Denim trends like the distressed look or the dip-dyed craze come and go pretty quickly in the fashion world. If you have a closet full of outdated denim, you may want to consider updating your style with the help of a little bleach. Whether you want a two-toned look or a retro 70s tie-dye style, you can refresh your wardrobe by learning how to bleach denim jeans and jackets.
The most popular way to bleach denim jeans and jackets is to soak a garment in a solution of bleach and water for several hours. Techniques such as taping off a section of a garment before bleaching create an asymmetrical dip-dyed look. Using a spray bottle or paintbrush to apply the bleach will also create a stylized design.
In this article, you’ll learn the most popular techniques for bleaching denim. You will also learn important safety precautions. Finally, you’ll find out how to care for your bleached garments.
How to Use Bleach Safely
You should always follow these safety precautions to use bleach safely. It can harm your skin, irritate your lungs, and seriously damage your eyes if you aren’t careful.
Most importantly, never mix bleach with any other chemicals! You could accidentally create a chemical disaster far worse than any bunsen burner incidents you may have observed during your high school chemistry labs.
Wear protective gear like rubber gloves and safety goggles. If possible, wear old clothes that cover as much exposed skin as you can, too.
Cover your work area in case of splashes. Dollar store plastic tablecloths taped down with a bit of masking tape work great! In a pinch, you can also lay down old newspapers.
Give yourself adequate ventilation to disperse that terrible smell! Open windows work well, and bathroom fans work even better.
Finally, it’s a good idea to do a trial run on a hidden spot of the garment before you get started!
How to Bleach Denim Jeans and Jacket
Regular bleach and water will successfully fade your denim to the desired color. You can easily use any of these methods at home. If you like DIY projects, you may prefer this artistic process over buying pre-faded or distressed jeans at the store!
Before you get started, here are a few general guidelines to help you out.
First, regular bleach will give you the best results. You should avoid using a concentrate as this will damage the cloth. You can try bleach powder, but dissolve it in water before it touches the denim.
For most projects, you will measure out equal parts of bleach and water. That said, if you’re looking for a lighter fade, mix more water into your solution.
Finally, it can be tricky to see how light the denim is while it’s wet. Allow the garment to air dry and then you can always repeat the process for an even lighter shade!
Denim Bleaching Techniques
The most popular method for bleaching denim is to soak the garment in a solution of bleach and water. You can also create faded designs with the spray method, the splatter method, the salt method, and the washing machine method.
How to Bleach Jeans Completely White
You can turn jeans completely white by using the washing machine or the soaking method described above and just exposing your jeans to the bleach for a longer period of time.
That said, it’s much more challenging to remove all of the dye from a garment. It’s one thing to add some artistic faded streaks to your blue jeans, and another thing entirely to attempt to make the whole garment bright as snow!
Make sure you frequently swish the jeans through the water, so they don’t fade unevenly. Keep an eye on the color throughout the process, too to see how dark or light the garment is.
If you already have white jeans and you’re worried about them turning yellow, you can let them sit in a mixture of water and baking soda. Sometimes mineral deposits in your water build up in your clothing, and the baking soda will remove the minerals.
Then wash your jeans as usual in a cool water cycle.
How Long Does it Take to Bleach Jeans?
It can take as little as ten minutes or as long as several hours to bleach jeans depending on the dye in the original pair of jeans and on the color you want.
The longer you leave your jeans exposed to bleach, the more they will fade. Of course, the danger is that the chemicals will eat at the fibers in the cloth if you leave the material exposed for too long.
Ideally, you should test out your chosen method on a pair of thrift store jeans first. This will let you see how the pants are doing and how light or dark of a shade you can achieve. Your goal is to get the color you want without ruining the cloth!
You can also mix more water into your solution for more delicate materials such as stretch jeans.
Bleach will not shrink denim jeans, but it can erode the synthetic fibers in stretch jeans, causing loss of stretch recovery.
How to Fade Jeans With Hydrogen Peroxide
You can use hydrogen peroxide as a safer way to fade jeans, but the process requires some extra steps and much more time. You will need a large pot, a thermometer, a stovetop, soda ash, synthrapol, white vinegar, and the cheap 3% hydrogen peroxide you can buy at Walmart or the dollar store.
As you can see, this method is pretty complicated, though it does present a safer alternative. That said, you should still wear rubber gloves as a precaution during this process!
1. Weigh your jeans while dry. Write down the weight in pounds. You will need this information to help you measure the products listed above.
2. Measure out 1/2 teaspoon of soda ash and synthrapol for every pound of cloth. Set this aside.
3. Bring a big pot of water to a boil on your stove. Your pot must hold enough water to submerge the jeans. Test the temperature of the water and bring it to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. Gently stir the soda ash and synthrapol into the water.
5. Carefully lower your jeans into the water. Swish them through the water carefully, then carry the pot to your kitchen sink and let the water run down the drain. Rinse the jeans thoroughly while you’re there.
6. Refill the pot with cold water. Add 6 pints of hydrogen peroxide, seven teaspoons of soda ash, and a teaspoon of synthrapol before bringing the water to a boil again.
7. Turn off the stove. Then lower your jeans into this new mixture and let them rest for sixteen to twenty-four hours. Yes, this method does take a long time!
8. Rinse your jeans well.
9. Fill up your pot one final time. Measure in eleven tablespoons of distilled vinegar for every gallon of water in the pot.
10. Let your jeans sit in the vinegar bath for ten minutes. Then wash them in your washer on a cool water cycle.
This technique requires many hours, lots of ingredients, and quite a bit of work. That said, it does create a cool washed-out, vintage look on a pair of jeans!
Can You Bleach Stretch Jeans?
You can bleach stretch jeans, but this may cause a loss of elasticity unless you follow extra safety precautions. Using less bleach, less time, and a hydrogen peroxide rinse can keep your stretch jeans safe as you make them lighter.
Most jeans today contain synthetic fibers with elastic properties such as lycra or spandex. This is what allows you to pull on a pair of skinny jeans!
The bad news is that bleach damages those stretchy fibers, causing a loss of stretch recovery in the material. In fact, it could even eat holes in the cloth!
That said, mixing a lower percentage of bleach in your solution and only allowing the garment to sit in the mixture briefly should prevent damage to the fibers.
Most importantly, let your freshly faded jeans sit in a hydrogen peroxide bath for about 20 minutes immediately after rinsing them. This will counteract the fading process.
Finally, wash the faded garment in your washing machine on a cold cycle.
As a public service announcement, please do not ever mix bleach and hydrogen peroxide directly! This could create a dangerous chemical reaction.
Finally, if you just want your stretch jeans to fade a bit you may have to exercise some patience and allow the garment to get lighter naturally over time as you wash it.
How to Bleach Jeans One Leg – Half Bleached Jeans
You can also use bleach to create a two-tone style in your jeans. Whether you’re old enough to remember the 90s or just young and hip today, you will love this fun retro style!
The key to achieving a two-tone style is to carefully seal off any areas of denim that you do not want to fade. You can seal off these areas with duct tape, packing tape, contact paper, or garbage bags taped shut over large areas.
For example, if you’re trying to create the 1990s look with one leg white and one leg black, you could place the black leg in a garbage bag and seal the open of the bag to the fabric with tape. You can even tape off alternating pockets for even more color contrast!
Make sure you carefully seal a clean edge up the crotch line of the back and front of your jeans as well. You will have to place several short pieces of tape layered over each other to fit the curved edge. This will give you a clean line between the two shades of color!
Before you start, look at your jeans and imagine that any areas covered in tape or plastic will remain the original color, while any exposed areas will fade to the new light color. Make sure you have clean, crisp tape lines so that you will not have messy edges between the two colors.
Finally, you probably want to use the spray method to apply the bleach. If you let your taped garment get wet, the glue on the tape might dissolve, and you’ll be left with a giant mess!
That said, there is one exception to this. If you’re looking for a lighter shade just in the lower legs, you can try the soaking method and drape your jeans over the edge of your bathtub so only the lower leg is submerged in the mixture.
Can You Bleach Black Jeans?
You can bleach black jeans successfully, though you will usually have to expose the black denim to your bleach solution for a longer time to see the same level of fading. You can also create a cool galaxy-type look by using a splatter or spray method and creating faded splotches against that black denim.
To turn your black jeans totally white, you should try the washing machine method. This will completely submerge the jeans in hot water and bleach for an hour.
If you hang up your now-faded pants instead of placing them in the dryer, hopefully, you will not see any yellowing as a result of this process. If you do, you can try washing your jeans again in cold water and adding a bit of a bluing agent.
Bluing products can counteract some of the yellowing properties of chlorine bleach. Typically you use bluing with white garments to prevent them from yellowing, but the bluing might also rescue your jeans!
What to Avoid When Bleaching Jeans
Now that you know several different techniques, let’s sum up a few key things to avoid as you lighten your jeans. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you have to follow all the steps in each of the processes described above. Prewashing the garment, keeping your space safe, and learning how to care for your jeans will all help you avoid any common errors.
Avoid these common mistakes as you bleach denim:
- Don’t use concentrated bleach. It could corrode any metal parts of your jeans, fade the denim too much, or damage fibers in the fabric.
- Don’t leave your jeans to sit in your solution for too long, as you could end up with holes in the fabric! Check on the progress every 30 minutes to keep an eye on things.
- Don’t skip the prep. You do need to prewash your clothing before bleaching. Some denim contains chlorine, which will mess up the bleaching process.
- Don’t put your garment in the dryer for a while. Allow it to air dry after washing. Yes, this might leave with you stiff jeans the first few minutes after you put them on, but it will prevent yellowing.
- Speaking of yellowing, don’t bleach khaki clothing. Removing the dye from this fabric usually results in an ugly orangey color, not a nice light shade.
- Don’t skip the setup! Protecting your space with plastic sheeting or newspaper will help prevent any bleach splotches in your bathroom or kitchen.
- Even more importantly, don’t be one of those people who think they can be careful enough to avoid splashes on your hands! wear gloves whenever you need to handle bleach.
How to Care for Bleached Jeans
The key to caring for your bleached jeans is to follow several important steps the first couple of times you wash them. After that, your denim should be ok to wash as usual in a regular washing machine cycle.
After bleaching a pair of jeans, run it through a cold water cycle in your washing machine without any fabric softener or detergent. This will help prevent any possible yellowing. Definitely do not include any other clothing in this wash!
It’s tempting to just throw all your dirty clothes in the washing machine together, especially when you’re in a hurry! But in this case, you do need to wash this pair of jeans separately.
You should avoid washing your jeans with other items the first few times you wash them. On top of that, don’t wash your newly faded item with any dark clothes in the future. This combination could either create bleach spots on the dark clothes or spread ink to your nicely faded garment.
Also, don’t put this pair of jeans in the dryer the first few times you wash it. Instead, hang it up to air dry. This may seem like a bit of extra effort, but it will help keep your jeans nice and not yellow.
You can create a wide variety of stylized denim looks with bleach. To lighten the color of a whole garment, a bleach soak will create the most uniform and even appearance. If you prefer an artistic look, you can apply bleach with paintbrush splatter, drops, or a spray.
Take a little extra time to set up your workspace and take all the necessary protection, such as wearing rubber gloves and ensuring good ventilation before you begin.
What is your favorite faded denim look? Leave a comment below to let us know what kind of bleach project you want to make!