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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Dying Colored Clothes

By Dr. Laundry September 4, 2013

How much bleach do you need to use to make med-blue colored jeans turn white?

This sounds like a fun and challenging project! We never recommend letting undiluted bleach contact any fabrics or hard surfaces—it should always be diluted first. Depending on the dye that is used to color an item, soaking in a bleach and water solution can produce several outcomes:

1. No change in color. It often surprises people that some dyes can be safely bleached without losing color. Screen prints also can usually be safely laundered with bleach. And synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic can often be safely bleached when fibers were dyed in polymer form, before the fiber is extruded.
2. Color lightens. This often happens with denim—the blue color lightens when washed with bleach but it isn’t removed.
3. Color shifts. Some fabrics change color when exposed to a bleach solution. For example, royal blue can turn bright pink.
4. Color is stripped. Color is removed—however, the new color is typically off-white or cream colored, not white. This isn’t obvious with accidental bleach damage—the spot looks white because it is in contrast to the original color. A white item held next to the discolored area reveals the cream color.

The recommended bleach soaking solution for bleachable fabrics is 3 tablespoons of Clorox® Regular-Bleach added to 1 gallon of water. Items should be fully submerged and soaked no longer than 5 minutes before rinsing thoroughly. One bleach soak will probably not strip the color off the blue jeans as you would like, but you could try repeating the bleach soak multiple times to gradually remove the color safely (hopefully the dye will cooperate!). You could also try working with a stronger bleach solution to speed things up—I wouldn’t go any stronger than 1 part bleach to 12 parts water (1 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach added to 3 quarts water). Just be sure to keep to the 5 minute soak time.