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how and why to wax your jeans

How to Wax Your Jeans

Customising jeans is always great fun and the perfect way to inject some lift into a pair that you are growing tired of. If you fancy perking up a pair of your jeans then one way to do it is by waxing them. Waxing is easy and we are going to explain exactly how to do it but first a little history lesson because you can't really appreciate waxed clothing without understanding why we all started wearing it!

Loving Lycra

These days it is hard to imagine life without synthetic fabrics, perhaps even when it comes to our jeans. If you are about to shout at your screen in horror because jeans are made of cotton then think about skinny jeans. The stretch in skinny jeans is created by adding a small percentage of elastane to the denim. Elastane, also known as lycra and spandex, is a synthetic fibre. Synthetic fabrics are real winners when it comes to outdoor clothing and sports gear. Natural fibres may be more luxurious and appealing but they aren't waterproof and they can be heavy, especially when wet. Technical synthetic fabrics are water resistant, breathable, flexible, aerodynamic, light and comfortable and so they are the obvious choice for outdoor adventures and sport. Well you don't see Usain Bolt running in woollies do you? Today we can choose from a raft of specialist clothing but what did people do before synthetic fibres were invented?

Before Spandex

Before synthetic fabrics people had to waterproof their own clothing. It was sailors who had the most pressing need for protection from the elements and it is with them that the practice of waterproofing began. Sailors discovered that their sails were far more efficient if they applied grease and fish oil to them. They would use remnants of sailcloth to fashion clothes for themselves. As men travelled the globe they tested a variety of substances in an attempt to perfect the waterproofing process. Eventually linseed oil became the most common substance used but this tended to cause cloth to yellow with age. In the 1920's a new process was developed. Cotton was impregnated with paraffin and this did not yellow or stiffen the fabric. The new cloth was a massive hit with the shipping industry and was then adopted for other applications including clothing for farmers. One of the first companies to make a waxed cotton range of country clothing was J Barbour & Sons who later produced their iconic motorcycle jackets from the fabric.

Waxed cotton jackets are still popular today and Barbour jackets have become something of a fashion statement. Waxed cotton has an appealing look with vintage qualities but the garments can be very costly. Happily you can wax garments yourself without spending the earth and here is how you do it.

Waxing Lyrical

First you need to get your hands on some fabric wax. It is best to avoid paraffin based products as the paraffin is potentially toxic and it can smell. Otter Wax is a good choice as it is totally natural and formulated specifically to treat items which have not been waxed before. It comes in handy blocks and is simple to apply. You will also need a lint free cloth, a sheet and a hairdryer. Talking of hairdryers, what a great invention they were! Mankind has found so many uses for the humble hairdryer, in addition to drying hair of course!

Choose a flat surface to work on and cover it with a bed sheet or plastic sheet to protect it from the wax. Take your jeans, make sure they are clean and dry and then rub a little of the wax onto a small area of the fabric to test whether you are happy with the look. If you like the results then it is time to get stuck in.

Heat up your jeans using the hairdryer as this will make applying the wax easier. If you are using Otter Wax then all you need to do is simply rub the bar over the clothing. If you find that applying the wax is hard going then warm the wax up a little using the hairdryer. Try to achieve a relatively even application. Complete the waxing by rubbing the wax in with your lint free cloth. If you are using a liquid wax product then you will have to apply this with your cloth and then rub it in as you go. Complete one side of the jeans and then turn them over to work on the other side. This is when the protective sheet over your work surface is vital as you don't want to wax your furniture or floor which you will if you put the waxed side of your jeans down and then start rubbing on the other side!

When the jeans are evenly waxed, warm them up again with the hairdryer and then hang them over a drying rack for around 24 hours to cure. If you don't do this you will find yourself leaving waxy deposits every time you sit down which is OK if you want to wax your furniture and you don't mind patchy jeans. Otherwise losing wax is not terribly convenient.


Always wash waxed garments separately and wear them for as long as you dare between washes. You don't have to wash jeans as often as you might think and we have discussed this issue here on the Jean Store site. Wash the jeans in cold water and use a mild detergent. Air dry the jeans rather than putting them in a tumble dryer. Inevitably the wax will disappear with washing and wear and so from time to time you will need to apply more.

Waxed jeans can look really cool and they are waterproof but do be aware that they are not breathable and so could become uncomfortable in hot weather. If you enjoy your creative endeavour then you could try out your skills on other items like hats, bags and jackets. Waxing is a great way to produce a unique piece and to liven up garments that lack character. Waxing is particularly effective with black jeans and creates a leather like appearance. We would be interested to see what you can achieve with your jeans so do send us some pictures of your work.