How To Tie-Dye With Bleach (Reverse Tie-Dye) – Full Guide

An interesting pattern made by bleach tie-dyeing a black garment.

Reverse tie-dyeing is a form of discharge dyeing, which is when chemicals are used to remove existing dye from a piece of fabric.

Sodium hypochlorite, or common household bleach, is the chemical of choice that is used with reverse tie-dyeing.

Reverse tie-dyeing with bleach works best on cellulose fabrics, such as cotton or linen. Bleach should not be used on polyester, spandex, wool, silk, or other synthetic or animal-based fibers. 

Supplies Needed:

The list below contains all the supplies needed for four different methods of reverse bleaching. You won’t need all the supplies if you plan on only trying one or two methods.

  • Bleach
  • Rubber bands
  • Metal tongs
  • Rubber gloves
  • Plastic spray bottle
  • Plastic tarp to protect work area
  • Bleach safe containers
  • Fabric (the darker the color the more striking the results)
  • Safety glasses
  • Bleach neutralizing agent, such as Anti-chlor or 3% hydrogen peroxide
  • Bleach pen
  • Stamps
  • Paper towels
  • Old rags
  • Glass plate
  • Tie-dye
  • Soda ash
  • Plastic squeeze bottles
  • Water
  • Large plastic Ziplock bags
  • Bucket

Method #1: Soak the Fabric in Bleach 

Soaking the fabric in bleach is an easy way to ensure that you lighten large areas of the fabric and don’t accidentally miss a spot. 

1. Get the Fabric Wet

Soak the fabric in water. Then wring it out until it is still damp but not soaking wet. 

2. Fold Your Pattern

Fold the fabric into your desired pattern, and fasten it with rubber bands or alternative materials

3. Pour the Bleach

Pour the bleach into a bleach-safe container. You only need enough bleach to completely cover the piece of fabric. Be sure to wear gloves and other safety gear when handling bleach. 

4. Soak the Fabric in the Bleach

Put the fabric in the bleach, making sure it’s completely submerged.

Wait until the bleach begins to visibly change the color of the fabric, anywhere from 2-20 minutes depending on the type of fabric being bleached.

A thinner material, such as a T-shirt, will take a shorter time to change color than a thicker material, such as a sweatshirt.

5. Rinse the Fabric

Use the tongs to remove the fabric. Hold it over the container for a minute to allow the excess bleach to drip off, then remove the rubber bands. Run the fabric under cold water.

6. Dip in a Neutralizing Bath

Bleach will continue to remove dye from the fabric unless you apply a stopping agent. Anti-chlor or Thiosulfate are two common bleach neutralizers that can be found at craft stores.

Amazon also carries bleach neutralizers, such as this product by 5th Generation

3% hydrogen peroxide can also be used, although it is not as cost effective as Anti-chlor. 

Pour the bleach-stopping agent into a container, and submerge the fabric in the neutralizing bath.

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7. Wash and Dry the Fabric

After dipping the fabric in the neutralizing bath, launder the fabric as usual. 

Method #2: Spray the Fabric With Bleach

Spraying fabric with bleach is best done outdoors or in a very well-ventilated area to keep from inhaling concentrated fumes. Be sure to wear gloves when handling bleach.

1. Get the Fabric Wet

As you did in Method #1, soak the fabric in water, then wring it out so that it’s damp but not dripping.

2. Fold the Fabric (Optional)

Fold the fabric into your desired pattern, and bind it with rubber bands.

Optionally, you can skip this step and simply spray differing amounts of bleach on the fabric to create your design.

3. Spray Bleach on the Fabric

Carefully pour bleach and water into a plastic spray bottle at a 1:1 ratio. Spray the bleach mix onto the fabric.

To create varying degrees of lightness, you can spray a little bleach onto the fabric, wait a few minutes, and then spray more bleach onto the fabric. 

4. Neutralize the Bleach

After 30-60 minutes, rinse the fabric under cold water, and then dip it in a neutralizing bath. 

5. Wash and Dry

Remove the garment from the neutralizing bath, and launder as usual. 

Here is a variation of this method that uses a brush instead of a spray bottle.

Method #3: Pour Bleach on the Fabric

This is another fun option to create fun, unusual effects.

1. Get the Fabric Wet

As with Methods #1 and #2, get your fabric slightly wet.

2. Fold Your Pattern

Crumple or fold the fabric into your desired pattern, and then bind it with rubber bands.

3. Pour the Bleach

Put the fabric in the sink or on an old rag outside, and pour bleach on the fabric. Be sure to turn the garment over and bleach both sides.

As with the spray technique, you can wait a few minutes and then pour a little more bleach onto the fabric to vary the intensity of the design.

4. Neutralize the Bleach

Let the fabric sit for around 30 minutes or until it begins to turn an orangey color. Rinse the fabric in cold water, and then dip it in a neutralizing bath as described in the instructions for Method #1.

5. Wash and Dry

Remove the fabric from the neutralizing bath either with tongs or with gloves, and launder as usual. 

Method #4: Stamp Bleach on the Fabric

Bleach pens contain thickened hypochlorite bleach, which makes them ideal for creating a stamped design on your fabric, as the bleach won’t run like regular liquid bleach does.

If you don’t have a bleach pen, you can create a stamp pad with bleach and paper towels.

1. Pick Out Your Stamp

Whether you make your own stamp or purchase one at a craft store, you want to make sure that the stamp doesn’t have a lot of details, as they won’t show up with this method.

2. Lay Your Fabric Out Flat

Laying your fabric flat will give you the cleanest stamping surface. 

3. Apply the Bleach Pen to the Stamp

Squeeze the bleach pen onto the stamp and use the applicator to smooth the gel evenly across the stamp.

4. Create a Stamp Pad (Optional) 

Line a glass plate with paper towels and add bleach. Dip the stamp onto the stamp pad and apply it to the fabric. 

5. Stamp the Fabric

Stamp your desired pattern all over the fabric. Don’t forget to do both sides!

6. Neutralize the Bleach

Let the fabric sit for at least 30 minutes, and then dip it in a neutralizing bath.

7. Rinse the Fabric

Rinse the fabric under cold water.

8. Wash and Dry the Fabric

Launder the fabric as normal. Once dry, it should be ready to wear!

How To Re-Dye Bleached Clothing

Once you have removed areas of color through reverse tie-dyeing, you can go back and dye those areas in any way you wish.

1. Get the Fabric Wet

If the tie-dye you are using contains soda ash, take your reverse tie-dyed garment and either run it under water in the sink and then wring it out or apply water with a spray bottle until it is damp.

2. Soda Ash Bath 

If the tie-dye you are using does not contain soda ash, you will need to soak your reverse tie-dyed item in a soda ash bath or a soda ash bath alternative.

Mix the soda ash bath in a large bucket at a ratio of ½ cup of soda ash to a gallon of water.

Soak the item for at least 20 minutes, and then remove the fabric and wring it out so that it is damp but not dripping.

3. Fold the Fabric

Fold the fabric into your desired pattern, and tie it in place with rubber bands. 

4. Dye the Fabric

Mix the tie-dye with water in the plastic squeeze bottles and apply to the fabric.

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Pay attention to what colors you put next to each other as they can combine to create new, vibrant colors…or muted shades of brown.

Red+Blue Purple
Red+Yellow Orange
Yellow+Blue Green
Red+Green Brown
Yellow+Purple Brown
Blue+Orange Brown

5. Let the Dye Soak In

Put the fabric in a plastic Ziplock bag, and seal it shut. Let it sit for 8-24 hours. The longer it sits, the brighter the colors tend to be. 

6. Rinse Out the Dye

Remove the fabric from the plastic bag, take off the rubber bands, and rinse it with cold water until the water runs clear.

7. Wash and Dry

Wash the tie-dyed garment alone or with other tie-dyed items with hot water and regular detergent. Dry on high heat. 

That’s a Wrap! 

Depending on the reverse tie-dyeing method used, the entire process should take anywhere from an hour to over a day.

Once the bleach starts to turn the fabric an orangey color, you will know that it is ready to be rinsed. 

Bleach can eat through synthetic fabrics as well as fabrics made from protein fibers, such as wool or silk, so it’s a good idea to stick with cellulose fabrics such as cotton or linen when reverse tie-dyeing. 

Bleach can also damage cellulose fabrics if left on for too long, so it’s important to rinse the items as soon as you are done bleaching them.

A neutralizing bath will stop the bleach from destroying the fabric.

Last update on 2024-05-28 at 03:29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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I am a writer and an artist taking opportunities every day to transform my dreams into reality. I love learning new things and am always creating and innovating. I worked as an Art Instructor, teaching painting and art techniques to artists of all levels and ages. I have hosted countless paint parties and taught children’s art classes both in my home as well as an art teacher at a Montessori school.