Bleach 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.
How to make designs with bleach
What bleach to use
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 a super long time but in this case you risk damaging the fibers. But a lighter/faded color is acquired quite easily.
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.
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.
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.
You can keep stencils or other objects and apply bleach around them.
The design will look like this.
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.
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 unsightly holes where the bleach was applied.
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.
You can further enhance the look of bleach printing with embellishments like rhinestones, beads, embroidery.