Bleaching black shirts, pants or other garments feels a lot like doing a science experiment with an unpredictable result. Sometimes, a black piece of clothing will turn nearly white after being bleached, and other times, it will be a streaky orange or even remain its original black. The fabric type and the kind of dye that was used on the black fabric affects how much dye you'll be able to strip away.
Safely Handling Bleach
Mishandling bleach can be seriously dangerous for you and anyone in your vicinity. Using bleach on black clothes isn't a project for the whole family; only adults should work with bleach, and even then, they must take proper safety precautions. Bleach can burn the skin, and exposure to bleach fumes can irritate the eyes and lungs.
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Work with bleach outdoors if possible. If you have to do this project indoors, choose an area where you can open windows and set up fans for ventilation. Wear protective eyewear and long sleeves in case any bleach splashes. Always wear nitrile or rubber dishwashing gloves before handling bleach.
Preparing to Use Bleach on Black Clothes
Make sure you know what kind of fabric you have before letting your black clothing touch bleach. Silk should never be exposed to bleach because the delicate fibers will start to disintegrate. Wool, suede, leather and Spandex also aren't ideal for bleaching.
Once you have your safety gear in place, you're ready to prepare the bleach solution. Never use pure bleach on black clothes. It's extremely concentrated and needs to be diluted first. Mix the bleach solution in a large plastic dishpan, bucket or disposable foil dishpan – containers that you wouldn't be upset to have ruined by bleach and black dye. Start with a ratio of about 3 tablespoons of bleach to 1 gallon of water. Make just enough to cover the piece of clothing you plan to bleach.
Prepare a neutralizing solution using one part hydrogen peroxide and 10 parts water in a second dishpan. When the clothing reaches your desired color, soaking it in this solution will stop the bleach from further lightening the fabric. (You can probably skip this step if you want to make your clothes as light as possible.)
Bleaching Black Clothes
With your eyewear and gloves still on, lower the black clothing into the bleach solution. Wait five minutes and then pull out the garment even if it hasn't yet reached your goal shade. Letting the fabric sit in the bleach too long can cause yellowing and can weaken the fabric. Wring out excess liquid and then rinse the clothing under running water. (If you're bleaching outdoors and taking clothes inside to rinse them, transport them in another dishpan or a plastic bag to keep the bleach solution from dripping in your home.)
One five-minute soak may not be enough to strip black dye out of clothes, so you'll probably need to repeat this process at least once more and possibly several times. If you're not seeing results, try adding more bleach to the solution. It's safe to use as much as 3/4 cup of bleach per gallon of water.
Rinse the item after every five-minute soak. When you're satisfied with the color, let the bleached clothing soak in the neutralizing solution for a few minutes. Rinse again, wash the bleached clothing by itself in the washing machine and air dry.
Making Bleach Designs on Black Clothes
Maybe your goal isn't to turn black clothes a totally different color but to add a unique design to the fabric. Bleach can be used to create a tie-dye, ombre or random effect on dark clothing. Bleaching black shirts with a design isn't that different than using all-over bleach. Use the same safety precautions and the same bleach solution.
To make an ombre design, submerge only part of the garment in the bleach. As you see the color start to change, slowly pull more and more of the garment out of the solution to create a graduated bleach effect that goes from subtle to intense. It's even easier to create a random pattern on black clothes. Pour the bleach solution into a spray bottle or squeeze bottle. Lay the garment on a trash bag or old towel and spray or squeeze the bleach solution over the fabric.
No matter how you decorate black clothes with bleach, the final few steps are always the same. Finish by soaking the clothes in the neutralizing solution to stop the bleaching action. Finally, rinse the fabric, wash it alone in the washing machine and let it air dry. Slowly pour any leftover bleach solution down the drain followed by lots of water. Make sure no other cleaning products or chemicals have been recently poured down the drain to ensure the bleach won't react with anything in your pipes.