bleach. If simply removed from the bleach the garment will continue to lighten. I throw mine in the washer on a rinse cycle and then dry.
  • The garment will appear darker when wet than it will when dry. If you are unsure about the color, rinse and dry before proceeding.
  • If you are adding holes, they will fray and appear a little bigger after washing, so start small. You can always widen them later.

Each denim will respond a bit differently to the distressing process. It is one of the aspects that I love about this process. No two projects will be exactly the same. Now, you can feel more confident to take the leap and create your own one of a kind distressed garment!

1 comment



I always need to shorten my jeans by 3-4 inches when I buy them. I’m going to try this on a pair to not drawn attention to the new hem line. I also want to make a pair of jean shorts that actually fit and can’t wait to apply this!

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