Skip to content
Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Using Bleach to Remove Color Out of a Section of Fabric

By Dr. Laundry March 24, 2011

Q: I want to take most of the color out of a section of fabric for a reverse tie-dye effect. The fabric content is 100% flannel cotton, and has been washed and dried by the usual, conventional method. Is there a particular Clorox® Regular-Bleach to water ratio I should use, and is there a water temperature that is the most effective? Also, is it possible to use undiluted Clorox® Regular-Bleach without destroying the fabric?

A: Sounds like an interesting art project! First, let me clarify that you should never use undiluted bleach right out of the bottle. We never recommend this, and in the case of fabric, it can cause holes to develop over time. A good trial dilution is our bleachability test solution: 2 teaspoons bleach diluted in ¼ cup water. This is typically used by consumers to check colored fabrics for colorfastness to bleach. To test the area, apply a drop of the bleach test solution to the fabric, wait one minute, and blot dry. Often there is no color change, and the tested item can be safely bleached. You may even find this with the fabric you have selected. If the fabric “fails” the test and changes color, then you will be able to use bleach to create the reverse tie-dye effect you are looking for.

You may find that you would like a little more control over how you apply the diluted bleach solution to your fabric, and for that I would recommend the Clorox® Bleach Pen Gel. It has a thicker formula with a lower sodium hypochlorite active level than Clorox® Regular-Bleach, and is safe to apply directly to fabrics. Also, it has both a fine tip and a broad scrubber tip, which you can use to control fine lines and other effects. Note that you will need to thoroughly rinse the fabric when you are finished applying the gel. As the gel rinses into the water, it may bleach other areas of the fabric if the dye is sensitive to bleach. To help mitigate this problem add a capful of Clorox2® Stain Remover and Color Booster to a filled clothes washer before directly dropping the fabric into the machine. The color-safe bleach in Clorox2® is hydrogen peroxide, and will cancel the bleaching effects of the sodium hypochlorite. Let the clothes washer complete the cycle to rinse the fabric.

Finally, you should avoid bleaching wool, silk, spandex, mohair, and leather with any sodium hypochlorite containing product such as Clorox® Regular-Bleach or Clorox® Bleach Pen Gel.