Bleaching and Re-coloring Wrangler Jeans

Fun with a Washing Machine and a Gallon of Bleach


This article reports on the fun I had changing the colors of Wrangler jeans and other clothing items I decided to throw in the washer.


I had a couple pair of Wrangler jeans that fit me well, but unfortunately, the colors were not all they could be, indeed they looked rather shabby. One pair was a rather unattractive dark charcoal gray, and had some odd looking spots on them already. Perhaps I wore them once while doing the laundry. The other pair an inexpensive pair of black wrangler jeans off the Wal-Mart shelf. These were once black, but from repeated washings had turned a very uneven dark gray.  


Meanwhile I scrounged about in search of other clothing items that were either stained to the point of being about ready for the rag bag, had unattractive colors or whatever. I decided to try bleaching all of these at once, along with the jeans, and see what would happen to the colors and the stains. What didn’t turn out I could always toss.  


In the early 1970s, it was popular for guys my age to simply pour bleach on blue jeans full strength, leaving rather uneven near white splotches on the dark blue denim. I wanted a more nearly even finish, and was not interested in the early 70s splotchy “flower child” look.


The basic procedure is as follows:


  1. Throw three cups of concentrated liquid bleach (the inexpensive store brand will do).
  2. Allow the washer to fill full of water
  3. Without the clothes in, turn the washer on for about a minute and let the washer dasher mix the bleach and water together evenly. Shut the washer off.
  4. Dump the clothes that you want to bleach in the washer, and turn the washer on and let the dasher run for another minute or two
  5. Shut the washer off, and let the clothes sit with the bleach and water mixture for about 15 minutes. Make sure all the clothes are below the water level.
  6. Restart the washer, and let the washer go through the normal wash cycle.
  7. The clothes may have a slight bleach odor. If you want to get rid of that wash them in ordinary laundry soap and water a second time.  


Most of the threads used in home and commercial sewing are now made of polyester not coton. As a consequence, they tend to be more nearly color fast and therefore less susceptible to the bleach treatment. Be aware of this. Basically you control a number of variables that ultimately determines the degree of color change in the garment. First, there will likely be the most color change in all-cotton fabrics. Second, you can adjust the amount of bleach in the washer up or down, and a higher concentration of bleach will lead to more color change.Third, you can adjust the amout of time the fabrics sit and soak in the water-bleach mixture. You could, for example, up the time to, say 30 not 15 minutes, in which case I would run the dasher in the washer for a minute every 10 minutes or so to avoid streaking. Fourth, if you don't like the results from your first try, you can always repeat the entire process, but remember, you can lighten not darken with another treatment as outlined above from the top. So it's best to run an experiment using old garments first, stuff you do not care much about if it turns out not quite right. You can toss anything in the washer you want to lighten, yellowed tee shirts and underwear, old dish rags, whatever. The dyes coming out of the fabrics all quickly neutralize.


How this all turned out is very interesting. First, some of the dyes are more nearly colorfast than others. Some clothes changed colors only slightly, while others changed dramatically. In general cotton and cotton blends tend to change color more radically than all polyester fabrics. Some of the stains on shirts I thought were permanent came out nearly completely. After this treatment both the shirts and jeans turn softer and more comfortable to wear, irrespective of how much the color changes. Some of the color changes were really neat as you will see in the photos that follow, while others are, just weird. Oddest, perhaps in the new color of a once-blue A-shirt that is now an odd shade of magenta. I don’t think I will be wearing that. But two blue tee shirts and a teal golf shirt are now just a little lighter in color, and softer looking and feeling. The colors look richer than the original.  Not only that, the stains on the tummy all but disappeared.



Here is a photo of the charcoal gray Wrangler jeans (Sheplers still sells these in this color) next to an unbleached pair in the same color.

The color change here is nothing short of dramatic. Instead of charcoal gray, these jeans are now sand or wheat color. Take note that the thread and zippers are typically more nearly colorfast than the cloth. This means that the stitching and zipper remains a dark charcoal gray on the light tan cloth.


As a footnote, a slim-fitting pair jeans in a sand or wheat color nearly like this were the height of popularity with young males during the mid-late 60s, when I was a senior and high school and in college. After about 1970, the popularity of these declined as the sloppily bleached jeans took over. Oddly enough, however, Wrangler still sells jeans in colors that they refer to as either tan

or as wheat


The wheat color is probably very close to the same color jeans sold as long ago as the mid 1960s.


I just happen to have a pair of both colors to compare with my own bleached version.

The three colors are similar in some ways but quite different in other ways. The tan jeans are on the left, the wheat in the center, and the home bleach on the right. The wheat ones are closest to white, but still not pure white.


The bleached black jeans also came out looking very different after the bleach job. The new color is a light gray that has distinctive tan or earth tone underneath.

On the left is a pair of black jeans in similar condition to the ones on the right that received the bleach treatment The pocket on the bleached jeans bleached to a slightly darker color than the rest of the jean, perhaps because the pockets were cut from a different bolt of cloth, that originally took the black dye differently. This is less noticeable in real life than in the flash photo.


This photo compares the bleached black jeans with a pair of cement colored (light gray) jeans Wrangler currently sells. As you can see, the colors are quite different with the cement jeans having a bluish cast relative to the earthy color of the bleached jeans. The bleached jeans here overall turned out very well—the denim in them is very soft, almost like suede leather.


The final photo shows a shirt that was bleached along side the first pair of bleached jeans. This shirt was originally a very dark red, but quickly bleached to a natural color that most be close to the original color of the cotton fabric. The color goes very well with the color of the once charcoal gray but now off-white bleached jeans.



Of course, you can also bleach standard blue denim jeans, and depending on the variables listed above, the amount of color change will vary. Some of these I've bleached have retained the original wash, with the denim only getting a bit lighter blue and somewhat softer.

---David L. Debertin