It's easy to bleach clothes white, but before you get started, there are a few things you need to know. Using bleach to lighten or remove the color from fabric is an ideal way to cold-water dye or tie-dye certain materials. But never forget that chlorine bleach is a very strong chemical, and you need to be careful when using it, even in small amounts.
A word of warning: Over-bleaching will significantly weaken any fabric. When you use bleach, think more about lightening dark clothing, not completely whitening it. Many dyes actually become part of the fabric molecules, so it may be impossible to remove all color from certain items of clothing altogether.
Chlorine bleach is a very potent chemical with toxic fumes which can stain wood floors and carpeting, so work outdoors if at all possible. If an outdoor workspace isn't available, at least work in a well-ventilated area. Wear rubber gloves and an apron; skin contact with bleach can cause chemical burns.
Try Dip Dyeing First
You may need to experiment with the strength of bleach that best fits your purposes. Try using one part bleach to four or five parts water. Always dilute the bleach as straight bleach can damage clothing, irritate your skin, and ruin the other clothes in your next few wash cycles.
Leave your clothing submerged in the bleach solution for at least five minutes. Check it every minute to see if it has lightened to your liking. Keep in mind that the color will be a shade or two lighter when it is dry.
Bleach Dyeing Via Spray
Bleaching to remove color is best done in small areas of the clothing where you want the lightened area to stand out. For jeans, use a spray bottle to get a spattered look that won't wreck the denim. Try tying up clothing for a tie-dye bleach dip, or placing objects like leaves or stencils on the fabric for a bleach-resisting effect.
Try creating a design on your clothes by using a bleach pen. Make sure to place a piece of cardboard in between clothing layers, and rinse the excess bleach off quickly and completely.
Neutralizing Bleach After Dyeing
After you are done dyeing, you need to stop the chemical process of the chlorine. Rinse the fabric with water. You can use professional-grade bleach stoppers, but the most common household solution is hydrogen peroxide. Soak your project in two parts hydrogen peroxide to 10 parts water for at least 10 minutes.
Never use vinegar or ammonia to neutralize bleach because mixing either of these chemicals with bleach can create a toxic gas.
Additional Tips for Successful Bleaching
- Bleach works best on cotton, rayon, and linen. It will also work to dye synthetics like polyester.
- Use room temperature, fresh bleach (from a newly-opened bottle) for the best results. Used and cold bleach are much less effective.
- Not all fabrics were created equal, and not all of them are suited for the punch that bleach delivers. Even the smallest amount of bleach will cause wool and silk fibers to disintegrate.