How Bleach Works On Clothes

Bleach is an easy and inexpensive way to alter the color of garments. Also, it is an excellent method for reviving things that have been accidentally splattered with bleach but are otherwise in good condition.

By tie-dyeing, reverse tie-dyeing, or even stencil bleaching, you may create some extremely unique designs on textiles. Despite this, the output color sometimes does not match up with our expectations.

What color does bleached clothing take on? When clothing is bleached, it can take on a range of colors, not just white.

It is fully dependent on the bleach concentration, the fabric, the kind of dye, and the duration of the bleach’s contact with the cloth.

How Bleach Works On Clothes

If you wish to engage in creative garment bleaching, you need first to become familiar with the colors you may get throughout this process. This means that you’ll avoid unpleasant surprises brought about by unanticipated color outcomes.

To get you started, here is a comprehensive article that describes the colors that many types of clothes take on when bleached. We will also explain which types of fabrics bleach the best, and what to avoid when bleaching clothes

What Affects The Look Of Bleached Clothing? 

When creating unique colored designs for garments, you do not need to start with white and invest much in dyes. Bleach is used to color textiles, simulating the appearance of dyeing.

This may come as a surprise to those who have never used bleach creatively before, which is understandable. For decades, bleach has been a home essential for cleaning, disinfecting, whitening garments, and removing stains.

As a result, the majority of people mistakenly believe that bleaching is synonymous with lightening or whitening garments, which is not necessarily true. As you will see in a minute, a dark purple does not turn into a brilliant purple or white quickly.

Bleaching clothing generates a variety of effects that are depending on several factors, including the fabric type, the kind of dye used by the manufacturer, and the bleach saturation.

Concentration Of Bleach

Bleach is a highly concentrated and caustic chemical that eats away at surfaces. Regardless of how light you like the colors to be, never directly apply undiluted bleach on fabric.

You’ll end up damaging the fibers and the clothing will rip after a few further washing. Additionally, it is discouraged to bleach repeatedly due to the safety hazards that come with bleach in general.

To obtain the highest concentration, the bleach must be diluted 1:4 or 1:5 of bleach to the water. The more it is diluted from this point, the weaker the whitening process.

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The Fabric

When it comes to bleaching-colored clothing, the most promising fabric is 100 percent cotton. Bleach reacts swiftly with it. Linen and nylon are also acceptable alternatives, but you must be very careful when using bleach on nylon when this fabric is wet as it can be very delicate. 

While the vast majority of synthetic materials are resistant to bleach, a few can just about handle it. Whether the fabric can be bleached is determined by the characteristics of the fiber imparted during the extrusion process.

The color effects, however, are not as vibrant as those produced with cotton. If you choose a polyblend, the resulting color will seem heathered or speckled because of the presence of two separate fibers with varying color intensities.

It is not suggested to bleach leather, wool, mohair, or silk fabrics. Their fibers are not robust enough to survive powerful chemicals such as bleach and will disintegrate in the solution.

Lycra and spandex are also unable to be bleached. They lose their elastic characteristics when exposed to these chemicals.

The Dye In The Fabrics

Numerous dyes are frequently employed in commercially colored fabrics. These include acid dyes, reactive dyes for fibers, direct dyes, and dispersion dyes.

Depending on the type of dye used, bleach may or may not remove the color of your item. Additionally, two clothing items of the same shade but dyed differently might provide dramatically diverse results.

Certain dyes are not soluble in water, and bleaching does not affect their colors. All clothing will react differently to bleach. Some may oxidize more slowly than others, while others will require a larger concentration to dissolve the bonds.

This means that a black garment may be transformed into red in 15 minutes due to one dye being used, and into orange in the same time frame due to another dye being used. 

When all of these variables are taken into account, bleaching remains a mystery, as the new color is always unexpected and not always white. It is impossible to predict how bleach will affect the color of your garment.

Nonetheless, you can experiment with successive bleach tests to get a range of color gradations that adhere to wide color standards. To have a better grasp of the most often used color outputs, let us first look at how bleach works.

Throughout the manufacturing process, colors are added to clothing. These dyes are made using pigments. There are only three pure dyes; the remaining colors are frequently created by blending these three pure dyes.

Bleach works by oxidation, a chemical reaction in which a component of the color spectrum is peeled or eliminated. Typically, just the unreacted color remains, which is what you see.

So, when a purple shirt dyed with a mixture of pink and blue pigments is bleached, the cloth takes on a pink tint when the blue oxidizes.

When the weak bleach solution comes into touch with the fabric, it will no longer turn white immediately. It passes through several levels of color until it reaches white.

You are responsible for bringing the bleaching reaction to a halt at the desired shade by neutralizing it using a neutralizer. Typically, this neutralizer is a 1:10 solution of hydrogen peroxide and water.

When sprayed on bleached areas, it helps prevent additional color loss. As a result, the longer the bleach is left on, the more white the color gets.


The duration of soaking the colored material in bleach affects the final hue. You may notice a color change as early as five minutes into the session. At times, it may take up to an hour.

You can neutralize the bleach immediately or over a considerable period of time, depending on the desired effect. You must continually observe the course of events.

When an item is soaked in bleach for an extended period of time, more colors are eliminated and the clothing becomes lighter.

What Can Happen When You Bleach Clothes?

There are typically 4 outcomes that you can expect when you bleach your clothing items. These are: 

A Pale Color

A typical outcome of bleaching colored garments is light discoloration. While bleach is capable of converting garments from a dark to a light shade of the same color, this is not always the case. Only blue denim will always react this way. 

Complete Discoloration

When undiluted bleach is spilled on a piece of cloth, it frequently loses its color and leaves a white mark on the surface of the fabric. For the majority of individuals, this is the fundamental purpose for bleaching their clothes: to remove the color and turn them white.

However, it is never completely white. You may end up with a cream or off-white tint if you attempt to convert a color to white; you will need to repeat the process to obtain a bright white.

There Will Be No Alterations

Because of the amount of work and product that has been squandered, this may appear startling or discouraging at first glance, but it does happen occasionally.

Unlike natural fibers, synthetic fibers such as acrylic, nylon, and polyester are not expected to alter in composition over time.

If these materials are designed to have chemical-resistant properties, they will not react negatively with bleach when exposed to them. As a result, they are unable to be oxidized and will neither bleach nor fade.

As a result, pure cotton is the most bleachable of all the textiles available. If a synthetic fabric must be bleached, a combination such as poly cotton is preferable to a fabric that is entirely polyester.

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A Color Change

Another possibility is a color shift, which is what many creative folks aim for when bleaching garments. It occurs when an object that has been bleached completely changes color, such as from black to orange or purple to pink.

This change occurs more frequently when several pigments are combined to achieve the desired color. As the bleach degrades the pigments one by one, the color begins to shift toward the remaining unoxidized pigment.

To the delight of many crafters, a color change reveals beautiful shibori, stencils, and many other tie-dye variations. 

Examples Of Color Shifts

How Bleach Works On Clothes

Given that you’re most likely seeking a color shift while bleaching textiles, let’s quickly move on to the color shift samples below:


You may think that bleaching black would turn the fabric to a lighter gray, but this is not always the case. 

Black is a good bleach tie-dye color because it may be used to create several colors, such as yellow, white, beige, rusty red, light orange, or burned orange.

It is an excellent color for retro and chaotic designs, since the time element may be changed to create the desired color combinations.


Pink is a difficult hue to bleach if you’re looking to produce new hues. Because it is a light hue with a very restricted spectrum of hues, you will almost always end up with white. 

Unless you start with vivid pink, you’re likely to wind up with a lighter or pastel pink. Alternatively, you may use bleach to tie-dye your shirt to create a pink and white pattern for stunning color contrast.


Similar to black, gray may be turned into an infinite number of colors; however, the differences are less because gray is a lighter shade of black.

Usually, when a gray garment is colored, it becomes pink. Additionally, it can transition to orange, red, or purple depending on the depth of the gray.


When bleached, orange, like pink, has a rather limited color spectrum. Orange or white can fade to a light, almost yellow color.


Blue is the ultimate favorite color of tie-dye artisans. This is because, similar to black, blue can be transformed into an array of gorgeous contrasting colors. The more intense the blue hue, the better. 

When dark blue is bleached, it changes to a lighter shade of blue or pink. Navy blue fades to dull orange or yellow color over time. Turquoise is created when royal blue is converted using bleach. 


After bleaching, the color spectrum of red is rather limited. White, pink, or yellow are most likely the colors you will be left with after bleaching the clothes. 

If the bleach is used in high concentrations or for an extended length of time, the red will turn white. 

If the bleach is used in low concentration or for a shorter amount of time, the red will turn yellow. Additionally, it may turn pink depending on the pigments employed in the fabric.


Avoid bleaching yellow if you want a dramatic reverse tie-dye. Apart from white, you will get no other colors from bleaching yellow fabric.


Similar to yellow, green is not a very dark shade. When you bleach green clothing, you nearly always end up with white or a pale green/yellow color.

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Burgundy is an eye-catching color. It is prone to becoming pink when washed due to its crimson tint. Despite this, burgundy also contains green and blue dyes. As a result, when bleached, the color may shift to blue or teal. 


When bleached, brown may take on the appearance of a faint pink. If the brown is not too dark, it will eventually fade to a light brown or white.


When bleached, purple changes to a hot pink or a variety of pink tints. It is dependent on the purple’s intensity.

What Colors Work Best With Bleach?

Deep or dark hues are the best to bleach for garments. As the colors above demonstrate, dark hues offer a broader color palette than light hues. Black and dark blue clothing are ideal candidates for bleaching.

Bear in mind that bleach is inherently unpredictable, and a multitude of factors can influence the outcome.

The clothing gets lighter the longer they are in the bleach solution. The higher the bleach saturation, the brighter and more immediately the colors appear.

However, caution is suggested because bleach is a strong chemical that has the potential to inflict long-term damage to the fabric, even robust ones like cotton.

Any attempt to completely whiten colored textiles risks damaging the fibers in the process of removing the color. As a consequence, always strive for subtle color changes rather than entirely turning dark colors to white.

While 100% cotton produces the best results, outcomes may vary based on the colors used. Gildan blank shirts, which can be used for type-dye projects, have their color scheme, with orange fading to gray and black fading to teal and gray. 

The only method to determine the color change that will occur when your items are bleached is to bleach them. If you have enough fabric, you may design your color swatch, which will save you time and effort.

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Making white clothes even brighter using bleach may be a fun and inexpensive method to update your look on a budget. It can also be used in a practical way to make white apparel even brighter.

The process of bleaching your garments does come with certain risks, and the results are not always what you would anticipate them to be. In many cases, the bleach interacts in unanticipated ways with the fibers, especially if the clothing items are composed of materials that are not bleachable.

If you want to bleach your clothing, you should first test the technique on a few shreds of fabric or old clothing items that you want to toss out before proceeding.

This will provide you with the necessary time and space to practice bleaching so that you can do it correctly the first time when you use the actual garments you desire to bleach for your practice sessions.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Will Bleach Damage My Clothes?

The only damage bleach will do to your clothing is in terms of the color, and if you are coloring the clothing intentionally then it will not be damaging the fabric at all. 

While some people say that bleach can damage the fibers of the fabric, this is not true at all. So you are free to bleach your clothing without worry. 

How Long Should I Leave The Bleach On The Clothes?

Although you should be able to notice the bleach changing the color of the garment after approximately 2 minutes, it will take 8-10 minutes for the bleach to completely sink into the fabric and become permanently absorbed. 

In certain cases, if you leave the bleach on for a lengthy amount of time, it may cause the color to completely leave the fabric, so keep an eye on your clothes at all times just in case. 

Should I Wash My Clothes Before Bleaching Them? 

Yes, you should wash your clothing or fabric before you bleach the items. Just make sure that the items are completely dry before you begin the bleaching procedure though. 

Amanda Brown
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