Denim Washes: What Are They, What Are the Differences?

Washing denim to create new and creative appearance to the fabric has been a tactic of fashion designers for decades. Although ultimately separated into two categories, washed denim varies greatly. To make sense of all the different denim washes here’s a breakdown and explanation of each method and category:

Different Denim Washes: Mechanical vs Chemical 

Washed denim is either rubbed and worn with stones and other abrasive materials or treated with bleach and other kinds of color altering substances. The former is called mechanical washing, the latter is known as chemical washing. The different types of denim washes are categorized under the respective method:

Mechanical Wash

Photo: Hollister

Stone: Stone washed jeans is traditionally associated with Western clothing, appearing faded and worn – ultimately lighter in color in spots or uniformly. The look is achieved by washing denim with stones – typically pumice – which beat against the fabric creating the signature faded appearance.

Whiskering: Whiskering is the technique of artificially aging the look of denim by washing areas prone to bunching up and fading over time. This is primarily done by hand with rods and other tools to simulate years of wear within minutes. The name comes from the signature look of whiskering – several rows of thin white lines sprawled across the thigh section.

Sandblasting: As the name implies, sandblasting creates light wash denim patterns by blasting areas of the fabric with sand or other abrasive material at high velocity. The result is a more subtle fade across the front and back of the pant leg.

Other types of mechanically washed denim include:

  • Grinding: Using jagged and sharp materials to wear down denim.
  • Laser Technology: Used to simulate whiskering wash techniques.
  • Scraping: Using blades and other sharp tools to nick and tear denim surface.
  • Superstone: Stone wash with extra-large pumice stones.

Chemical Wash

Photo: Aliexpress

Enzyme: Created as a more eco-friendly alternative to stone washing, this denim wash technique utilizes the appetite of enzymes which feed on exposed cellulose in denim sitting in the industrial concoction. This provides a similar look to stone wash but doesn’t cause damage to the denim.

Bleach: Bleach wash turns blue denim white, either through regular household bleach, hydrogen peroxide, or even sulphuric acid derivatives. The degree of whiteness depends mainly on wash time and temperature.

Acid: Interestingly enough, acid wash denim uses no actual acid in the wash process. Instead the process uses pumice stones soaked in bleach to alter color in a non-uniform manner. The result is often splotchy, yellowish patterns.

Other types of chemically washed denim include:

  • Ozone Fading: Bleaching with the use of ozone gas, reducing required water usage.
  • Over-Dyeing & Tinting: Washing with extra color for contrast.

Fashion designers love washing denim. It’s pretty much the only way to get creative with the fabric once the cut has been chosen. Since it began, denim washing has evolved into several different styles and techniques, all of which have their own distinct look and feel. It’s what gives denim its character. Knowing the differences can help consumers find just the right type.

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