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How to Bleach Colored Clothes White

colored t-shirt

Bleach and water solutions are great for stripping color from fabric before dyeing it a new color. These solutions can also help you create tie dye or ombre effects.

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By Mary Gagliardi
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Thanks to accidental bleach spills, we know bleach is great for removing color from fabric. But how can you make sure it will work the way you want to turn a shirt white for a DIY project? And how can you do it safely? It’s easy when you keep these guidelines in mind.

Use 100% cotton when bleaching

Synthetics like polyester and poly/cotton blends are often colorfast to bleach and won’t lose color in a bleach and water solution. Even very strong bleach solutions surprisingly don’t work, so stick to cotton fabrics.

Have reasonable expectations

Some colors will be removed when you bleach them, leaving a natural white fabric that’s perfect for dyeing a new color. Some colors will shift to an entirely different color, like black to orange or blue to pink. Some colors will only lighten slightly. How an item responds will depend on which dyes were used and how they were applied.

Test first to see what you’ll get

Make sure your cotton garment will actually lose or change color the way you want before you start by testing it first.

Add 2 teaspoons of bleach to ¼ cup water and apply a drop to a hidden part of the item. Wait 1 minute then rinse and blot dry. The item is colorfast if there is no color change.

Don’t try a stronger solution

Very strong bleach solutions can cause fibers that could otherwise be safely exposed to bleach to weaken. It’s better to remove more color by repeating the treatment.

Don’t try a longer soak time

Don’t leave the garment in the bleach solution longer than 5 minutes. Prolonged contact can cause yellowing. You can always repeat the recommended treatment to remove additional color.

Never treat fabric with undiluted bleach

Bleach should always be diluted with water first before contacting either soft or hard surfaces.

Updating a garment using a bleach and water solution is a great way to get creative. Just follow our easy-to-use instructions, and have fun!


Avoid bleaching wool, silk, mohair and leather.

Gather your supplies

Steps to bleach your clothes

  1. 1

    Prepare the bleach solution

    Wearing gloves, use the first dishpan to add 1½ cup Clorox® Bleach to 1 gallon cool water, and swirl to mix.

    pouring bleach mixing with water
  2. 2

    Prepare the peroxide fixing solution

    Rinse the measuring cup with clean water. In the second dish pan, add 1 cup hydrogen peroxide to 1 gallon of water.


    Looking for a unique bleach pattern? Scroll down to learn how to create tie dye and ombre effects.

    Kitchenware. Measuring cup with water.
  3. 3

    Submerge the garment in the bleach solution

    Be sure you have gloves on! Swirl the garment around until it’s saturated. Continue to swirl the garment so that all areas contact the bleach solution equally.

  4. 4

    After a few minutes, check the color change

    Remove the garment from the bleach solution to check how the color change is progressing (hold it over the dishpan to safely catch drips). If desired, return the garment to the bleach solution and swirl it around some more for a greater color change.

  5. 5

    Stop the bleaching action

    When satisfied with the color change (or 5 minutes have passed), submerge the garment in the second dishpan with the hydrogen peroxide solution, swirling it around until it stops fizzing.

    liquid pouring from glass container
  6. 6


    Thoroughly rinse the garment several times with cool water.

    faucet with water
  7. 7

    Allow to dry

    Roll the shirt in the towel to squeeze out excess water, then hang the shirt to air dry.

    open window with curtains

Instructions for reverse tie dye effects

As part of step 3, first use rubber bands to tie off portions of the garment before submerging the garment in the bleach solution. As part of step 5, keep the garment in the second dishpan in the sink, cut away all the rubber bands, and  fix any remaining bleach solution.

Instructions for ombre effects

As part of step 3, first use the ruler and chalk to mark a line to help you know how far into the solution to lower the garment. Lower the garment partially into the solution stopping just below the chalk line. Lift it out and check your progress. Lower it into the solution again if you want a greater color change. Proceed to step 5 when satisfied.

Frequently asked questions

Can I use the bleach and water solution to treat clothing with spandex in it?

Since regular bleach yellows spandex (it’s why it’s on the list of fabrics you shouldn’t bleach), this isn’t the best material to work with. However, if your goal is to turn a black item another color — like brown — then it could be okay.

Do topstitching, trim and zippers change color with bleach?

Probably not. Most thread used to construct garments is highly colorfast and won’t change color in the bleach solution! Zippers also are nylon and polyester and are also colorfast to bleach. Trim is harder to predict, but you can always test it first to see what to expect. Plan ahead for some contrasting trim or stitching on your project.