What You Need
This method is pretty simple and does not require many items to get started.
- A colored t-shirt (Not all shirts bleach well, do some testing first)
- A ‘fine mist’ spray bottle with a 50/50 mix of liquid bleach and water
- A large piece of cardboard
- Masking Tape
- Paper towels
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Bucket of cold water and with 1 cup Hydrogen Peroxide in it (Optional)
- An Acrylic Stencil (sold here)
WARNING – Bleach can be dangerous and destructive! DO NOT let children do this project alone.
Be sure to work in an appropriate, well ventilated space that won’t be ruined if you spill bleach on it! Outside is best when you get to the bleaching step.
Be sure to wear old clothes, as over-spray or a gust of wind can ruin clothing!
Get Started – Bleach Mixture Prep
Recommend Ratio: Equal parts bleach to water.
The bleach mixture is a super important part of this process. While you could use straight bleach to do this, it is not recommend. Bleach is a very harsh chemical and can damage some fabrics if applied directly to it or left on it too long.
Mixing the bleach with water can help with this. It also gives you a little more control when bleaching shirt.
Bottle Selection: Select a bottle that sprays a fine mist or a more splotchy spray, depending on the look you want to get. It is best to test out your spray on some old fabric to see what kind of bleached look you get.
In this example the bottle sprays a very fine mist. Which seems to work the best when trying to do complex designs.
Get Started – Shirt Prep
Decided how you want the bleached image to appear, its placement on the shirt and orientation. Place the cardboard inside of the t-shirt, make sure that all areas being sprayed with bleach has cardboard below it. This prevents bleaching to the back of the t-shirt.
Larger is better for this part of the process. You don’t want to put a piece of cardboard that is too small under the image. This would create lines that might ruin the effect. It’s best to have a piece of cardboard that fills as much of the shirt as possible.
Use masking tape on the back of the shirt to keep the cardboard in place during the bleach stencil process (optional).
Get Started – Stencil Prep
Time to Bleach!
Bring your prepared shirt with the stencil attached, your paper towels, and your bleach spray bottle with you to a VERY well ventilated area (outdoors). The t shirt bleaching process will work best when you let the bleach spray shirt start the drying process in the sun.
Lay your design flat on the ground, far away from other objects that might possible catch any over-spray.
**Read this section fully before proceeding 😉 **
Spray your shirt from 6-8 inches away. Start spraying from the middle of your stencil and work outward. This helps prevent spraying too large of an area.
Do this process in stages, just a little at a time. Give the bleach time to start changing the color of the shirt to see where you need more spray. You should start seeing the colors change relatively quickly.
!!! DO NOT SPRAY TOO MUCH !!!
Over-saturating the shirt can have disastrous results. The bleach mixture can seep under the stencil, and ruin the entire effect. You need to use the bleach sparingly and slowly to prevent this.
Once you’ve sprayed as much of the bleach mixture as you want (and it won’t take much), dab the bleach mixture off the stencil. The spray tends to collect in drops, and you don’t want a mess when you remove it. You can also do this during the process to prevent bleach leaking under the stencil.
Remove the stencil and watch the process go! You’ll already be able to see your design appearing on the shirt. Be sure to leave the cardboard inside the t-shirt, as it will protect the back from bleed over.
NOW, there are 2 methods I have seen for the final touches. I recommend trying both and seeing which you like better.
- Let the shirt dry completely as is, then remove the cardboard.
- Once the shirt reaches the color you want, dunk the shirt in the bucket of cold water and Hydrogen Peroxide. This stops the bleaching process.
Finally wash any bleached shirts (with no other clothing) in cold water with 1 cup of Hydrogen Peroxide to fully stop any bleaching reaction.