It’s always a drawn out process. When you finally reach the point that you can’t wear your favorite pair of jeans anymore. Too many holes. The leg bottoms are all ripped up. Your girlfriend says they’re embarrassing. Or some online a-hole tells you you shouldn’t wear them anymore. It feels like the end of an era – these jeans have been with you on all of your best moments during their lifespan, since you wore them anytime you wanted to look good, which was every chance you got. If you’re like me, you throw them in the back of the closet to be used as painting pants so you can still slide into them on project days.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can make them wearable again – and if I dare – maybe make them better than they were originally.
How? Simple. We’re going to dye them back to a rich dark blue. Now, this isn’t intended to cover up all of those beautiful whiskers, honeycombs, and stacks you’ve earned in your beautiful raw denim. Rather, this is for that pair of jeans that has faded from too many wearings and washings.
For my first dye job, I chose a pair of Gap straight leg jeans that used to be a really dark blue. They’ve since faded to a royal blue with wallet and cell phone wear on the pockets. I like the way they fit all over, and they’re super comfortable. I wasn’t ready to ditch 'em quite yet. So I figured I’d double-down and see if I could breathe new life into them before sending them to project day purgatory.
To my delight it worked.
The dye process is incredibly simple, it barely needs a whole article. There are a few different ways you can do it, from using a washing machine, a bath tub, or a bucket, each having slightly different steps. I decided to go with the bucket method because I was scared of staining the tub or ruining someone else’s laundry in the communal washers in my apartment building.
The dye I used is from the standard bearer of the industry, Rit. Available anywhere from grocery stores, pharmacies, or places like Target, Rit dyes come in lots of colors and are usually the only brand on the shelf. It comes in two forms, a powder and a liquid. I’ve used both, but for these jeans I used the liquid.
Initially I dyed the jeans with a pack of the navy Rit powder dye, but this made them look more like colored denim than normal dark blue jeans. I went back and used black dye, and it gave me the exact look I was going for. I’d say you can skip the blue dye altogether.
The process: how to dye faded jeans
First, fill a bucket with the hottest water your faucet can muster. Pour half a bottle of black dye into the water and make sure it gets fully mixed in. Immerse your jeans in the bucket, and slowly stir until you’re satisfied that all of the material has been soaked thoroughly. Rit recommends half a bottle per one pound of fabric (about 3 yards) in 3 gallons of water. I like to use a scrap piece of wood to stir as to avoid touching the dye as much as possible. It won’t hurt you, and mostly comes off with soap, but it can leave remnants around your fingernails.
Now, the jeans need to soak for an hour. The directions recommend constant agitation but I just stirred them every 10 minutes or so. The idea is that if it sits in one place for too long there may be spots that are darker than others.
After your hour is up, dump the water down the drain and rinse the jeans with cold water until it mostly runs clear. Then, simply wash as normal in a washing machine. Anytime I wash jeans I like to pull them inside out to protect as much dye as possible. Let them air dry and blam-o, your favorite jeans should be wearable again.
After you dump the water and rinse the jeans try to clean up the bath tub right away. The dye shouldn't stain if it doesn’t sit for too long on a surface. And to make sure your whites don’t come out gray on the next laundry day, it’s a good idea to run an empty cycle in the washing machine after your first rinse.
I was so happy with how my jeans turned out, I decided to dye a favorite sweater of mine to a different color because it had some bleach spots. Originally a light tan, I dyed it to a dark wine color with great results. The concept is inspiring: Find a pair of light colored denim on sale for a too-good-to-be-true price? Dye ‘em dark. Have a faded old shirt that’s just too soft to pitch? See if dyeing it can breathe new life into it.
If you try it, I’d love to see your pictures!
Do it yourself: RIT black dye for denim jeans: Amazon, $8