How to Tie-dye with Bleach (Reverse Tie-dye)

Reverse-dyed t-shirt made with bleach

Dyeing with bleach is a way to tie-dye in reverse, to remove color instead of adding it. As the bleach reacts with fabric, it begins breaking down the color present in the fibers.

Reverse-dyeing can be used with any tie-dye folding technique or dyeing pattern. The only prerequisite is for the fabric to already be colored. A popular alternative is mineral washing which uses bleach to weather clothes and give a vintage look.

How to reverse tie-dye a shirt with bleach

The reverse-dye technique trades dyes for a discharge agent. Bleach is a common product that can remove color from natural fabric.

Once you’ve removed some color you can add in some new ones. You can tie-dye a bleached shirt to fill in the spaces with new colors. This is totally optional. You can leave your reverse-dye shirt as it is.

This guide was created with the help of our in-house tie-dye experts. Follow these steps and you’ll reverse-dye on the first try. We’ve seen the overview, now let’s see exactly how reverse-dye works one step at a time.

1. Plan your project

Begin planning the look of your shirt. If you have a technique in mind, go for it. Check our tie-dye patterns if you need ideas.

2. Get your reverse-dye supplies

You don’t need much to do this project. Make sure to get a cotton garment if you plan on dyeing it afterward. Here’s the list of essential items:

3. Set up your work area

Locate a flat space to fold and reverse-dye your shirt. A kitchen table is perfect for these tasks. Prepare a cookie sheet, towel or plastic tablecloth to prevent spillage.

4. Dampen the shirt

Soak, then wring out the cotton shirt. A quick wash and spin in the washing machine is ideal. You can also soak it in water for 2 minutes and wring it out by hand. We want a slightly damp shirt to help with folding.

5. Fold the shirt with a folding technique

There are many ways to fold a shirt. All the tie-dye folding techniques work with reverse-dyeing. The most common techniques to reverse-dye are the crumple, spiral, and fan fold.

We’ll start by using the spiral technique. Follow these steps to fold your shirt:

  1. Start with a damp cotton shirt flat on a table
  2. With your right hand, pinch the center of the shirt
  3. Twist clockwise to turn the fabric
  4. The shirt should now start forming pleats
  5. Reset your hand position and continue twisting
  6. Place the pleats around the center as they form
  7. Continue twisting and placing the fabric until fully folded
  8. Tie the spiral-folded shirt with rubber bands

6. Prepare a bleach and water solution

Mix one cup of bleach with one cup of cold water. This first step is preparing your discharge solution. Undiluted bleach is too strong and can damage our fabric. A 1:1 ratio of water and bleach works perfectly.

How long does a bleach solution stay good for?

Bleach only stays good for 24 hours when mixed with water.

Should I mix it with cold or hot water?

Mix the bleach with cold water. If you use hot water, it will accelerate the decomposition of bleach.

7. Pour the bleach solution on the shirt

Pour the bleach solution on the shirt. There are multiple ways to do this. The most common is simply pouring it from a squeeze bottle. Other ways include a spray bottle and submerging the shirt in a bleach-water bath.

Fill a squirt bottle with the bleach solution. Pour the solution directly on the folded shirt. Use as much as you think is right. You can place the bleach however you feel like. Pour it in lines, in section or randomly.

Should the shirt be dry or wet when applying bleach?

Bleach works on both dry and wet fabric. A dry shirt will give sharper lines to your design. Damp or wet fabric facilitates the spread of the solution.

Since it’s easier to fold the shirt damp, this is usually how we will reverse-dye it. You can also fold the shirt, then wait a day for it to dry up.

8. Let the bleach react with the color

Let the bleach solution react for 15 minutes. Bleach starts reacting with the fabric as soon as they touch. This reaction continues up until we neutralize the bleach.

The longer we wait, the more color is removed. You will see the color changing as you wait. The resulting color depends on time, but also on the starting color of your fabric.

How long does it take to bleach a black shirt?

It takes 15 minutes to bleach a black shirt to get sufficient results for tie-dye. Inspect the shirt after 15 minutes have passed. Make a choice depending on the state of the shirt if you want to continue or not.

How long can you let bleach stay on the shirt?

Bleach can be left on the shirt for a maximum of 30 minutes. Longer than this and you risk damaging the fibers. The corrosive action of the bleach persists up until you neutralize it.

9. Neutralize the bleach with hydrogen peroxide

Pour hydrogen peroxide on the shirt. Let it sit for a few minutes to seep into the fabric. Hydrogen peroxide will deactivate the bleach. Hydrogen peroxide 10% is best for the job, but lower concentrations also work.

You need to neutralize the bleach. Rinsing alone is not enough to completely remove bleach. Some molecules get trapped in the fibers. Leaving untreated bleach on the shirt causes holes over time.

What happens if I don’t neutralize the bleach?

If you don’t neutralize it, bleach will stay in the shirt and burn holes in them in as little as 2 months. Be sure to neutralize the shirt if you plan on keeping your clothes or if you are selling them.

10. Rinse out the shirt in the sink

Bring the shirt to the sink. Rinse the shirt under warm water. Open up the shirt and continue rinsing it. Your goal is to purge the bleach molecules from every nook and cranny of the shirt.

11. Washing and caring for your bleached shirt

Run the shirt through a complete wash cycle on cold. Use a small amount of detergent. Hang dry or tumble dry.

How long will my bleached shirt last for?

When you neutralize the bleach, the shirt can last indefinitely. If you don’t you will find small holes appearing on the shirt after a few months.

Can you wash multiple reverse-dye shirts together?

Yes, you can wash multiple shirts in the same load. Make sure to neutralize and rinse the shirts properly so they don’t stain themselves with bleach.

Can you wash a reverse-dye shirt with regular clothing?

Yes, you can safely wash your reverse-dye shirt with regular clothing.

Bleach safety

Take proper precautions when handling and using bleach. Put on a mask and some bleach-resistant gloves. Only use bleach in well ventilated areas.

More Reverse tie-dye patterns

Completed tie-dye shirt made using the Reverse Spine pattern.

Reverse Spine

Completed tie-dye shirt made using the Reverse Spiral pattern.

Reverse Spiral

Can you dye a shirt after bleaching it?

You can tie-dye a reverse shirt like you would with a blank shirt. The colors
will fill in the spaces left by the bleach. Fold the shirt again and dye it. Follow the basic tie-dye process.

  1. Wet, then wring out or spin the reverse shirt until damp
  2. Fold the shirt using any folding technique
  3. Prepare your dye colors
  4. Apply the dye solution to the shirt
  5. Let the dye set for eight hours in a warm room
  6. Rinse out and open up the shirt under cold water
  7. Wash and dry your tie-dye shirt

Can you only bleach black shirts?

No, while black is the color most often bleached, you can reverse-dye any color.

You can bleach any color your want. Keep in mind that they do not react equally with bleach. Some of them will discharge to a near white, while others are more resistant.

What color to expect when bleaching a shirt?

Black shirts usually turn a reddish-orange. Gray, brown, and purple often turn pinkish, while light blue can turn white.

It really depends on a few specifics. Most importantly it depends on the specific dye present on the fabric, how recently it was dyed, and what discharge agent we are using.

Check out this post which goes into further details on the colors to expect when bleaching a shirt.

Can you turn a black shirt white?

The result will be different depending on the specific black dye used originally on the fabric. In perfect circumstances and while using the dyes that discharge best you can get very close to white in color.

Original colorColor after bleaching
Dark GreyOrange/Pink
Dark BlueBlue/Pink
Light GreyOff-white/Pink
Light BlueWhite/Off-white

Most colors will become pale enough so that you can dye over them. Some colors may appear pinkish but are easy covered with dye.

Can you bleach a tie-dye shirt?

Yes. In fact, you often can get the best results by bleaching a newly dyed shirt. The color is fresher and easier to remove. Furthermore, you have the full gamut of colors to bleach at your disposal.

What fabrics can you bleach?

The reverse tie-dye process works with any cellulose fibers (cotton, linen, hemp). Be careful to only use 100% cellulose fabric. Stay clear from blends containing synthetic fibers.

Do not use bleach on clothing containing synthetic fibers. Bleach will damage polyester and nylon. Do not use bleach on animal fibers such as wool or silk. They will also be irreparably damaged.

Bleach-safeDo not bleach