How to wash and repair second hand jeans

How to wash and repair second hand jeans

Thanks for buying second hand! 

Now let’s make sure your jeans are fresh and clean. 

This guide will help you get them ready to wear, and repair any damages so that your new-old jeans are ready for a second life. 

We’ll look at:

  • A quick thing you can do before buying and washing second hand jeans 
  • How to wash your second hand jeans 
  • How to repair your vintage jeans 


Before you buy jeans, try and find out what you can about the place that you are buying the jeans from. 

If you are buying second hand from a larger retailer, there is a good chance that they have a cleaning process already in place before shipping out products.

Checking their website will give you an idea of what state the jeans will arrive in, and what kind of cleaning process you’ll need to follow before wearing them for the first time. 

If you can find any information on how the jeans are stored and shipped, this can also help you understand what kind of condition they are going to be in, and what you’ll need to do when unpacking them. 

When buying second hand jeans from individual sellers, or at flea markets, give them a good inspection. Look for signs of wear and discolouration. 

Some wear and tear is to be expected, since these are not brand new items - but that’s also fine. You are just trying to get an idea of what state the jeans are in before you buy them, so you know how much work you have to do before they are ready to wear… 

And sometimes they won’t need any work at all, they’ll be shipped pre-cleaned and ready to wear out of the box. 

It’s also easier to get them ready for their second life than you might think. 


a girl wearing second hand jeans with reaching into a washing machine in a laundry shop

Photo by Ace Maxwell on Unsplash


How exactly do you clean thrifted jeans? And do you need to? 

Unless you’re sure that your new second hand jeans have been cleaned before you buy them, then it’s a good idea to at least give them a pre-wash. 

Here’s how:

Follow the instructions if they are available:

If your jeans come with a care label, follow the instructions shown on that label. They will be specific to that product, and show you the best way to care for them. 

However, sometimes that label is worn down or missing completely, so then you can do the next best thing. 

How to hand wash your second hand jeans

  • Fill a large bucket with water. Preferably cold water, or luke-warm, but try to avoid hot water. 
  • Add your chosen soap. Or vinegar / baking soda if you are opting for a more natural clean. (note, vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda can also be used to treat stains, but we’ll get to that a bit later). 
  • Let the jeans soak, before giving them a deep clean with a gentle brush or sponge. 
  • Press the water out of the jeans. 
  • Repeat that cleaning process until the water runs clear. 

The best way to dry your jeans is to let them air dry. Hang them up and let them dry completely before folding them to put them away. 

Avoid the clothes drier! This is going to reduce the life of your jeans.

And use a steamer instead of an iron if you want to get rid of wrinkles.

Washing your second hand jeans in the washing machine

  • Use a gentle or delicate program on your washing machine, with cold or luke-warm water. 
  • Air dry. 
  • Use a steamer instead of an iron to get rid of wrinkles if necessary. 


How do you disinfect jeans? 

Somewhat annoyingly, heat is a very effective way to kill germs. But as we’ve just seen - heat can be bad for the overall care of your jeans. 

There are other ways to disinfect your jeans though. 

For example, using a steamer can kill germs, without causing harm to your denim. 

Try a vinegar bath. 

Vinegar is a common eco-friendly household cleaning product, because it contains a mild acid (acetic) that kills bacteria. 

Put your jeans in the bath and cover them with cool or cold water. Add one cup of white vinegar to the water and mix it around. 

Leave the jeans in the bath for 1 hour, then take them out to dry. You don’t need to rinse them off. 

And don’t worry about smelling like vinegar, once your jeans have dried - the smell of vinegar will be gone! 


How do you get the smell out of thrifted jeans? 

Some of the above methods can also be used to get the smell out of your thrifted jeans. 

Additionally, you can also try just hanging them outside in fresh air. 

Or you can try putting them in the freezer, this is known to remove bad smells from your second hand jeans. 

Personally, I would probably combine this method with a wash as well, depending on the kind of odour coming from the jeans. 

How to repair your second hand jeans 

It’s important to note: do any repairs before washing your jeans. 

The washing process may make existing damage worse, so if you've bought a second hand pair of jeans that need washing and repairing, be sure to repair them before you wash them. 

Another quick side note - if you can catch signs of wear before it turns into full blown tears or holes, it will be easier to repair, and less noticeable too. 

Keep that in mind when shopping for second hand jeans - existing wear is easier to fix than existing tear. 

But tears are also fixable, let’s see how…


old ladies hand using a sewing machine, repairing second hand jeans

Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash



Repairing holes and tears: sewing patch

The most common method of repair for holes and tears is to put a patch inside the jeans to hide the hole. 

There are two routes, the ‘invisible’ repair, or the ‘cool patch’ repair. 

With the invisible option, try and find a patch that matches the colour and weave of your jeans. And pick a thread colour to match as well - this way your repair will look seamless. 

A rising trend is to go with the ‘cool patch’ repair option - where you’re not trying to hide any repairs. In fact, the opposite. The aim here is to draw attention to the patch. 

It’s a kind of statement, or badge of honour, showing that your jeans are worn (and are second hand, therefore better for the environment). 

For a visible repair, you can pick any kind of patch and thread that you want. And you might want to place the patch on the outside of your jeans rather than the inside. 

Follow these steps to patch a hole in your second hand jeans: 

  1. Clean up the edges by trimming loose threads. 
  2. Turn your jeans inside out. 
  3. Use a running stitch to hold the patch in place. 
  4. Turn the jeans back the right way. 
  5. Use a sewing machine to secure the patch in place.
  6. Remove the running stitch. 

Repairing holes and tears: iron on patch

This is a very similar method to the one above, and whilst it is an easier fix, its also less permanent. 

We recommend using this method for smaller holes and tears. 

Iron-on patches come in a variety of weights and colours, and often come with their own instructions for use. 

But in general, just stick the patch over your tear, and use the iron to heat the adhesive of the patch so that it sticks to your jeans. 

You could then go about sewing over the patch if you want to make it a more permanent fix. 

Repairing holes and tears: embroidery patch

An embroidery patch is a more noticeable and unique way of repairing holes and tears. 

If you want to make a statement with your repair, this could be a good choice. 

Embroidery patches can follow different patterns and shapes, so be sure to check out some different options before you decide which one to go for. 


close up image of a hole in a pair of second hand jeans that has been sewed back together

Photo by Roberto Sorin on Unsplash


Repairing holes and tears: you’re not alone!

As the popularity of buying second hand has increased, so have the number of small business or individuals offering a repair service. 

If you’re not that confident with your sewing skills, or the damage to your jeans is more severe, definitely have a look for a local repair option. 

Wearing second hand jeans is good for the environment, and your pocket, and now you shouldnt be worried about smells, tears, holes, or stains. 


We hope this guide helped, and we can’t wait to see your repairs - tag us on instagram @boas.good with pictures of your fixes!