Welcome to our guide on how to distress jean shorts. When it comes to distressing, anything goes!

You can cut, hack, rip, bleach, saw, heck, even throw dirt on your jean shorts if you want. 

Distressed looks are all about personal preference, so find your favourite look on Pinterest, follow these steps below and make your jeans just how you want.

Table of Contents

How To Distress Jean Shorts

Tools Needed for Distressing

  • Seam ripper tool
  • Sewing scissors
  • Razorblade
  • Chlorine bleach
  • Sandpaper
  • Cheese grater
  • Tweezers
  • Cardboard
  • Magazine
  • Chalk

How To Distress Jean Shorts

Total Time: 20 min

Cost: $0

  1. Use chalk to mark your areas of distress. For the best outcome, plan your areas of distress so you can see what the final look can be.
  2. Insert a magazine or cardboard to protect the backside. Razor, scissors, and the cheese grater will break through the denim. Don’t let it mark up the rear of your jean shorts.
  3. Start slicing horizontal strips. Use the box cutter or razor and make each cut 1/2 inch to an inch apart.
  4. Pull threads apart with a safety pin. Flip the strips over and use the safety pin to loosen and extract the white threads. Try not to break them.
  5. Remove vertical threads with tweezers. Use your tweezers to pluck out and remove the short vertical threads formed from step 4.
  6. Repeat steps 4 & 5 if needed. At this stage, you can start adding touches of frayed edges by using sandpaper. 

How to distress jean shorts: more options

The world of DIY distressing goes a lot deeper than some cuts here and pinching and pulling there. Be sure to fray your jean shorts, rip your jeans, soften your jeans or throw them in the dirt even!

I suggest you distress your jeans at the same time, this will give you the option to practice each method of distressing to get confident. Before you do any of this though, make sure you wash your jeans to prepare them properly.

"You’ll look at least 40% cooler if you’re rocking a pair of torn, distressed jeans…the more you can rip, tear, and fade those jeans, the more stylish they’re going to look."

1. Use chlorine bleach to lighten fabric

Wash your jean shorts in bleach to lighten the fabric colour and make the jeans appear more worn than they are. Add half a cup of bleach to a cold wash cycle in your washing machine. Add other clothes if you also want them to look faded and distressed, perhaps a pair of regular-length jeans. 

Do not let the denim sit in the bleach water once the wash cycle’s done. The bleach will harm the fabric if left too long, rinse in cold water and then hang to dry.

Air drying your jean shorts will be the best option to make sure you don’t shrink them. There are many ways to dry your clothes without a dryer, two of my favorite are line dry and dry flat.

If you are short on time and need to wear your jean shorts you can use your dryer, but make sure the tumble dry setting is set to tumble dry low. Read more into how to use a dryer properly.

this is a photo of jean shorts going into the wash to be bleached

2. Use scissors for initial cuts

Use scissors to make the initial cuts after chalking your areas out. Unlike a seam ripper, the scissors will make very straight cuts that may not look natural if placed all over your jeans. Pick and choose where you will use scissors and where you will use a seam ripper.

this is a photo of scissors being used for the initial cut on jean shorts distressing

3. Use a seam ripper for cuts

Use a seam ripper to make cuts into your jean shorts to start the distressing process. With a seam ripper, you can make more angled and jagged wholes that will look more natural. Once you have completed the rips, you can start fraying the edges with sandpaper or a razor blade.

4. Use sandpaper to fray

Use sandpaper to fray the hem, edges, cuts and pockets of your denim jean shorts. Just like you would take sandpaper to the corners of a 2×4, lay your shorts flat and rub back and forth on the desired spots to wear down the denim for a worn look.

5. Use a razor blade to scratch

Use a razor blade to cut, scratch, slash and pick at your jean shorts. A razor blade is a perfect tool to attack your jeans from any angle in this process of distressing them. 

this is a razor blade scratching jean shorts

6. Use a cheese grater for broad patches

Use a cheese grater to make broad patches of distress on your jeans. When using a cheese grater, choose the smallest pattern grouped with the closest holes. Rub your jeans back and forth on the grater. Just be careful with your fingers!

this is a cheese grater being used on jean shorts to distress them


To distress the bottom of jean shorts you want to use either sandpaper or a razor. Lay your shorts flat with the bottom edge just off the table and scrap away at the hem.

The quickest way to fray jean shorts is to grab a cheese grater and start rubbing the exact areas you want distressed. 

To make denim look distressed, use a razor, sandpaper and seam ripper to cut away at the denim. Then throw them into a cold wash with 1/2 a cup of bleach. Once done, rinse your jeans under cold water and hang to dry.