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Are you starting to grow tired of the look of your old jeans? Or maybe you haven’t been super observant on laundry day and there’s a bleach spot or two on your denim? Or perhaps you’re just looking for an easy and fun beginner-level project? Well, then lightening your jeans is a great solution.
There are some great ways to give any pair of jeans you have lying around an update to make them feel like a completely new item. You can learn how to lighten denim in a few simple steps and the best part is that you can also do it without breaking the bank at all.
This kind of DIY is great for beginners and advanced crafters alike since the versatility of jeans means that there’s a lot of room for error. Any mistakes you may make will come off as incredibly trendy or vintage thanks to the fact that there’s no limit to how many ways you can make a pair of jeans look fantastic.
The following methods work best with light to dark wash jeans but you can also try them out on black and grey denim. Unfortunately, a color lighter than white hasn’t yet been discovered.
Read: How to Style Grey Jeans
How to lighten jeans in a bleach soak
If you’re hoping for a uniform, all-over lightening of your denim then soaking your jeans in bleach is your best bet. You can purchase regular bleach from the supermarket or, if you’d prefer, some fabric stores will stock specialty fabric bleaches.
You will need at least 1 bottle of bleach, a large container or bathtub to soak in, latex gloves to protect your skin, old towels or sheets to protect the surfaces you’re working on, and lots of water.
It’s highly likely some of the bleach solution will get onto you so make sure you’re wearing old clothes or a protective layer unless you like the look of orange spots on your favorite t-shirts. Make sure to work in a well-ventilated space.
Step 1: In your container or tub, add ¾ cup of bleach for every gallon of cool to cold water. The amount of water you want to use is up to you as long as you keep to the ratio. You can add a full cup of bleach for every gallon of water for a stronger bleach. Use your gloved hands or a wooden spoon to mix the bleach and water.
Step 2: Add your jeans to the mix and swirl them around, gloves on, of course, to get them fully submerged. If you’re working within a smaller container like a bucket, you’ll want to swirl your jeans around often to make sure that one area of the denim isn’t getting exposed to bleach more than the other areas. Soak the jeans for 5-10 minutes, swirling them every couple of minutes. You should see the color change after 2-3 minutes and you can use your eye to decide which areas may need to soak longer.
Step 3: The thicker areas of your jeans like the seams at the inseam, outseam, front fly, waistband, and pocket areas might not take to the bleach as soon and you can choose to leave it this way for an outline effect or dab these areas with a sponge dipped in your bleach solution.
Step 4: Now you can hang your jeans to dry. It’s best not to hang them over any carpeting, wood flooring, or anything that can get damaged from the dripping bleach water. For further bleaching, it’s best to dry them under direct sunlight but if that isn’t an option just find an area outside over some grass or bricks.
It’s important to note that you shouldn’t use a tumble dryer to dry your jeans as the heat can damage your jeans and cause the bleach to turn yellow.
Step 5: Once they’re dry you’ll have your final lightened color. You can either soak the jeans again if you want to go lighter or set the new shade by putting your jeans into the washing machine twice. Make sure to wash the jeans by themselves otherwise the denim dyes could bleed onto your other clothes. Don’t use any fabric softener or detergent for the first wash.
And that’s how to lighten denim with bleach.
Read: How to Soften Jeans
Lightening jeans in the wash
The cool and frustrating thing about denim is that it’s prone to becoming lighter over time. If you’re a little apprehensive of using bleach, not sure if your jeans can take the chemicals or you just want to lighten your jeans only slightly then you can very easily learn how to lighten denim through wash and wear. This method will take the longest, with you having to repeat the steps a few times if you want to go lighter but since it’s so easy you won’t even notice.
Step 1: Wear your jeans inside out inside the house. Yes, that sounds very silly but the friction and sweat from your legs against your jeans will help the denim begin to fade. You can even opt to sleep in your jeans for extra friction. It’s best to do this for a couple of days up to a week before the next step. Of course, you can do this for much longer to achieve better results.
Read: How to Fade Jeans
Step 2: Once your jeans are beaten up, you can put them into the washing machine. You’ll want to set it to the hottest cycle possible as the heat from the water will break down the denim’s dye. However, make sure to check your laundry label before doing this as hot water can also cause your jeans to shrink. If your pair instructs you specifically to avoid hot water then you’ll just have to do several warm to cool water washes instead.
You can also choose to add salt to help the lightening process, especially if you have to use colder water. You can mix a salt solution and add it to the fabric softener dispenser or you can soak your jeans in salt water.
Step 3: Hang your jeans to dry in direct sunlight. The sun will help further the process and help you achieve a lighter overall look.
How to lighten black jeans
The method for bleaching black jeans isn’t drastically different from how to lighten jeans that come in regular blue and indigo shades. Black jeans require special care if you want to lighten them as bleach has the tendency to tinge black and grey denim orange and yellow. You can use the wash and wear method on darker denim but for a more noticeable change in color then you’ll have to opt for bleach.
Just like with the method before you will need bleach, gloves, a container or tub, and lots of water. Work in a well-ventilated area to avoid the fumes from the bleach and protect the clothes and surfaces you’re working with.
Step 1: Make a ratio of ¾ bleach to 1 gallon of water. Use your gloved hands or a wooden spoon to mix the solution.
Step 2: Submerge your jeans into the bleach water and use your hands to swirl them around to ensure that every part of your jeans is soaked. You’ll want to swish them around to ensure the bleach distributes evenly for 5-10 minutes. You can soak the jeans for longer if you wish.
Step 3: The most important step when bleaching black jeans is to rinse them very thoroughly. Any bleach leftover will create an orange or yellow tinge. You can rinse the jeans under water and you’ll know they’re ready once the water runs clear or you can put them in the washing machine on the rinse cycle once or twice.
Step 4: Hang your jeans out to dry and once they’re dry you will be able to see if the bleaching process has fully taken place. You can soak the jeans once more if there’s any patchiness or if you’d like to go another shade lighter. Be warned, however, that you probably won’t be able to bleach black jeans white without potentially damaging the denim.
Step 5: Once you’re happy with the color you can put them into the wash and once that dries they’re ready to wear.
Read: How to Starch Jeans
How to lighten jeans partially
If your jeans have faded or lightened in some sections more than others then you can spot lighten the other areas to match. Or you could use this method to lighten sections of your jeans like the patch pockets or one whole leg for a cool contrast look.
For this method, you will need bleach, a paintbrush, a sponge, gloves, a mixing container, and water. Make sure to work in a well-ventilated area and have protective layers over your clothes or wearing items you don’t mind getting ruined by bleach.
Step 1: Depending on how much surface area you need to cover, mix a ratio of ¾ cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water. You can increase these measurements if you think you’ll need more.
Step 2: Dip the sponge into the bleach solution and use it to soak the desired areas of your jeans. Make sure to apply the bleach evenly. For smaller or finer details, you can use the paintbrush to paint the bleach onto your jeans. If you’re trying to lighten pockets or create any patterns, you can cover the areas you don’t want to bleach with masking or packaging tape.
Step 3: Let the bleach solution sit for 5-10 minutes. The color should begin to change within 2-3 minutes and you can judge by eye how much longer you want to leave the bleach on the jeans.
Step 4: Rinse your jeans and then hang them to dry. Once dry, you can check if any spots require further bleaching. When you’re pleased with the final product you can now put your jeans into the washing machine to set the bleach and your jeans are as good as new.