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Dyeing with Bleach

No fancy equipment, no dangerous chemicals. Removing color with bleach may be the easiest surface-design technique yet.
No fancy equipment, no dangerous chemicals. Removing color with bleach may be the easiest surface-design technique yet.

No fancy equipment, no dangerous chemicals. Removing color with bleach may be the easiest surface-design technique yet.

Photo: David Page Coffin

by Lois Ericson

The idea of creating uniquely colored or patterned fabrics with dye or paint is certainly appealing, whether you're a garment maker or a fabric artist. If you've hesitated to get involved, or are looking for a new slant on the subject, consider this much simpler, almost equally provocative, surface-altering method: removing color instead of adding it.

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There is a variety of ways to remove color (the technical term is discharge) from dyed fabric, but for controlled results on all kinds of fabric you generally need lots of experience and testing, plus some highly toxic chemicals. I find it much safer, and certainly a lot more fun, to simply experiment with the less-predictable but still compelling effects of applying ordinary household bleach to dark, natural-fiber fabrics, either by spraying or brushing the bleach on flat fabric (Resist-and-spray technique), or by dipping the fabric in it, after protecting part of the surface in some way from contact with the bleach (Wrap-and-dip and Pipe-wrapping techniques). That's how I created all the patterned fabrics shown here. Let's look closer at a few of the many simple, spontaneous ways to create discharge patterns with bleach, starting with the fabrics most likely to respond well.

Create your own pattern with bleach Cedar-bough fabric
No fancy equipment, no dangerous chemicals. Removing color with bleach may be the easiest surface-design technique yet. The fabric at right resulted from spraying a bleach solution over cedar boughs arranged artfully on the cloth (left).

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Comments (11)

maelle maelle writes: Bleach IS a TOXIC chemical product.. (you can read it on the container) it is harmfull for nature. I think this article is not clear about that and makes us believe bleach is eco friendly because it is a household product!
Even though the result is nice, I feel it is paradoxal to use it in order to print nature in fabric..
isn't it?

And most important, could you rectify in your article that bleach IS toxic, please? For our planet's sake? And to be able to continue with eco friendly print techniques in the future?

Thank you,
Posted: 2:30 am on March 24th

FrankoBaldWin FrankoBaldWin writes: Looks really clever. I should try this for sure but with Batman Logos :)
Posted: 4:06 am on September 8th

EmilyBint EmilyBint writes: Patterned technique looks so much nicer than the dip in method. My opinion.
Posted: 2:55 am on August 24th

MollieJ MollieJ writes: Good point, designs. Safety first.

It is amazing to see these results, and it looks not so hard to recreate.
Posted: 1:58 am on July 20th

designs designs writes: It is erroneous to say bleach is a toxic chemical and can be problematic for people with asthma or other lung issues especially, but can be tough in anyone's lungs. It must be used with lots of ventilation and protection for the skin especially the skin. It would be good if a caution is added to this article so no one is hurt using bleach improperly.
Posted: 3:28 pm on August 24th

EromoLedun EromoLedun writes: иркутские девушки знакомства секс знакомства на ночь Заволжск знакомства атяшево елена щелковская знакомства 30 исламске знакомства
_мужские интим развлечения развлечения на петровско-разумовской достопримечательства и развлечения железноводского санатория
Posted: 7:49 pm on January 23rd

saranya saranya writes: It was an amazing work done by u .Thanks for the informative post.We are the manufacturers of 100% Bleached Cotton and Absorbent Cotton for Surgical and Medical Care centers in India.
Posted: 12:39 am on July 13th

GlitzyGirl GlitzyGirl writes: I was in Minneapolis at Quilt Market and discovered a new product called deColourant and DeColourant plus that you do not have to mix. You can remover color and add new colors. It is available in a jar as a creme and in spray bottle. Great with stencils and rubberstamps!
Posted: 11:36 am on July 21st

CateField CateField writes: What a fabulous article! I teach textiles and will get my students to use your techniques. Thank you so much.
Posted: 10:44 am on July 31st

bon8 bon8 writes: hi, my name is bonnie~ im currently a year 12 student in australia studying textiles

i was wondering is there ANY ANY ANY way to bleach POLYESTER velvet? because i read somewhere else that polyester would be good for Devouring on velvet however i can not reach any of the paste in australia. My garment is polyester velvet and i would really like to bleach out my pattern but it's not working...
could anyone please give me some help or handy tips. it would be very much appreciated~

Posted: 1:14 am on April 27th

Metqa Metqa writes: I like your methods of using natural shapes to make your stencils. Your patterns are lovely.

I've read that vinegar is not a safe alternative for neutralizing bleach. The chemical reaction does break down the hypochlorate, but in the process it releases an even stronger acid and chlorine gas. Peroxide is a safe alternative, though more expensive than some commercial products listed below.

This I found on sites about neutralizing bleach:
"Whatever you do, never use vinegar or any other acid in an attempt to neutralize your chlorine bleach. It will destroy the hypochlorite that is the active ingredient of chlorine bleach, but only by turning it into much more caustic and dangerous chemicals, including deadly chlorine gas. (The amount of chlorine gas produced by a mild acid such as vinegar is small, but it won't do your fabric any good, and stronger acids can produce lethal amounts.) "

Bisulfite, or metabisulfite, is the most economical choice. It is widely sold under the name Anti-Chlor by dye suppliers.

Sodium thiosulfate, also known as Bleach Stop.
Thiosulfate is commonly used in developing photographs, so you may be able to find a local supplier in the form of a photography supply store. The reaction between thiosulfate and hypochlorite is as follows:
4 NaClO + Na2S2O3 + 2 NaOH → 4 NaCl + 2 Na2SO4 + H2O

Hydrogen peroxide is a third choice, perhaps preferable for asthmatics who are sensitive to the effects of sulfur-containing chemicals.The chemical reaction between hypochlorite (the active ingredient in chlorine bleach) and hydrogen peroxide is as follows:
OCl- + H2O2 -> Cl- + H2O + O2

Posted: 5:09 pm on February 12th

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