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How to Acid Wash Jeans

    Woman wearing acid wash jeans

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    They’re just as synonymous with the 1980s as Madonna and shoulder pads, acid wash jeans have a great distressed, worn out, and soft look. The style originally began in the 1960s when surfers’ jeans would get bleached and softened from hanging out in the sun all day. This took months, sometimes even years, to happen. The look could also be created with a process called stone washing where jeans were basically tossed into a giant washer with pumice stones to get violently pounded. Fortunately today you don’t need a bunch of rocks of a year’s worth of sunlight to create your very own acid wash jeans. What made the style especially popular is how easy it was to create the look in your very own home. Anyone could and can learn how to acid wash denim to easy, breezy relaxed perfection.

    What You Need to Acid Wash Jeans


    Spoonful of bleach

    The first thing you’ll need to know is that there’s no acid involved in acid washing. Just a good chlorine bleach. You know, the stuff you probably use to wash your whites or disinfect your bathroom. Acid wash is a great DIY project because you can virtually do it all for free.

    Note that different concentrations of bleach will produce different results depending on the look you’re going for and the color of your denim.

    Read: How to Fade Jeans

    Rags and old clothes

    Rags in different colors

    This is a messy process so make sure you’re not wearing anything you’re attached to when acid washing your jeans. The bleach will ruin them. You’ll also want to protect your surfaces, especially if you’re working inside the house, with old towels, rags, and mats.

    A bathtub/bucket and lots of water

    Woman demonstrating how to acid wash jeans

    Rinsing is a very important part of bleaching your denim in this way. In order to stop the bleaching process at the right time and to achieve the right color, whether it is the whitest white or a paler blue, you must thoroughly rinse out your jeans until you think you can’t rinse them anymore.


    Stacked jeans in different colors

    It’s best to do your first try with a pair of jeans you wouldn’t mind getting a little ruined. Perhaps reach for a pair that doesn’t fit anymore or a style you don’t wear too often. After you’ve figured out your technique, bleach to water ratios, and the method you prefer then you can acid wash everything else from your other jeans to shorts, denim jackets, and much more.


    Pair of navy blue gloves

    Chlorine bleach is still a very harsh chemical, especially if you’re using a strong concentrate. Protect your skin with a good pair of rubber gloves. This is particularly important if you have sensitive skin or new wounds and scars.

    You’ll also want to complete this process away from children and pets. Working outside is the best option to protect your furniture and surroundings, however, your bathroom, garage, or any room that’s well ventilated will suffice.

    How to acid wash jeans with rubber bands

    Rubber bands create that super ‘80s tie-dye look and you can arrange them to create interesting spirals and shapes.

    Step 1: Mix the bleach. In a bucket or bathtub, begin with a solution that is three liters of water with one liter of bleach. If you want a more drastic look you can increase the bleach to one and a half of two liters. It’s better to start out with this 3:1 ratio, see your final product, and then go in with more bleach later if you would like a more contrasted acid wash. You can also use a solution with less bleach if you’re working with a particularly strong concentrate or if you want a softer look.

    Step 2: Use the rubber bands to bunch up and arrange the jeans into sections. You can vary the size of your bunches, how close together they are, and whether you concentrate them on the top or bottom of your pant legs. You can choose to roll up the legs, as you would cuff your pants, all the way to the crotch seam for an interesting effect.

    Step 3: Completely submerge your jeans into the bleach solution for anywhere between five to ten minutes. If you’re using a bleach heavy solution you can leave them in for less time and if there is more water in your solution, you can leave them in for longer. The color will change very quickly so you can just see for yourself how much more bleaching you would like to occur. You should frequently turn your jeans over and make sure every part is immersed in the solution.

    How to acid wash jeans with a spray bottle

    This method creates a splattered look to your jeans and it’s great because you can really control how much bleach you’re applying to your jeans. You can use rubber bands for this method or you can use gloved hands to scrunch up and rub the jeans.

    Step 1: You won’t need as much bleach for this method as you won’t be using as big a solution as the traditional rubber band method. In a sturdy spray bottle, create a solution that is two parts water to one part bleach. The exact measurements will vary according to the size of your spray bottle but the most important part is to keep to a ratio.

    Step 2: Moisten your jeans. You don’t want them to be soaking wet but a little bit of moisture will go a long way to helping the bleach sink in. The best practice is to just have them become a little heavier but not dripping everywhere.

    Man using spray bottle

    Step 3: If you’ve elected to use rubber bands for the tie-dye look then you can bunch up large or small, or large and small, bundles and wrap the rubber bands around them. Make sure to have the rubber bands in the front and back. It’s up to you if you would like to have the acid wash spread out evenly or just at the hem or top of your jeans. Once you’re happy with the rubber bands, you can begin to spray your jeans.

    If you’re not using rubber bands, you can either use your hands to scrunch up fabric and spray the sections in your hand or you can lay your jeans flat and just spray free-handed. You should go over your jeans with the spray bottle at least three to four times for even distribution.

    Step 4: Let your solution sit for five to ten minutes. You’ll begin to see the bleach working and you can use your discretion to let the solution sit for longer or not. Then it’s time to rinse your jeans. This is particularly important when you’re acid washing black jeans which will turn orange if the bleach is not thoroughly rinsed out.

    Step 5: You can put your jeans in the washing machine for extra rinsing, just do not add any soap or fabric softener and do not put them in the dryer. Hang your jeans on a line to dry and they’re complete.

    Read: How to Hem Jeans With Original Hem

    How to acid wash jeans with stones

    How to acid wash jeans with pumice stone

    You can’t do a traditional stone wash as that would mean soaking pumice stones in bleach and putting them in your washing machine with your jeans for acid washing. Besides being very noisy that would most likely destroy your machine but you can still incorporate elements of the traditional method into your acid wash. Pumice stones really soften your jeans and create a very distressed look.

    Step 1: Mix your bleach as usual. The standard solution is one part bleach to three parts water. You can also soak your pumice stone in the solution or in a solution with a higher concentration of bleach.

    Step 2: Using the rubber band method, you can submerge your jeans into the solution for five to ten minutes. Make sure all of the pants are immersed in the water and turn it around a few times to spread the bleach around. Do this for five to ten minutes.

    Step 3: While your jeans are still wet and in your bleach solution, gently rub the pumice stone over them. You can work in circular motions over your jeans laid flat or you can rub the pumice against the bunched-up areas. You can continue this for anywhere from five to twenty minutes. The color will begin to change before your eyes and you can decide from what appears how much longer you would like to leave it.

    Man setting up washing machine

    Step 4: Thoroughly rinse your jeans under running water until the water runs clear. You can also put your jeans in the washing machine, with nothing else in the load, on the rinse setting with no soap or fabric softener.

    Step 5: Hang your jeans out to dry, a dryer may ruin your acid washing. Once they’re dry, you can either go over them with another acid wash or have fun styling new jeans.

    Without breaking the bank, you can very easily learn how to acid wash your jeans.

    Read: How to Lighten Jeans