Using bleach to whiten or remove color from fabric is an ideal way to cold-water dye or tie-dye certain materials. However, never forget that chlorine bleach is a strong chemical that requires special handling. Here's what you need to know about bleaching clothing white.
Chlorine bleach is a potent chemical with toxic fumes that 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 might need to experiment with the strength of bleach that best fits your purposes. Try using 1 part bleach to 4 or 5 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 whether 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.
Also, 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 neutralizers, but the most common household solution is hydrogen peroxide. Soak your project in 2 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.
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 might be impossible to remove all color from certain items of clothing.
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 less effective.
- Not all fabrics are suited for the punch that bleach delivers. Even the smallest amount of bleach will cause wool and silk fibers to disintegrate.