Everybody has seen or heard about tie dye, but do you know about bleach tie dye? It’s similar to traditional tie dye in that you create a tie dye pattern with your item, but then you swap the dye out for bleach (or a bleach-like alternative). You also start with a dark shirt like black, red, or blue instead of the traditional white, so the pattern is created by removing the dye rather than adding it.
In this tutorial I am going to focus on just bleach, so we can take a look at the process and what some other colors, in addition to black, look like when bleached. If you do want to see other bleach options like Bleach Toilet Cleaner or Tulip’s own Reverse Tie Dye Kit, please take a look at my Reverse Tie Dye post which compares each option in detail.
What is the difference between Bleach Tie Dye and Reverse Tie Dye?
Some people believe that bleach tie dye and reverse tie dye are the same thing, but that is actually not true. Reverse tie dye starts off with the bleach tie dye process of removing dye/color from an already dyed item and creating a traditional tie dye pattern with the bleach. After completing the bleach tie dye process, the item is then re-dyed to add color back to where it was removed.
RELATED POST: How To Reverse Tie Dye: 3 Different Ways
What patterns work best for bleach tie dye?
For bleach tie dye I found that patterns starting with the shirt laying flat work best, like spiral or crumple. Any tie dye pattern that folds the shirt, like a heart or spider, can be problematic as the bleach might not be able to penetrate all of the layers evening, so the pattern is hard to make out. For this tutorial we will focus on the spiral and crumple patterns.
What fabric colors can be used for bleach tie dye?
Black items are most typically used for bleach tie dye, however, as I mentioned above, you can use any pre-dyed (preferably dark colored) shirt or item. The bleach will react to each color differently, so that is something to think about when deciding what color to use. For this tutorial I used a black shirt (which turns orange when bleached), a red shirt (which turns orange), and a turquoise shirt (which turns grey).
How to prep for bleach tie dyeing
When you tie dye, it is very helpful to wear old, ‘can get stained’ clothes. The same goes for bleach tie dyeing. In addition, however, it is EXTREMELY important to have good ventilation. Bleach gives off fumes that are strong and can be harmful if inhaled. Ideally, outdoors or in an open garage would be best. Since I didn’t have the luxury of either option I did the bleach tie dyeing in my kitchen with an open window and a fan in the window blowing the fumes outside. That worked fine.
Ok, ready to create some cool new patterns!?!
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BLEACH TIE DYE
What you’ll need:
MATERIAL LIST NOTES:
Bleach: Bleach does EXPIRE! I found this out firsthand by using some bleach that I had sitting around (probably bought it a little over a year ago). Sprayed a 50/50 bleach/water mix and then 100% bleach on a black shirt and it remained COMPLETELY black!! I would strongly suggest for this project that you buy a fresh bottle, so it has the best possible effect.
Spray Bottle: There are a number of tools/ways one could apply bleach, such as a spray bottle, squirt bottle, sponge brush or just dunking in a bucket. I, however, definitely prefer the spray bottle because it gives you control over where the dye goes and allows the bleach/water mix to absorb into the item well. I have tried a squirt bottle (as it typically gives great control in tie dyeing), but it doesn’t work well for bleach tie dye as the item starts out dry, so the liquid rolls right off (which is SUPER frustrating). The sponge brush takes too long, in my opinion, and the dunking in a bucket doesn’t allow for a lot of control of how saturated the fabric gets.
Baking sheet/rack versus just a workspace covered in plastic: Typically, I would suggest tie dyeing on a baking sheet and rack because it’s easier and less wasteful (of paper towel) than a plastic covered space. In the case of bleach tie dyeing, however, because the bleach is corrosive, I strongly suggest using either a baking sheet/rack OR a bucket or sink (like my stainless steel one). One plus for the rack is that it keeps the shirt off of the ground, so the extra bleach doesn’t get absorbed. If you are planning on tie dyeing and/or bleach dyeing a number of items now or in the future I strongly suggest the investment (and the ones I purchased are not expensive).
CREATING THE PATTERN
For bleach tie dyeing, start out with a dry shirt (which is different then when you typically tie dye). As you will be using a 50/50 bleach/water solution, there is enough liquid to absorb into the shirt, so no additional water is needed to create a nice pattern. Also, the additional water tends to dilute the bleach, making it less effective.
Spiral Tie Dye Pattern
1. To create the spiral tie dye pattern, lay the shirt flat on your work surface. Using a clothespin or your fingers, pinch where the center of the spiral should be and start twisting. Keep twisting while the shirt winds up around the center.
2. Once the shirt is completely twisted up, remove the clothespin. Place the first rubber band around the spiral by carefully sliding it under/over the shirt and across the center of the spiral. Add the second and third rubber bands as shown below, so it resembles a 6 slice pizza.
3. Once you have the 3 rubber bands on, adjust them, so that they are evenly spaced around the shirt. You can also tuck any loose ends into the rubber bands, so the circle shape is nice and tight.
Here is a red shirt that I also prepped with a spiral pattern for bleach tie dyeing.
Crumple Tie Dye Pattern
1. To create the crumple tie dye pattern, lay the shirt flat on the work surface. Using your fingers, start to scrunch the shirt together in the center. Continue to gather it together towards the center until you have a crumpled circle of a shirt.
2. Place the first rubber band around the crumpled pattern by carefully sliding it under/over the shirt and across the center. Add the second, third, and fourth rubber bands as shown below, so it resembles an 8 slice pizza.
3. Once you have the 4 rubber bands on, adjust them, so that they are evenly spaced around the shirt. Tuck any loose ends into the rubber bands, so the circle shape is nice and tight. You can also add a rubber band around the shirt to help hold everything together.
Here is the turquoise shirt that I prepped for bleach tie dyeing in a crumple pattern.
BLEACH TIE DYEING THE SHIRTS
4. Fill a spray bottle with 50% bleach/50% water and gently shake to mix.
5. Set the shirt on the baking tray and rack or in/on another protected surface like a stainless steel sink. Liberally spray the top and sides of the shirt, allowing the mixture to soak in.
6. Turn the shirt over and repeat, so both sides are covered.
How Long Should I Let The Bleach Tie Dye Sit?
7. When both sides of the shirt are saturated, put it in a plastic bag. It will take about 15-20 minutes for the dye to be removed (and the color of the shirt to change). Black fabric will change to a light orange. Red fabric will change to orange and turquoise will change to grey.
RINSING AND WASHING
Once the bleach solution has removed enough dye, it’s time to rinse and wash the shirt. This is an important step as, if done in the wrong order or rushed, it can muddy up the nice pattern you created or leave bleach in the fabric.
8. Take the shirt out of the plastic bag and put it in a sink or bucket (something that can get dirty and won’t stain). We have a stainless steel kitchen sink, so I use that. You can cut/take off the rubber bands and then rinse the shirt in COLD water. The cold part is critical because it allows excess solution to wash out slowly while not bleaching the remaining dark parts of the shirt.
9. Repeat this rinse process several times.
10. Once the shirt is thoroughly rinsed, you can wash it in the washing machine either by itself or with several other rinsed reverse tie dyed items. Wash on warm or cold with a bit of detergent.
How To Neutralize Bleach In Fabric?
If you are not going to wash the shirt in the washing machine right away after rinsing, any remaining bleach in the fabric should be neutralized to stop any further color change/corrosion.
11a. To do this, add 1 part 3% hydrogen peroxide to 10 parts water (example: 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide with 10 cups water).
11b. Dunk the shirt in the solution and swish around a bit.
11c. Let it sit for 10-15min before taking it out.
11d. Rinse in some cool water and squeeze out the excess water.
12. Dry the shirt(s) in the dryer or let air dry (which is my preference as they last longer).
BLEACH TIE DYE RESULTS
So here are the results of bleach tie dyeing our 3 different color shirts.
I hope you have fun with this unique twist on tie dye! Happy Tie Dyeing!!