(If you are looking for information on using bleach to remove stains, here are bleach stain-remove tips.)
First off, know that over-bleaching will significantly weaken your clothing. When you use bleach, think more about lightening dark clothing, not completely whitening them. Many dyes are that are applied to fabric actually become part of the fabric molecules, so it can be impossible to totally remove the color.
Safety First. Bleach is strong stuff, so work outdoors if you can. Bleach is a very potent chemical with toxic fumes, and can stain wood floors and carpeting. At least work in a well-ventilated area if you can't go outside. Wear rubber gloves and an apron- you do not want to get this stuff on your hands.
Dip Dying: You may need to experiment with the strength of bleach that best fits your purposes. Try using 1 part bleach to 4 or 5 parts water. Always dilute the bleach, as straight bleach can damage clothing, irritate your skin, and ruin the other clothes in your next few wash cycles. Leave your cloth submerged for at least 5 minutes. Check it every minute to see if it has lightened to your liking. Keep in mind that it will be a shade or two lighter when it is dry.
Spray dying: Bleaching to remove color is best done in small areas of the clothing where you want the lightened area to stand out. For jeans, use a spray bottle to get a spattered look that won't take a lot of life out of your jeans. Try tying up clothing for a tie-dye bleach dip, or placing objects like leaves or stencils on the fabric for a resist bleach dye. For more ideas, see our many ways to dye clothing.
Neutralizing the Bleach: After you are done dying, you need to stop the process of the chlorine. Rinse the fabric with water. You can use professional-grade bleach stoppers, but the most common household solution is hydrogen peroxide. It usually sells for under a buck at your local pharmacy. Soak your project in 2 parts hydrogen peroxide to 10 parts water. Soak for at least 10 minutes.
Tips for Success:
- Bleach works best on cotton, rayon and linen. It will also work on synthetics like polyester.
- Use warm, fresh bleach for the best results. Used and cold bleach are least effective.
- Do not use vinegar to neutralize bleach because it can create a toxic gas.
- Specialty bleach stoppers include Anti-Chlor and Bleach Stop.
- Not all fabrics were created equal, and not all of them are prepared for the punch that bleach delivers. It will disintegrate wool and silk fibers.