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How to bleach dye a shirt

Here is how to make a bleach dye a shirt. This is a nice project for anyone who is looking for something a little different than traditional tie-dye.  Rather than adding color, we are removing color. There are a few things to know before you start this project. 


Bleach is pretty strong, so make sure to wear a mask and gloves.

Dilute the bleach in a spray bottle, half water, half bleach will work nicely. If you use too much bleach, it can create holes in the fabric. Now if you want that kind of look, cool, but keep it mind that even after you wash out the bleach it will still weaken the fibers.

Work in a ventilated area.

Line your work area with plastic covering so you don’t get bleach on your table or other items.

The Shirt!

Check the label to make sure it is 100% cotton. I found 60% cotton works as well, but anything less than that it won’t work. 

Wash your shirt, especially if it is brand new or if it has fabric softener on it. You want it to be as pure as possible, just nice, soft fabric!


Slide a piece of cardboard between the layers of your shirt. This is the the bleach won’t soak through to the other side. For this project, we are using a detailed stencil and we want the design to be nice and crisp on the front. 

Set the shirt flat on the table.

Apply some  Aleene’s Repositionable Tacky Spray to affix the stencil to the shirt. This is so the bleach won’t go under the stencil. Smooth the stencil down with your fingers, make sure all the seams are sfle=ush with the surface of the shirt.


Apply the bleach:

Dilute the bleach with water, 50% ratio. 

Use a paint brush or pouncer to coat the bleach gel over the stencil. Let set for 20 minutes or until the color lifts. Be careful with thinner fabrics! If you have very thin fabric, only let the bleach set for a few minutes. You’ll know because you’ll see the color lift. 



Quickly take the shirt to the sink and use a sprayer to rinse out the bleach. Give it a good soak. Once it looks like the bleach is rinsed out, wash it in the machine. \

You can stop here and enjoy your shirt – or add new color!

Remove the shirt from the washing machine, insert a new piece of cardboard between the layers. The other cardboard probably has bleach on it!

OR fold it or tie it however you want.

Set it on a clean area of the plastic liner on a table. Prepare your dye! For this we used the Tulip One-Step Dye. Choose your color, remove the lid, add water to the fill line on the bottle, and shake. until fully mixed.

Make sure to wear gloves!


Add a generous amount of dye.

Unless you are using a spray bottle of the dye, then spray over the bleached area. When it’s all done the bleached area will be the color of the dye you use. Pretty cool, right?

Wrap your shirt in plastic and let it set for six hours. This is how long it takes the dye to activate.

Rinse out the dye in the sink until the water runs clear. 

Wash the shirt in the washing machine again.

Hang dry.


And there you have it! Maya used orange dye, but you can use teal or another contrasting color.


Here are some more ideas I tried.

Top left: I added masking tape and round stickers  and then added the bleach from a spray bottle.

Top right: This one came out kind of wonky. These were sticky stencils but they didn’t stick very well after I added the bleach.

Bottom left: I tied it with string to create the stripes, added bleach and then added dye.

Bottom right: This was a black shirt and I just kind loosely added the bleach in random places. Following the directions above, I then added dye.


bleach dye shirts

Thanks for checking out my post on how to bleach dye a shirt!


Beyond the basic supplies

Aside from gloves and table coverings, your project will look better if you rest it on a raised baker’s rack as you add the color. This prevents the dye from spreading where you don’t want.

Tongs work great for carefully picking up your project and turning it so you can color the backside.

Damp vs. wet fabric

Did you know your project will have a completely different look depending on how wet your fabric is? If you want sharp lines, keep your fabric dry, however, if you are working with heavy fabric, like bulky t-shirts, the dye likely won’t travel through as deep as if the fabric is wet. You’ll end up with a lot of white areas.

I usually start with damp fabric and I keep a spray bottle of water on hand to keep it moist as I add the color. 

You don’t want it soaking wet because then the dye will spread too much and bleed where you don’t want it. It will also water down the colors.

That leads to the best practice of…


Prewash your garments before tie-dyeing

This will remove the sizing and the stiffness of the shirt. If you try to dye the shirt without washing it first, the dye might roll right off! 

Wash on the basic cycle, then remove, shake out and dye. It’s the perfect amount of dampness!

Rubberbands will do but zip ties are even better!

Every tie-dye kit will come with rubber bands, these are great for first-timers. But once you get rolling, you’ll want to upgrade to zip ties. You’ll get much cleaner lines and they are easier to attach and remove.


Wear gloves

Use plastic gloves, rinse them (while wearing) as you work so prevent cross color contamination. And have an extra pair ready as back up! The dye will stain your skin.


Since your fabric will likely be wet/damp, the dye will spread. Keep this in mind as you add the color. Leave a little bit of spacing between each color. Not too much, but just enough, maybe a centimeter or so (the space of the rubber band is perfect).

Tie-dye checklist #craftychica #tiedyeideas

Practice, practice, practice

Okay if you are tie-dyeing for the first time just for fun, you can skip this part. But if you really want to learn the craft and the different techniques, pick up a yard of 100% white cotton fabric. Cut it into 12×12” swatches so you can play with folding and arranging color. 

This is also a good idea if you want to dye something big like sheets or a dress. 

Seriously, once you practice, you’ll know what to do and what not to do for your big project!


Choosing fabric

Natural fabrics work best. Cotton, rayon, hemp, linen, silk, wool. Always read the tags, look for 90% cotton. I stay away from 50/50 blends because the colors do not come out as bright.

Tie-dye will not work on polyester, lycra, spandex, etc. I learned this the hard way in my early days!

My faves: Silk, rayon, lightweight cotton. They come out so crisp and bright! 

Check out my tie-dye shopping list here.

Fancy folding

Whether you are making a swirl, an accordion fold or crumpling, do you best to make clean folds. This will prevent large blobs of color. The beauty of tie-dye is the effects from folding, so take time to make sure your creases are sharp and even.

Know the color wheel

Keep like colors together, so if they bleed it will create a beautiful new shade! Here is a link to a guide to help you! https://decoart.com/blog/article/318/color_theory_basics_the_color_wheel

Red and yellow together make a vibrant orange.

Yellow and a touch of teal will make green.

Pink and purple will make a pretty fuschia.

popcorn tie-dye technique

Cover your garment as the dye sets

This is because the heat will help the dye set faster and stronger. It doesn’t have to be super tight, just loosely place a cover over the whole thing. It also prevents debris from contaminating your hard work!

tie-dye thread #craftychica #tiedyeideas

Rinse and wash

This is really important. Put on your gloves and take your project to the sink after it has set for at least six hours. Before removing the ties/bands, rinse with lukewarm or cool water – not hot. Way less messy this way!

Then remove the ties/bands, open your garment and rinse until the water runs clear.

Run through the washing machine on cold water, hang dry.

Wash separately from other clothing items the first couple washes, just to make sure it doesn’t bleed.


Clean up!

Wipe away any spots on the table, etc. The dye will reconstitute and spread!

I hope these 10 tie-dye tips help you. Tie-dye is super fun and it doesn’t have to be messy, it’s such a great summer activity for all ages and skill levels. 

More tie-dye tips and ideas!

Start with black and white cotton fabric, adding color will make it more interesting!

Don’t want rainbow? Use one color.

Visit thrift shops or second-hand stores for cotton slips and blouses to dye.

Dye silk scarves, socks, table cloths, curtains, shoes or pillowcases for something different!

Try natural items for dye, like avocado pits, blueberries, tea or coffee grounds.

Check out my other tie-dye posts here!

The absolute cutest DIY Peeps earrings!

Stamped clay mugs using pasta letters


4 thoughts on “How to bleach dye a shirt”

  1. Fab! What’s the back of the shirt look like? Now to find a pretty large die like that! Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. stencil links? por favor?? (I used a dollar tree $1 wooden muertos stencil of a calavera on my pumpkin cake! It came out awesome!)


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