The '90s Are The New '80s: How To Acid Wash Your Jeans Like A Grunge Goddess

The internet is teeming with “OMG Remember The Nineties?” flashback listicles, so it might be as good a time to resurrect grungy, acid wash jeans.
Publish date:
July 2, 2014
clothes, 90s fashion, bleach, Nirvana, acid wash jeans

I’m not a hoarder. I’m whatever is the opposite of a hoarder. I throw things out without thinking, assuming that I won’t need them later. And I always need them later. Receipts? A copy of a binding agreement I just signed? Really important bills? I never have them.

But I was doing a crazed insomniac closet purge at 2:30 am when I found a decent pair of dark-wash Levi’s destined for the give-away bag. They were slightly faded and washed out, and not in a cool, $300 “distressed” jeans kind of way. I didn’t really wear them anymore, but they weren’t busted enough to toss out, and one thing I refuse to impulsively give away is a perfectly good pair of jeans that actually fit me.

I have a cousin I was close with growing up who I absolutely worshipped because she was two years older than me and gorgeous and knew EVERYTHING about life and being cool at a time when I was a giant tuft of hair wearing glasses.

Said cousin, 14 at the time, somehow acquired a copy of Nirvana's "Nevermind," and we’d hide out in her room and listen while I watched her line the inner rim of her eyes with black liner and pop on a small silver hoop earring as an impromptu lip ring.

This was sometime around 2002. So we were a little behind on the Nirvana thing. But still. I liked whatever she liked, because whatever she liked was cool. I’d fantasize (and still do) about making out with Kurt Cobain in some sweaty, crowded basement somewhere, then running away and forming our own band and becoming best friends forever. It was a sexual thing, but it wasn’t. I liked his greasy hair and the way I thought he was speaking directly to me and my feelings of tween inadequacy and yet-undiagnosed clinical depression. And I loved his jeans: Kurt Cobain’s dirty, stained, torn up jeans.

Since the internet is currently teeming with “OMG Remember The Nineties?” flashback listicles, I realized it was time to elevate my old Levi’s to a higher calling. The time had come for "BLEACH."

If I may, the soundtrack to your acid-washing adventures:

To create your own pair of acid washed jeans, you’ll need:

● A pair of old jeans (dark wash preferred)

● A bucket

● A hose or an outdoor sink

● Regular household bleach

● A handful of rubber bands

● A plastic measuring cup

● Gloves

● A well-ventilated area

First things first: I DO NOT recommend using your favorite pair of super fancy, brand-new jeans that you spent a whole paycheck on for this project, because you are about to SUBMERGE THEM IN BLEACH and potentially ruin them forever. It’s possible that you could end up bleaching a hole right through the crotchal area or butt pocket or some other unfortunate spot, which would render your jeans useless. Unless that’s what you want, in which case, don’t think I won’t pitch a DIY acid wash ass-less chaps post a la Beyonce’s ass-less leotard, because I will.

But for the purpose of this conversation, let’s work under the assumption that we don’t want to burn holes through the pants, so don’t use your good jeans. Dark wash is best and will create a more dramatic acid washing effect.

To start, throw on some old clothes you don’t mind getting bleach on, and go outside. If you don’t have access to a patio or yard, find a well-ventilated area like your bathroom and open the windows. You don’t want to be breathing bleach fumes.

Lay out the jeans on a flat surface. Beginning at the bottom, start rolling up each leg and bunching it up in ball. Tie a rubber band around the bunched up jean ball. Roll, bunch, rubber band it, and repeat until you reached the zipper area. Repeat this process on the other side. It’s not an exact science, so whichever way you want to ball up your jeans is fine.

Put on your gloves and fill the bucket with 80oz (2.4 litres) of water and 48oz (1.4 litres) of bleach. NOTE: These are the ratios I used, but feel free to play around by adding more bleach for a more concentrated solution and high-contrast look, or less bleach for a more gradual overall acid wash. Dunk the jeans in the mixture and let them marinate for about 30 minutes to one hour, depending on how bleachy you ultimately want them to be.

Turn them over about every 20 minutes, at which point, you’ll start to see things changing.

I took my jeans out of the bleach mixture after about 45 minutes, but feel free to leave them in for a longer or shorter amount of time. When you’re ready, take the jeans out and hose them down, or rinse them out in the sink with cold water.

Wring them out and throw them into the washing machine. Run a cold cycle without detergent, and then a cold cycle with detergent. Hang them out to dry, and you’ve created a grunge masterpiece seeped in angst and disillusionment.

Soaked in bleach, indeed.

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