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How to Use Bleach to Decorate Clothes

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How to Use Bleach to Decorate Clothes

Photo: Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Almost everyone who has used chlorine bleach, has a story to tell about a blouse or shirt that was "ruined" by a splash of bleach. My story is about a pair of suede shoes that suddenly looked like a dalmatian's coat. But did you know that with some care and a bit of style, you can use chlorine bleach to create intentional designs on fabric? Or, change the color of fabric? You may even be able to hide the accidental bleaching by incorporating it into the design. The folks at Clorox shared some tips that should spark your creativity.

Before You Begin

Chlorine bleach removes color from dyed fabric. But if you only want to lighten the color a bit, how do you get it to stop working? Prepare a neutralizing solution. The neutralizing solution will stop the bleaching action when you reach the color you design. The solution is made by mixing one part hydrogen peroxide to ten parts water. Mix this up first before your begin your project so it is ready to use. The solution can be mixed in a plastic tub, the kitchen sink or in your washer.

Lighten Up!

If you have a pair of cotton slacks, a cotton blouse or some cotton fabric that you would like to have a shade or so lighter, try this technique. Clothing that is a blend of yarns - synthetic and cotton, may have a heathered look since the different fibers will release the dye differently.

This is a great way to add a vintage look to prints to use in crafting and quilting. Just be sure to do all the fabric at once if you want a uniform look.

First, wear rubber gloves and mix a solution of three-fourths cup Clorox bleach per gallon of water. Submerge the fabric in the solution and agitate occasionally. Allow to soak for five to seven minutes, checking the color to see when it is to your liking. Pour off the bleach solution and immediately transfer the fabric to the neutralizing solution. Submerge the fabric in the neutralizing solution for ten minutes. Drain the neutralizing solution and wash the garment as usual.

Draw Away

Now that bleach pens are available, you can create designs that stay just where you want them. The Clorox Bleach Pen is a gel formula that stays in place until you are ready to remove it. If you are not creating a design that is so exacting, a cotton swab dipped in bleach can also be used.

If you feel you can't draw well, use a stencil. They are readily available in craft stores and can be used again and again.

To get started, have that neutralizing solution ready. Gather some old white towels to place under the area you are working on with bleach. This will prevent the solution from bleeding through to the rest of the garment or your work surface. Squeeze the gel onto the fabric. How long to leave the bleach gel on depends on the dye in the fabric and the color you desire. Check periodically by scraping off a bit of the gel. If you want more fading, reapply. Do not leave on longer than 25 minutes for heavy denim; less time for thinner fabrics.

Immediately pour some neutralizing solution directly on the bleach design area. Then transfer the fabric to the neutralizing solution and submerge for ten minutes and agitate gently. Drain the neutralizing solution and wash as usual.

Tie Dye In Reverse

Traditional tie dye is created by adding colors to a fabric. You can also create the same look by using bleach to remove color. You will have a more muted design with shades of color based on your original fabric.

To create a tie-dyed look, you gather, fold and tie your item where you would like the pattern to be. Learn more about creating tie-dye designs from our Family Crafts Guide. Have your neutralizing solution at the ready. Mix a solution of ten parts water and one part chlorine bleach. Submerge your fabric and allow to soak until the background fabric is the color you desire. Cut the ties holding the fabric gathers or folds. Transfer to the neutralizing solution and allow to soak for ten minutes. Drain the solution and then wash as usual.

You should use a fresh solution of bleach and water for each new project to prevent transfer of suspended dye to a new fabric.

Specific questions? Just ask here.

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