How to Lighten Denim or Canvas

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Give jeans a faded look more quickly with lightening techniques.
Give jeans a faded look more quickly with lightening techniques.

Denim and canvas are heavy-duty cotton fabrics that take dye very well. As a result, many times this type of fabric is saturated and dark dyed. Over time, with washing, wear and exposure to the sun, these fabrics fade and take on a natural, worn look that many people find desirable. Artificially fading or lightening denim or canvas is possible and gives the same effect more quickly.

Things You'll Need

  • Bleach
  • Dye neutralizer
  • 180-grit sandpaper

Step 1

Mix one part bleach with four parts water in a bucket. Use this diluted bleach to dramatically lighten the color of canvas or denim. Line up three more buckets as follows: one with pure water, one with a prepared neutralizing solution and another of water. Neutralizing solution is available where dyes are sold. Prepare according to package instructions.

Step 2

Dip the fabric in the bleach solution. Leave for at least two minutes, and no more than 10 minutes, depending on how light you want the final product to be. Wet fabric will appear lighter than it actually is.

Step 3

Dip the bleached fabric in water to rinse most of the diluted bleach away.

Step 4

Soak the rinsed fabric in the bucket of neutralizer for five to 10 minutes, or according to the directions on the package. Rinse in the final bucket of water to remove the neutralizer.

Step 5

Scrape denim or canvas with 180-grit sandpaper for a less dramatic lightening effect. You can do this all over the fabric, but the result will not be an even tone. This is a popular way to artificially age garments by fading parts of them.

Step 6

Wash denim or canvas with laundry detergent and dry in a clothes dryer. The heat and harshness of the detergent will fade the fabric more subtly and over time. You may have to wash and dry a pair of jeans, for instance, several times in a row to affect the color of the dye.

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