Bleach offers a fun, inexpensive way of dyeing clothes from one color to another. It is also a clever strategy of salvaging articles accidentally splotched by bleach but in otherwise perfect condition.
If you’re tie-dyeing, reverse tie-dyeing, or even stencil bleaching, you can create some pretty cool patterns on clothing. Notwithstanding, the color outcome is sometimes far from our expectations.
What color do clothes turn when bleached? Clothes can turn into a range of colors when bleached, not just white. It all depends on the concentration of the bleach, the fabric, type of dye, and the amount of time the bleach sits on the fabric.
If you’d like to take up a creative clothes bleaching project, you must be aware of the colors to expect before you begin. You’ll save yourself some unpleasant surprises from color outcomes you did not hope for.
To get you started, here is a comprehensive post on what different colored clothes turn when bleached. We also provide an easy-to-follow color chart for your reference!
How Bleach Works On Colored Clothes
When creating fancy colored patterns on clothes, you do not always have to begin with white as your blank and invest in dyes. Bleach comes in handy for removing color from colored clothes and attaining a similar effect to dyeing.
If you haven’t been creative with bleach before, then this may come as a surprise, and it is understandable. For centuries, bleach has been a household staple used for cleaning, disinfecting, whitening clothes, and removing stains.
Consequently, most people associate bleaching with turning clothes some shades lighter or white, which is not always the case. A deep purple will not automatically become a light purple or white, as you’ll learn in a minute.
The results of bleaching clothes are diverse and depend on a few factors; the type of fabric, the kind of dye used by the manufacturer, and the saturation of the bleach.
1. Type Of Fabric
100% cotton is the most promising fabric when it comes to bleaching colored clothes. It readily reacts with bleach. Rayon and linen are excellent alternatives too, but the former needs a delicate hand while wet.
Most synthetic fibers may not react with bleach, though some do. It depends on the properties given to the fibers during the extrusion process.
The color outcomes are, however, not as intense as those of cotton. If you opt for a polyblend, the new color will appear speckled or heathered due to the two different fibers, resulting in different color intensities.
Wool, silk, mohair, and leather fabrics are not to be bleached. Their fibers are too weak to handle powerful chemicals like bleach and will be dissolved by the solution.
Spandex and Lycra are also on the bleach exemption list. They lose their elastic characteristics when bleached.
Bleach is a highly concentrated and harsh chemical that eats into materials. No matter how light you want the colors to be, you must never apply bleach directly on to fabric undiluted.
You’ll only end up damaging the fibers, and it won’t last a few more washes without tearing. Repeated bleaching is also discouraged.
The bleach must be diluted in the ratio of 1:4 or 1:5 bleach to water for the strongest concentration. The further it is diluted from here, the less intense the whitening process.
The amount of time the colored cloth is soaked in bleach determines the final shade. You may start noticing a color change as early as 5 minutes in. Sometimes it takes up to an hour.
You can neutralize the bleach as early as you wish or much later, depending on the transformation you seek. You have to keep checking periodically how things are unfolding.
The longer the item stays soaked in bleach, the more colors are stripped and the lighter the clothing becomes.
4. Type Of Dye
There are a couple of popular dyes used in commercially dyed fabrics; fiber reactive dyes, acid dyes or disperse dyes, and direct dyes.
Depending on the type of dye used to color your clothing, bleach may or may not shift the color. Also, two clothes of the same color but different dyes may produce contrasting results.
Some dyes do not discharge, and bleaching does not affect the colors. Those that react to bleach do it at different rates. Some will take more time to oxidize; others will need a more potent concentration to break the bonds.
This means that a black shirt can give you red within 15 minutes with one dye and orange with another dye within the same window.
In fact, considering all these factors, bleaching is a mystery because the new color is always unpredictable and not always white. You can never be certain how the color of your apparel will be affected by bleach.
Still, you can play around with bleach test after test to get different color gradations using general color guidelines. To understand more about the popular color outcomes, let’s begin with how bleach works.
Clothes get their colors from dyes added during manufacturing. These dyes are made from pigments. There are only three pure colors, and the rest are usually created from a combination of these pure dyes.
Bleach works by oxidation, which strips or removes a part of the color spectrum by breaking its chemical bonds. Usually, what is left behind is the unreacted color, and that’s what you see.
So if you bleach a purple shirt dyed with a mixture of pink and some blue pigments, when the blue is oxidized, the shirt will take on a pink color.
Now, when the dilute bleach solution touches the fabric, it doesn’t turn white instantly. It goes through a series of color phases before getting to white.
It is upon you to stop the process at the desired shade by canceling the bleaching reaction with a neutralizer. This neutralizer is usually hydrogen peroxide with water in a 1:10 ratio mixed in advance.
Once you spray this onto the bleached parts, it prevents any further reduction of the color. Therefore the longer you leave the bleach on, the closer to white the color gets.
The Four Outcomes Of Bleaching Clothes
1. Complete Color Loss
When you accidentally spill some undiluted bleach on fabric, it more often than not loses its color and leaves a white splotch. This is what most people expect of bleaching clothes, to strip them off of the color into white.
However, it is never entirely white. Not the first time. If you attempt to change a color to white, you’ll end up with an off-white or cream color and may have to repeat the process to get a bright white.
2. A Lighter Shade
This is another common expected outcome of bleaching colored clothes. Bleach may turn clothes from a deep to a pale shade of the same color, but it’s not guaranteed for all colors. Only blue denim will certainly always result in this effect.
3. No Change
This may be shocking at first and frustrating considering the time spent and product wasted, but it happens. You are likely to experience no change with some synthetic fibers like nylon, polyester, and acrylic.
These fabrics, if made with chemical-resistant features, will not react with bleach. Consequently, they cannot be oxidized to alter the color dyed at the time of manufacturing; hence will not bleach or fade.
For this reason, pure cotton is best for bleaching. If you must use a synthetic fabric, you’ll get better results with a blend like a polycotton than 100% polyester.
4. A Color Shift
Another possibility is a color shift, and this is what many creative folks hope for when bleaching clothes. It is when the bleached item turns from one color to a completely different one, such as from black to orange or purple to pink.
This shift happens particularly when multiple pigments were combined to come up with the final dye. As the bleach reduces each individual pigment, the color starts to change to the underlying pigment left behind unoxidized.
To many crafters’ delight, a color shift opens up possibilities for beautiful stencils, shibori, and other tie-dye techniques.
Color Shift Examples
Since a color shift outcome is what you are most likely interested in when bleaching clothes, let’s quickly jump to the color shift examples below:
- Black – If you asked random people this question, the most probable answer you’ll get is grey. But that couldn’t be further from the truth, because bleach doesn’t always make black grey. Black is one of the best bleach tie-dye colors because it can create an expansive color range, including rusty red, burnt orange, light orange, yellow, beige, or white. It is the perfect color choice for retro and chaotic patterns, as you can adjust the time to get the desired color combos.
- Grey – Like black, grey can turn into a variety of colors as well, though being a lighter shade of black, the variations are fewer. When a grey shirt is dyed, it turns pink most of the time. It can also transform into purple, red, or orange, depending on how dark the grey is.
- Pink – Pink isn’t one of the best colors to bleach if you hope to develop new colors. You will almost always end up with white because it is not a deep color and its gradation is very limited. Unless you start with hot pink, then you can stop at a lighter pink or pastel pink. Otherwise, for dramatic color contrast, you can tie-dye your shirt with bleach to create a pink and white pattern.
- Red – With red, the color spectrum after bleaching is quite narrow too. You are likely to end up with pink, yellow, or white. Red will turn white if the bleach is highly concentrated or left for long, and yellow if the bleach is weaker or left for a short time. It could also turn pink depending on the pigments used.
- Orange – Like pink, the color spectrum derived from bleaching orange is very limited. Orange can turn into a light, almost yellow shade of orange or white.
- Yellow – Yellow isn’t the best color to bleach if you want a flamboyant reverse tie-dye. There are no other color variations other than white.
- Green – Like yellow, green isn’t that deep a color. When you bleach a green piece of clothing, you’ll undoubtedly end up with white or soft green/yellow.
- Blue – Blue is an absolute favorite among tie-dye crafters. That’s because, similarly to black, blue turns into a couple of beautiful contrasting colors. The deeper the shade of blue, the better. Dark blue turns to light blue or pink when bleached. Navy blue may turn to dull orange or yellow. Royal blue becomes turquoise.
- Purple – Purple results in hot pink or other shades of pink when bleached. It depends on how dark or light the purple is.
- Brown – When bleached, brown may become light pink. If the brown isn’t intense, it can go on to a light brown or white.
- Burgundy – Burgundy is a bold color. Being a shade of red, it is likely to turn pink when bleached. Notwithstanding, burgundy also contains green and blue dyes combined with red. Therefore when bleached, changing to teal or blue is definitely a possibility.
Bleach Colors For Clothes – Chart
|Initial color||Color after bleaching|
|Black||Red, burnt orange, light orange, yellow, beige, white|
|Red||Pink, yellow, white|
|Orange||Light orange-yellow, white|
|Yellow||Light yellow, white|
|Green||Light green, white|
|Blue||Pink, yellow, light orange, turquoise, light blue, white|
|Pink||Light pink, white|
|Grey||Pink, light purple, light red, orange, white|
|Brown||Pink, beige, white|
|Burgundy||Pink, teal, green, blue|
What Are The Best Colors To Bleach?
Deep or dark colors are the best colors to bleach for clothes. As evident from the chart, dark colors have an extensive gradation, giving you more color options than light colors. Black and dark shades of blue are ideal bleach candidates.
That’s all the helpful information you can get about the different colors bleach turns clothes in one place. Remember, bleach is unpredictable, and many variables will influence the outcome.
The longer the clothes stay in the bleach, the lighter they become. The higher the saturation of bleach, the faster and lighter the colors emerge.
However, it would be best if you exercise caution because it is a potent chemical that damages fabric in the long run, even strong fibers such as cotton.
Any attempt to completely whiten colored clothing may mean breaking the fibers in order to strip the color. Therefore, always aim to slightly alter the color in specific places, not transforming dark colors entirely to white.
100% cotton produces the best results, but these can vary from one shirt brand to another depending on the dyes used. Gildan blank shirts, which are my favorite shirts to use for tye-dye projects, have their own color chart where orange turns to grey while black goes to teal and grey. You can find Gildan shirts in both men’s and women’s styles on Amazon.
Therefore, the surefire way to know what color your clothes will turn to when bleached is to bleach them. If you have excess fabric to spare, you can make your own color swatch to minimize trial and error.
Up Next: The Best Tie-Dye Color Combinations