Dyes are not the only way to change to look of your clothes. Bleach can also be used to strip out color and leave you with interesting patterns.
This technique of removing color with bleach is called reverse-dyeing.
Reverse-dyeing produces different results depending on the starting color. In this post I’ll explain what to expect when bleaching the most common colors.
- How to bleach fabric
- Fabrics you can and cannot bleach
- What colors to expect when bleaching
- What color do you get when bleaching Black
- What color do you get when bleaching Dark Grey
- What color do you get when bleaching Dark Blue
- What color do you get when bleaching Purple
- What color do you get when bleaching Brown
- What color do you get when bleaching Red
- What color do you get when bleaching Green
- What color do you get when bleaching Beige
- What color do you get when bleaching Light Grey
- What color do you get when bleaching Yellow
- What color do you get when bleaching Pink
- What color do you get when bleaching Light Blue
- What color do you get when bleaching White
- What type of dye is best for discharging
- Best colors to discharge
- What type of bleach should you use?
- How long to keep bleach on the fabric for best results
- Can bleach damage fabric?
How to bleach fabric
Bleaching fabric is as simple as pouring household bleach on a garment. Bleach reacts with the fibers, oxidizing it and stripping away color.
It’s even possible to dye the fabric a different color once it’s been bleached. The exact process is explained in more details in this post about how to reverse-dye with bleach.
Always wear gloves when working with bleach and make sure the area is well ventilated.
Keep in mind that the bleaching process is not reversible, it permanently changes the colors of your fabric. Be careful not to spill bleach on your good clothes.
Fabrics you can and cannot bleach
Some fabric materials do not react well to bleach. Some of them won’t change color and others will get badly damaged.
The best fabric to use is 100% cotton. It takes bleach well and is resistant to its damaging effects.
|Bleach-safe||Do not bleach|
Most synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, and acrylic are resistant to the oxidizing effects of bleach and won’t change color.
Protein fibers such as wool and silk will get badly damaged by bleach and should never be discharged. These fibers are weak to the effects of bleach and get dissolved.
Cellulose fabric like cotton, linen, hemp, and rayon can be bleached to change their color. They can take bleach with minimal damage.
What colors to expect when bleaching
|Original color||Color after bleaching|
What color do you get when bleaching Black
Black is a mixed color composed of a varying amount of the three primary colors. Some blacks are more heavy on the blue side, others are more reddish.
Black will most often discharge to a red or orange color when bleached.
The result will be slightly different depending on the exact composition of the black. Contrary to what you might think, black does not discharge to grey. This is due to the fact that the blue component discharges better, so you are left with more red.
What color do you get when bleaching Dark Grey
Dark grey is similar in composition as black. Only, it is less dark. You can expect the resulting color to be lighter than if you had bleached black.
Dark grey will most often discharge to a orange or pink color when bleached.
The darker the grey is at the start, the darker the resulting color will be.
What color do you get when bleaching Dark Blue
Dark blue is a deep color that discharges well. Depending on the exact shade, it can turn into a variety of different colors.
Dark blue most often turns to light blue or pink when bleached. Royal blue, for example, turns turquoise when bleached.
What color do you get when bleaching Purple
Purple is made up of red and blue. Since blue discharges better than red, you can expect the final result to be reddish.
Purple turns to red or pink when bleached. Darker shades of purple will result in red, while lighter shades will give you pink.
What color do you get when bleaching Brown
Brown is made up of the three primary colors: red, blue, and yellow. Since blue and yellow discharge well, you can expect more red to be left over when discharging.
Brown turns to pink when bleached. Darker browns may turn darker, while light brown turns to off-white.
What color do you get when bleaching Red
Red is a primary color that is generally hardest to discharge. Depending on the shade and specific hue, you can expect the result to lighten, but not turn white.
Red most often turns to pink when bleached. Very light reds can turn white.
What color do you get when bleaching Green
Green is made up of yellow and blue, both colors that are easy to discharge. It discharges well even when it’s a deep green.
Green will turn to white or yellowish off-white when bleached.
What color do you get when bleaching Beige
Beige is a light brown. It is made up of all three primary colors. Since it is light, it can discharge to off-white.
Beige most often turns to pink or off-white when bleached.
Since it has some red in it, beige will often give you a pinkish off-white color when discharged.
What color do you get when bleaching Light Grey
Grey is made up of all three primary colors. Since yellow and blue discharge the best, you will most likely be left with a pinkish white color
Light Grey turns to pink or off-white when bleached.
What color do you get when bleaching Yellow
Yellow is the lightest color and one of the easiest to discharge. It gets bleached easily and doesn’t have many variations. It will only give you white or yellowish off-white depending on the exact dye.
Yellow turns to white or off-white when bleached.
What color do you get when bleaching Pink
Pink is a lighter version of red. While red is hard to discharge, pink is light enough that it can give you a reddish near-white color.
Pink most often changes to white or reddish off-white when bleached.
What color do you get when bleaching Light Blue
Since blue is easy to discharge, light blue will give you a paler version of it or even white depending on the shade.
Light blue gives you white or bluish off-white when bleached.
What color do you get when bleaching White
White is the absence of dye. Since it doesn’t contain any color to discharge, it will stay white. Bleach is often used to whiten fabric.
White stays white when bleached.
What type of dye is best for discharging
The best type of dye to discharge are fiber-reactive dyes. Dyes as used in tie-dye are the most reliable.
To obtain repeatable results, bleach garments that you’ve dyed yourself using fiber-reactive dyes.
Since clothing manufacturers used different kinds of dyes, you can get unexpected results. Similar colored fabric from two different companies can give you different results when bleached.
Bleaching fabric you’ve tie-dyed yourself will give you better control over the outcome.
Best colors to discharge
The best colors to bleach are dark and deep tones. They give you better contrast between bleached and unbleached areas.
Black is the color most often used when reverse-dyeing. It gives you the best contrast. The discharged areas can easily be filled back in with a different color afterward.
Others colors such as dark grey, dark blue, and purple are all great alternatives.
What type of bleach should you use?
The main active ingredient in bleach is sodium hypochlorite. In liquid household bleach its average concentration is 5%.
Regular store-bought household bleach is all that’s needed. It is able to oxidize and change the color of clothes.
Do not use color-safe bleach. It does not contain any sodium hypochlorite and will not change the color of your fabric.
How long to keep bleach on the fabric for best results
Keep your bleach on the fabric for 20 minutes. This discharges most of the color. Leaving it longer gives you diminishing returns.
Leaving it 10 minutes or less will give you darker, less discharged colors. The less time bleach has to react, the more color it leaves on the shirt.
If you want more information, check out this post which goes further into how to reverse tie-dye with bleach.
Can bleach damage fabric?
The longer you keep bleach on the fabric, the more color will be discharged. The tradeoff is that leaving it longer will weaken the fabric.
Bleach slowly eats through fabric, but not enough to damage the integrity of most cotton fabric. At least not in a few hours.
I’ve had success with leaving thick 100% cotton fabric submerged in undiluted household bleach for 24 hours without any visible damage to the fabric. The black color discharged almost completely and the fabric was not damaged.
The best way to prevent holes is to neutralize the bleach with hydrogen peroxide or with bleach stop.