How to Fade Raw Denim

Raw denim requires a multi-step process to achieve a faded look and feel.
Raw denim requires a multi-step process to achieve a faded look and feel. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Raw denim, also known as selvedge, is a stiff, dark indigo-dyed denim that is not cleaned after the dying process. Most people buy raw denim specifically because it does not fade as quickly or as easily as washed denim, but rather, fades naturally during wearing, with faded spots conforming to the wear’s unique body shape. There are, however, ways to speed the process of fading raw denim, using both chemical and physical methods.

Things You'll Need

  • Washing machine
  • Strong washing machine detergent
  • Old towels
  • Rubber gloves
  • Sponge
  • Abrasive scrubber pads
  • Bleach

Wash raw denim in hot water combined with a strong detergent. Repeat the cycle three times, adding additional detergent with each round.

Remove raw denim from the washing machine and blot dry with an old towel. Lay the denim on a flat covered work surface and put on your rubber gloves.

Use an abrasive scrubbing pad dipped in bleach to scrub the denim to begin loosening the fibers and removing the indigo dye.

Fill washing machine with two cups of bleach and set the machine for a small load. Allow the washer to fill with hot water and begin to agitate the water/bleach solution.

Put the raw denim in the bleach and water-filled washing machine and allow it to soak for 15 minutes. If the machine starts to agitate, simply open the lid. After 15 minutes, run the regular wash cycle.

Wash raw denim in another cycle of hot water and strong detergent, then examine the color of the fabric. Repeat the first five steps of this process until the desired color is achieved.

Remove raw denim from the machine and if possible, air dry in the sun to promote further fading.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you want to create a faded “distressed” look to raw denim, use a bleach-soaked sponge to wipe random wear spots on the fabric after you finish the fabric-scrubbing step.
  • If you are fading a garment, such as jeans or a jacket, apply an extra amount of bleach scrubbing to natural fade spots, such as around the hems, the pockets and in the creases of the knees.
  • If you don’t have access to a washing machine, you can use a big bucket, tub or basin for bleaching and soaking your raw denim.
  • Fading raw denim will cause the fabric to shrink.
  • The process of fading raw denim involves releasing the indigo dye that has not been cleaned from the fabric during the manufacturing process. This dye can easily stain skin, material and work surfaces. Clean your washing machine thoroughly with bleach after the fading process is complete.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling bleach fumes.
  • Wear gloves when handling bleach and wash your hands with warm, soapy water after handing bleach-soaked denim.

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