Welcome to our guide on how to DIY distress your jeans. Distressing denim is a common way to get that exact look you want out of your clothing and will allow the fabric to hold up over time if done right.

Before you start distressing, make sure your jeans are worn in. Rigid or new jeans will react differently to these techniques. Learn how to break in your jeans.

There is no wrong way to distress your jeans; the desired outcome is based on personal taste. So head to Pinterest to find inspiration, and then use our guide below to create your perfect pair of distressed jeans.

How To Distress Jeans

Tools To Distress Your Jeans

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

How To Distress Jeans

  1. Choose a pair of jeans you do not mind ripping or fraying. If you’ve never had distressed jeans before, you may want to opt for old ones you do not mind damaging.
  2. The easiest way to see where to distress your jeans is to try them on. Put on your jeans and mark the areas where you want holes using a pen, marker, or piece of chalk.
  3. Lay your jeans down on a flat surface. The kitchen table, island or floor will do just fine.
  4. Take a piece of cardboard and cut it until it fits into the pant legs of your jeans (or use a rolled-up magazine.) Insert the cardboard into your jean leg. This ensures you do not accidentally cut through to the backs of the jeans.
  5. Use a shaving razor or a pair of scissors to distress your jeans. If you want clean holes, cut horizontal lines across your jeans. If you want white threads to show, scrape the blade’s edge across the jean to expose white threads.
  6. Once the cuts are made, pull away the excess fabric with tweezers until bare strands of thread cover the holes. Pull out as many threads as you can, only working in the areas where you cut. Remove all the coloured threads so only white elastic threads are spread across the holes.
  7. Sandpaper the distressed areas lightly. Sanding can create a faded look. If you want faded colours on your jeans, use sandpaper to sand the places you’ve distressed. Only rub the areas until the denim is faded and the fabric is worn down slightly.
  8. Wash the jeans right after distressing. This will help remove any debris and thread. Use a cold wash to protect your jeans. Do not use warm or hot water (hot water shrinks clothes) on distressed jeans. Hang dry your jeans once washed, a dryer will also shrink your jeans.

When it comes to drying your jeans the best choice is to dry them without a dryer. Two simple ways to do this is to line dry and dry flat.

Once dry you can hang your jeans in the closet or fold your jeans. Take these last steps to make sure your newly styled jeans are looking the best the can when you wear them next.

How to distress jeans: more tips

When it comes to DIY distressing anything goes. The most important outcome in this fashion statement is that you are happy with the final outcome, being able to dress the jeans up how you want.

Make the most of your efforts and distress your jean shorts at the same time. This will not only give you another piece of clothing to add when washing your jeans. Distressing your jean shorts first is a great way to practice.

1. Use bleach

Use bleach to fade and soften your jeans. Put the jeans through a cold water wash while adding a 1/2 cup of bleach to the washing machine. The bleach will ‘attack’ the denim fabric, wearing it down and leaving it looking like you have owned the jeans longer than you have. 

2. Fray the pockets & edges

Use a razor or cheese grater to fray your jeans. Fraying your jeans’ pockets and edges (hem and trim) is another commonly used DIY action when distressing. Remember that when you fray your jeans like this, the focus will be on a small area. Look for a few 2-inch patches to do this on.

3. Rub with sandpaper 

Use sandpaper to rub-down the denim to lighten it. Lay your jeans flat, take the sandpaper to a 2-3 inch area, and rub lightly on the denim. You will see the colouring come up as you rub away the threads, take it as deep as you like. The longer you rub, the whiter the patch will become.

4. Cut - rip - tweez

Use scissors, a seam ripper and tweezers to create distressed strips in your jeans. Start with small slashes or rips in your jeans and expand as you get more confident.

  1. Cut horizontal strips half an inch apart. Make the strips as long as you want the hole to be. 
  2. Take a pair of tweezers and pluck all the blue threads out of the strips
  3. Removing the blue threads, you can create that horizontal white threaded look. You can tare some white threads to make the opening messier and more natural. 


There is no single tool that will fit your distressing needs. Instead, you will want to use scissors, a seam ripper, tweezers, sandpaper and a razor to distress your jeans.

To subtly distress your jeans, you will want to wash them in a cold water and bleach solution. This will soften and lighten your jeans. It will also keep all the denim intact with no holes or rips to make that subtle look.