bleach dyed fabrics

Dyeing with bleach =easy fabric fun in a bottle

Dyeing with bleach might be one of the most interesting ways to add some texture and design to plain fabric.

If you think about it, designers have been using bleach on jeans for forever. It’s for good reason. A little bleach with a little thought can totally change the look. A standard pair of jeans becomes something with a little more edge. It transforms into something you’d never notice to wearable art.

Not too bad for something that’s hanging out on your laundry shelf, eh?

Here are some ideas for using bleach to make your DIY fabric. We’ll talk about what kinds of fabrics work well for dyeing with bleach. Then I’ll show you how to create patterned fabric with reverse tie dye and random stuff you have in your house.

Bring on the Clorox!

Pinterest image: "easy fabric dyeing with bleach" with bleach dyed fabrics

What fabrics work well for dyeing with bleach?

Dyeing with bleach is an undo kind of process. You’re taking the dye that’s in the fabric and removing it by applying the bleach.

This is a time where you have to think backwards. Light colored fabrics are not going to make for dramatic color contrasts. But that isn’t to say that you have to stick to black.

Fabrics that are deeply saturated are usually good candidates. Think jewel tones here! And of course classic denim + bleach = happy face forever. Indigo-dyed fabrics respond extremely well to reverse dyeing, hence bleached jeans.

The one thing that’s an absolute must is for those fabrics to be made from natural fibers. Here’s your best bets:

  • Cotton
  • Linen
  • Rayon

When you think about it, that’s a lot to choose from. Just among the cottons, there’s denim, shirtings, t-shirts, twill and jacquards.

How to test a fabric for bleach dyeing

If you want to see if a fabric is a good candidate for dyeing with bleach, first snip off a little scrap. It does not need to be huge here.

Pour a couple drops of straight bleach onto one side of the swatch. Next, wait a few minutes and see what happens. If you see the dye dissolving and lighter color shining through, this is a good fabric for bleaching.

Okay, so what happens if the fabric doesn’t change? Chances are your fabric of choice is either totally synthetic or there’s enough percentage of it to hinder the bleach from doing its thing. 100% polyester will laugh at bleach!

bleach fabric samples

If you want to try bleach dyeing on a cotton t-shirt, dab a tiny bit of bleach in a hidden spot. If you like the results, move on to the next step!

You might be surprised with the results. This 60% cotton/40% polyester t-shirt turned this unexpectedly lovely pink!

Set up your workstation

Do yourself a solid and work outside when you’re bleaching fabric. Bleach is not the most toxic thing you’ll ever use to dye fabric with, but it does stink.

Set out a plastic dropcloth on the ground or a table.

Next, set out your fabric on your surface.

After that, fill your spray bottle with half water, half bleach.

Have a bucket handy filled with water for a quick rinse.

Yardage or finished garment

Whether you’re block printing or ice dyeing or overdyeing, this question comes up. Should I change up the fabric on a finished garment or yardage?

The answer is YES!

You can dye either yardage or finished garments. Both have their advantages. If you want to bleach dye a pair of jeans with an ombre effect, you’ll have a better time dipping the finished jeans.

If on the other hand, you want to make an all-over effect, go for yardage. There’s something to be said about having leftovers of hand dyed fabric for future projects!

On to getting the fabric ready.

Add the resist materials to your fabric

Set out stuff on your fabric. You can rip pieces of cardboard, put lace on top of the fabric or grab leaves from your backyard.

Wherever the stuff is, the original color is going to stay. Spend a couple minutes creating a pattern on your fabric with your materials.

Here I spent some time making stripes with washi tape.

For the t-shirt, I first accordion folded it, then folded it into a big triangle. Rubberbands keeps it intact.

Next spray with the bleach mixture around your resist materials. Definitely wear gloves here!

If you’re using a porous material like lace, take the lace off the fabric as soon as you’ve sprayed around it.

Dyeing with a bleach pen

Another alternative is to use a bleach pen. Squeeze out the pen in stripes, dots or other designs. First draw out your lines with a ruler and a fabric marker. After that, trace over the lines with the bleach pen.

I bleached out yardage of this cotton/linen for a shirtdress. You can see how I saved space for the pockets to change up the design from stripes to dots.

bleached marigold dress

Here’s simple bleach pen dots on canvas on a pair of DIY Dritz Espadrilles.

dritz espadrilles with bleach pen
DIY Dritz espadrilles with bleach pen on canvas

Let the bleach do it’s work

This is the fun part. Walk away from the fabric for a few minutes. You’ll have to watch it here. Sometimes the bleach will work very quickly, and sometimes it’ll take a little longer.

You can let the fabric bleach out all the way until white or stop somewhere before that point. It’s like playing dye chicken, and you’re in control here of when it’s time to stop the process.

bleached marigold dress

When you like the color, first take off the resist materials if you haven’t already. Then rinse out the fabric in the water bucket.

Neutralize the bleach

To finish it off, squeeze out the extra water from your rinsed fabric. Next spray it liberally with hydrogen peroxide. Let it sit for a few minutes to allow the peroxide to neutralize the bleach.

You can also do this with a mix of vinegar and water. Don’t fret too much over this step. As long as you’re washing your fabric straight away, you’re probably good.

Wash your fabric

Finish off your newly bleach dyed fabric by putting your fabric through a regular machine wash. Dry as you usually would, and you’re set!

Enjoy the results!

From there you can use your fabric any way you’d like. The chambray with the bleach pen became a Blank Slate Marigold Dress.

bleached marigold dress

So that’s how easy dyeing with bleach can be. It’s a simple way to create something different with plain fabric and you’re guaranteed to make something unique!

More dye techniques to try:

How to overdye fabric
How to overdye fabric

Because dye doesn’t always have to be added to white.

How to ice dye fabric
How to ice dye fabric

Ice + dye = super drama. It’s the easiest dyeing you’ll ever try.

14 thoughts on “Dyeing with bleach =easy fabric fun in a bottle”

  1. Wow! What you did with that fabric was awesome. I love the liberty cotton accents to. Simply wonderful. I’ve been itching for a shirt dress too. I might try that pattern. Hmmmm.

    1. elizabethmadethis

      Thank you! I love the shirt dress style, and I like that this one is more fitted at the waist than most…that’s definitely hard to find in a pattern.

  2. The time you spent on the fabric was well worth it–it’s so much more memorable of a dress now. The stripe placement is great, too!

    1. elizabethmadethis

      Thanks Helena! It was fun to mess with the pattern placement, and this will not be the last time that I reach for a bleach pen!

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  5. Love it!
    Question- I have a couch I bought 2nd hand, not knowing the cover fabric was in bad condition and I haven’t been successful at cleaning it.. not to mention it’s kind of a weird bold green color. so Im trying to think what I can do- I thought about using bleach to give it a faded distressed feel but It’s really hard to get the cover off of the couch so I was wondering if I can use bleach directly on the couch? Thanks!

    1. Hey Daniella, I would love to be able to say go for it, but you’ll have a tough time with bleaching unless you can get the cover off. There’s a couple issues: bleach will continue to work on a fabric until it’s white, so if you don’t want it to keep bleaching out, you have to neutralize the bleach and wash it pronto. The other thing is that bleached fabric at least for me has that pool house scent to it even after washing for a little while. If you could get the cover off, I would take a cotton swab with a couple drops of bleach and test it in an inconspicuous spot on the cover. Watch the fabric and see how it responds to the bleach. If you like it, I might go for it. Good luck!!

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