How to Distress Jeans With Salt Water

by Dan Ketchum

Whether you're a gal seeking the “boyfriend jeans” look or a guy shooting for that time-tested rugged style, distressing your jeans is your ticket to texture. Of course, you can distress them simply through months of normal wear, but fashion waits for no one. To fade out the deep indigo of new jeans and give your duds a broken-in look, break out the salt water. This is just one part of the overall distressing process, though – for more detailed distressing, you'll have to turn to the toolbox.

Mix clean water and a hefty dose of salt in a 5-gallon bucket. There's no specific recipe here -- about a cup or two of salt will do. As an alternative, you can use pretty much any container that allows you to submerge your jeans.

Submerge your jeans fully in the salt bath. Weigh them down with a few clean rocks, if needed. Don't worry too much about creasing; an inconsistent fade gives your jeans an even more authentic patina. Let the garment to soak for a day or two.

Spread a tarp out over an even outdoor area or an indoor floor space that you don't mind getting a little wet. Wring your jeans out over the bucket thoroughly, then lay them out flat on the tarp.

Rub the wet jeans with medium-grit sandpaper attached to a sandpaper block for easy scrubbing. Apply gentle pressure and focus on areas that you wish to fade --the knees, seat and front of the legs typically make the most sense, as do the edges of the pockets and belt loops. The salt bath, a process known as “brining,” helps soften the jeans, making it easier to distress them with a sandpaper scrub.

Hang your jeans up and allow them to air dry completely. Wash the pants in the machine on hot at least once before wearing them. For a softer feel and more faded look, repeat the wash to your liking.

Items you will need

  • 5-gallon bucket
  • Tarp
  • Medium-grit sandpaper
  • Sandpaper block


  • Distress the jeans to your preference before dipping them in the salt water solution. Use fabric scissors to cut small holes and add texture with items such as rasps and graters. Start subtle -- any holes you make or textures you create will become more pronounced with regular wear. Remember, if you want a more deeply distressed look, you can always do more, but you can't go back.
  • Air dry your jeans in direct sunlight for a lighter, more bleached coloration.
  • Wear old clothes when sandpapering the jeans. If the jeans have fresh, dark die, they may stain your outfit when wet.

About the Author

Dan Ketchum has been a professional writer since 2003, with work appearing online and offline in Word Riot, Bazooka Magazine, Anemone Sidecar, Trails and more. Dan's diverse professional background spans from costume design and screenwriting to mixology, manual labor and video game industry publicity.