How to Lighten Denim for the Coolest DIY Jeans

Create a faded look with these easy steps.

how to lighten denim

Good American

Jeans are not only popular, but they're also very versatile, making them a must-have item in your closet. While modern denim is available in many styles and colors, its original iteration was created more for functionality than for a fashion statement.

A popular look is the darker wash denim, which, while great for everyday wear, can fade in a way that may be unappealing over time. Or maybe you've held on to a perfect pair of jeans that fit just right, but the wash is no longer doing it for you. One way to extend the life of your denim, and also customize it, is to lighten your jeans at your own pace and to the shade you prefer.

Although you could wait for your jeans to fade naturally over time or wash them repeatedly to hasten the fade, we decided to get some advice. So we reached out to fashion expert Andréa Bernholtz, and she offered up some of her best tips for lightening your jeans and giving them a second life. Ahead, learn all about how to lighten denim for a worthwhile DIY project you can show off for years to come.

Meet the Expert

Andréa Bernholtz is the co-founder of Rock & Republic, as well as the founder of eco-supportive swimwear brand Swiminista.

Try a Color Remover

Before starting the process, you should decide how light you want to go. Try using a product such as Rit Dye's Laundry Treatment Color Remover. Follow the directions carefully for the best result. This product works in your washing machine, and is typically used before dyeing your denim (or other fabric) with another color. To achieve a uniform look, you may need to repeat the process more than once.

Rit Dye Laundry Treatment Color Remover
Rit Dye Laundry Treatment Color Remover $9
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Use Bleach for a Faster Fade

Bleach is not only a good option for fading your denim, but it also works faster than some other choices and gives a more lightened look—just make sure to wear gloves when using it. According to Clorox, you should mix one cup of bleach to a gallon of cool water in a bucket or dishpan, then swirl to combine.

After rinsing the measuring cup used in the above step with clean water, add one cup of hydrogen peroxide to one gallon of water in a separate container. Stir until the jeans appear saturated. Check your progress at around two minutes while keeping your denim in or hovering over the pan or bucket being used. This will help to avoid splashing or spilling the bleach unintentionally elsewhere.

Keep carefully swirling and checking every one to two minutes (up to five minutes total) until your desired wash color is achieved. Then, place your jeans in the hydrogen peroxide to stop the bleaching action. Make sure that they're saturated—you'll notice a bubbling activity. Rinse your jeans with cool or cold water when that has subsided, then hang and air dry.

Add Distressing

For added appeal, you can add some light distressing on the knees, pockets, and/or edges with sandpaper. Bernholtz suggests that you buy a few different grades at the hardware store so you can customize the amount of distressing.

If you want to get slight wisping in front, grasp some material and bunch it up like an accordion, just under the front pockets and crotch area. Then lightly sand, doing one side at a time until you've achieved the look you want.

HSYMQ Sand Paper Variety Pack
HSYMQ Sand Paper Variety Pack $5
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