How to create reverse tie dyed shirts by removing the color with bleach
We all love our tie dyes, right? I know that I do. And I also love having friends over for tie dye parties, too. Well, how about a new, different twist on an old favorite with Reverse Tie Dyeing using regular laundry bleach?
Bleach Dye involves removing color from clothes instead of adding colors with traditional dyeing. The bleach takes out part of dye that makes up the color of the garment.
Making these bleach tie dye patterns involves folding your shirt or other piece of clothing and then spraying the exposed areas of fabric with the chlorine solution.
How do you bleach tie dye? Basic steps:
- Fold or pleat shirt with your desired tie dye method
- Secure with rubber bands
- Mix the bleach with water and fill spray bottle
- Spray the shirt with the bleach solution
- Wait 15 to 30 minutes
- Rinse shirt thoroughly and run through washing machine cycle
- Hang to dry
- How to create reverse tie dyed shirts by removing the color with bleach
- What is bleach tie dyeing?
- Can you tie dye a colored shirt with bleach?
- What is the ratio of bleach to water for tie dye?
- How long do you let bleach tie dye sit?
- Supplies needed
- Bleach Dyeing Safety!
- Folding the shirts: (5 Patterns: Spiral, Flag Fold, Accordion, Pole Wrap and Bullseye)
- Bleaching the tied shirts
- Rinsing and washing the shirts
- The Reveal
- Do you wash after bleach tie dye?
What is bleach tie dyeing?
Basically, you fold your fabric with traditional tie dye patterns (i.e. spiral, bullseye, etc.) and then ‘dye’ it with a diluted bleach solution instead of regular tie dyes.
Bleach Tie Dye differs from traditional tie dye in one way: instead of adding colored dyes, you take away the color of the fabric with bleach.
This process works for not only t shirts but sweatshirts, sweatpants, long sleeve shirts, jeans and even cloth shoes.
Can you tie dye a colored shirt with bleach?
Yes, absolutely and that is exactly what we are going to do! Bleach takes away the color of your shirt. But, don’t expect the resulting fabric to turn white. Chances are that it will not.
For instance, in my experience black shirts usually turn a brown to orange color when you apply bleach.
What is the ratio of bleach to water for tie dye?
I have played around with different strengths of bleach to water and find a good basic starting point is 1 part bleach to 3 parts water.
You just spray that solution on your fabric and then wait 15 to 30 minutes. If the fabric has not lightened enough, I will increase the amount of bleach to 2 parts.
So far, that has been a sufficient amount and I have not had to increase the bleach any more than that. Note, it also depends on the type of fabric. Some materials may require more bleach than others.
How long do you let bleach tie dye sit?
This question gets asked a lot and the answer is … it depends. How long the bleach solution takes to work depends on the type of material you are bleaching, how thick the fabric is and how much water you add to the bleach.
Obviously, the thicker the fabric and more diluted the solution, the longer it takes for the bleach to work.
Usually, I will wait about 15 – 30 minutes for the bleach to work. If it doesn’t, I increase the ratio amount of bleach to water.
- Colored T Shirt or other Fabric (mostly cotton works best)
- Liquid Bleach
- Measuring Cup
- Rubber Bands
- Spray Bottle
- Plastic tablecloth or tarp
- PVC Pipe or old wine bottle (for Pole Wrap Method)
- String or twine (for Pole Wrap Method)
Bleach Dyeing Safety!
Chlorine Bleach is a caustic substance so make sure and follow some basic health safety steps.
Anytime you handle the liquid bleach, wear your rubber or heavy duty nitrile gloves. Also, to avoid inhaling the toxic fumes, this project is best done outdoors.
Finally, this is not a safety tip but make sure you wear old clothes.
Folding the shirts: (5 Patterns: Spiral, Flag Fold, Accordion, Pole Wrap and Bullseye)
With this tutorial, I wanted to see how different colored shirts look after reverse dyeing. And, rather than just using one tie dye pattern, I thought it would be more fun to try several.
The basic steps for each shirt are the same, regardless of the color or folding pattern, except for the pole wrapping. That one has a slightly different process.
Spiral Tie Dye Pattern (Black Shirt)
For my first experiment, I decided to do a traditional spiral tie dye pattern on a basic black t shirt.
Fold or twist the t-shirt:
First, decide where you want the center of your spiral to be. Then, using your fingers, pinch that spot and slowly rotate your hand, gathering the shirt with your other hand as you go.
Continue twisting the shirt and creating the spiral pleats that radiate out from the center.
Secure the shirt:
Once the shirt is completely twisted in a spiral, secure it with several rubber bands.
Flag Fold Tie Dye Pattern (Blue T Shirt)
The flag fold method creates multiple triangles all over the fabric. Think of a folded American Flag and you get the basic idea.
Folding the shirt:
Begin by folding your shirt in half lengthwise. Then, fold it in half again.
Now, you will fold the shirt into one continuous triangle. Beginning at the bottom hem, fold over one corner into a triangle.
The second triangle will be tucked underneath the first so that they are stacked on top of each other.
Continue folding back and forth (over and under) until the entire shirt is one thick triangle.
Finally, secure the shirt with several rubber bands.
Accordion Fold Pattern (Purple Shirt)
Folding the shirt:
The accordion technique is similar to the above flag fold except it is a rectangle instead of a triangle.
You begin by folding over one edge (in this case the bottom). Then you fold that section under.
I also tie dyed some cotton long johns using this method.
Continue folding shirt over and then under until the body part is a thick rectangle and then secure the folded part with a couple of rubber bands.
Next, you will repeat the whole process with the sleeves using the same over and under ‘accordion’ method. Again, you want to wrap this section with one or two rubber bands to keep the folds from falling apart.
Pole Wrapping Method (Brown Shirt)
Folding the shirt
This particular tie dye (or shibori) technique creates uneven folds or creases instead of straight lines.
First, you want to fold your shirt in half lengthwise.
Note: I folded it so the two halves of the front of the shirt are together, facing each other.
This resulted in unmatched halves: one side has the creases but the other has an image of the straps that were folded over.
You may wish to fold your shirt with the two back halves facing each other which will result in the front of the shirt having all creases and the back being mismatched. (See the photo of the finished shirt below)
Next, take the old wine bottle or PVC pipe and you will roll the folded shirt onto the bottle.
Then, take your twine or string and tie it tightly around the bottle several times. This is what will create the creases.
Finally, you want to scrunch the tied part of the shirt together.
If the shirt slides on the bottle and doesn’t hold the scrunch, place a rubber band at the top and the bottom to secure it.
Bullseye Tie Dye Pattern (Dark green shirt)
Tying rubber bands on the shirt
First you need to decide where you want your bullseye patterns to appear on the shirt. Then, with your fingers, pinch and lift a small section of that part of the shirt and tie a rubber band around it.
Pull it up further and tie a second and third rubber band (if desired).
Repeat tying rubber bands over other areas of your t shirt.
Bleaching the tied shirts
Now that your shirts are all tied up in the various ways, it is time to reverse dye.
Before you start bleaching, however, make sure and put on old clothes and the gloves!
Making the bleach and water solution:
To start, measure out and combine 1 part chlorine bleach with 3 parts water and carefully pour this into your spray bottle. Gently shake to combine.
Note: depending on how many garments you have to spray, you can make more or less of the bleach water. For my 5 shirts, I ended up using about 1 cup total.
Spraying the t-shirts with the bleach solution:
Take your tied shirts outside to do this!
Spread them on concrete or a plastic tablecloth. Then, spray the clothes with the bleach/water solution, lightly at first. (You can always add more later).
Flip them all over and spray the other side making sure that you also cover the sides of your garments.
Waiting . . .
Now you have to just wait and watch the bleach work. This can take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or more.
If the colors have not lightened significantly within 10 or 15 minutes, go ahead and spray them again. And then wait some more ….
Rinsing and washing the shirts
Once you are satisfied with your shirts, you need to stop the ‘dyeing’ process by rinsing out any of the excess bleach.
To do this, carefully take your shirts to a laundry sink or bathtub and run plain water over each shirt for several minutes.
Caution: your shirts may drip bleach so place them in a glass container or plastic bag before moving.
All in all, I am super happy with my shirts. These bleach tie dye patterns worked pretty well and I learned a lot.
Do you wash after bleach tie dye?
Yes! Chlorine will continue to eat away at the fabric so it is important to wash it out completely.
Simply put your shirts in the washer and run them through a cold water cycle with regular laundry detergent to remove the remaining bleach.
(DO NOT put any other laundry in this load!)
When you are happy with the amount of bleaching, rinse out the shirt with water and then run it through a washing machine cycle.
NOTE: It is okay to wash several bleach tie dyed clothes together, but again, you do not want to put any regular laundry in this load.
Your fun new clothes are now ready to wear! If you like, you can take this reverse dyeing a step further by tie dyeing with color over the bleached areas.
Simply, take a tie dyeing kit and apply the colors to the lightened parts of your shirts.
This makes a cool craft project for a teenager’s birthday party so give it a try and let me know how your bleach tie dyed clothes turn out.
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