T shirt bleaching techniques : Transform old shirts cheaply

Bleaching is a very affordable and simple way to decorate t-shirts and show off your creativity. With bleach printing, you will be making a negative printing on your fabric – in technical terms the process is called discharge printing. Bleach takes away the color from where you apply it – that is what creates the design ie the bleach acts as a color-destroying agent. 

One important caveat in t-shirt printing with bleach is that you need Colored tshirts. In black colored t-shirts, the bleached portion turns a golden shade and on other colored t-shirts the bleached portion turns white or lighter. And 100% cotton shirts should be used for optimal results.

Tshirt bleaching with stencil

black t-shirt - change looks

Make designs on black t-shirts with bleach

Apply the bleach outside the stencil

Bleach printing outside the stencil

Cut out a cardboard design – this should be in the shape of the area where you do not want the color to be removed. Glue it there with a temporary glue.

Remove the stencil

t shirt bleaching

Remove the stencil carefully.

Wash after some time

t shirt bleached with design

Wash the t-shirt thoroughly to remove all traces of bleach. Follow all precautions. This printing with bleach is as simple as that.

On colored t-shirts, bleach will remove color and make specific areas white or a lighter shade of the original color depending on the time of exposure to the bleach.

Read on to find all the detailed information to make other bleach designs on your t-shirts.

What bleach to use in bleach printing

bleach printing tools - applicator, bleach, stencil

To make designs with bleach, you need chlorine bleach, not oxygen bleach. You can either make a solution with bleaching powder, use bleach liquid, or use a bleach pen. Some people even use a common household cleaner that contains bleach.

A bleach pen is the easiest. With it, you can write/paint directly on the t-shirt.

You can also buy a decolorizing compound containing bleach (a commercial product available for discharge printing) which is not as damaging as bleach.

An alternative is to use Hydrogen peroxide (which is safe to use a 3% solution) as a decoloring agent – but not at all as effective as bleach.

The fabric used for bleach printing

Household chlorine bleach is better used on cellulosic fibers ie you should use it only on fabrics like Cotton, Linen, Ramie, Jute Hemp, and Rayon.

Do not use bleach on silk, spandex, wool fabrics. Polyester and other synthetic fabrics can be damaged with bleach.

Dark colors are preferred obviously – only then will the effect of the bleach stand out.

The effect of bleach on the fabric depends on the exposure time and the color of the fabric.

Usually the color of dark colors fades where you apply bleach. If you want white color, you can keep bleach on the fabric for 20 minutes or so.

bleach printing letters with bleach dipped coloring pen

When you use bleach on a black colored t-shirt, you will get an orange color – more a burnished brown color. Navy blue also turns orange. Other dark colors turn a lighter color.

Take all precautions 

Though bleach printing is an interesting way of designing on a t-shirt, it is not the best way, because you will be dealing with chlorine bleach and you have to be careful not to damage your lungs, eyes, nose and I don’t know what else.

Bleach is toxic – bleach fumes should not be inhaled and bleach can destroy the softness of your hands. Even if it is diluted. I do not have to tell you what will happen if bleach gets into your eyes. So take all the care you need including a mask, gloves, and goggles.

You may want to be extra careful and wear a respirator mask. Or stop being paranoid and just wear a dust mask and gloves and be very careful. 

Do not mix bleach with vinegar or things that are acidic – When you mix bleach with vinegar/anything acidic, it produces dangerous chlorine gas.

You can learn more about using bleach on fabrics here.

Prepare fabric for bleach

Any dirt /dust etc on the fabric should be thoroughly removed. Even the sizing of new fabric, softeners, optical brighteners should be removed by cleaning the fabric thoroughly before you start creating designs. Dry thoroughly. And press to take out wrinkles.

Keep a plastic piece of cardboard inside the t-shirt to ensure that bleach does not discolor the backside of the t-shirt.

You may want to stretch out the t-shirt on a board to make the application even.

bleach printing over designs on cotton fabric

Finally bleach printing

You can draw on your t-shirt with the bleach pen directly. Or mark your design first and then spread the bleach inside as you would do a painting with a brush or pen or an applicator.

using stencils to apply bleach on fabric

You can make a stencil to mark the designs and ensure that bleach does not spread onto the rest of the fabric – though some spreading is inevitable if it is in liquid form.

Cut a stencil from cardboard or make a stencil as shown in this tutorial.

Spread the bleach inside your stencil or the drawn design. You can use an old sketch pen with the catridge removed and nib cleaned thoroughly of ink.

You can freehand draw the design or use a carbon sheet to copy tour design. Thick designs are better.

copy designs on fabrics

You can keep stencils or other objects and apply bleach around them.

keep circles on fabric to apply bleach outside of the design - reverse printing

The design will look like this.

bleach prints around the circle

To make it dry fast, you can use a fan – if you want to use a blow dryer stand some distance away so that heat does not activate any dangerous fumes. You can use a paper or book to blow air on the fabric to speed up the drying time. The faster it dries the better- remember the longer the fabric is exposed to bleach the more damage it sustains.

bleach printing on blouse

After some time when the bleach is dry, wash the t-shirt in water. You have to be really thorough in washing away all traces of bleach from your t-shirt. Otherwise, the fibers of your t-shirt will eventually disintegrate. There will be un-sightly holes where the bleach was applied.

bleach printing done over stenciled design
Bleach printing done on plain black t-shirt

When bleach has been rinsed away in clear water use a solution of Hydrogen Peroxide to neutralize the effects of chlorine bleach. This will minimize the damage that bleach can create on your t-shirt. This is an optional step.

Bleach tie dye

Bleach tie dyeing can remove color from your colored t-shirts in specific patterns. Tie dyeing is the art of adding color to fabric in specific patterns and designs by meticulously folding and tying the fabric and then dyeing it. But when you use bleach in your t-shirt printing it will remove the color from your t-shirts in these patterns. Sounds exciting, no?

You can find some very popular folding techniques for tie dying in this post – these can be done with your t-shirts.


You will have to tie your tshirt very tightly so that the bleach would not reach inside the thread – this will ensure that under the ties, the color will still be there, giving you the designs you want. The color will be removed from those parts where you have not tied.

You can further enhance the look of bleach printing with embellishments like rhinestones, beads, embroidery.

Related posts : 50 different ways to add patterns and texture to fabric ; Different ways to print on fabric ; Different ways to decorate t-shirts- 15 different ways

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
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