How to take a dyed shirt and make designs by stamping with bleach

Name: Hayley
Message: I am looking for information on how to take a dyed shirt and make designs with bleach stamps; for example, a purple shirt with light hearts stamped out on it.


Not all dyes can be discharged; some will retain their original color no matter what you do. Before attempting this project, test the garment you wish to bleach, to make sure that it is able to lose color, by applying a small amount to a hidden part of the fabric, on a seam; beware of accidental drips. Also, do not use chlorine (hypochlorite) bleach on any garment that contains synthetic fibers such as polyester or spandex, or animal fibers such as silk or wool. Chlorine bleach should be used only on cellulose-based fibers such as cotton and linen. On silk or wool, as well as on cotton and linen, you can use a sulfur-based discharge agent such as Jacquard Discharge Paste, Formusol, Thiox, or Rit Color Remover. (See "What chemicals can be used to remove dye?" .)

The easiest way to use chlorine bleach for this project, on 100% cotton garments only, is to buy a product called the Clorox Bleach Pen. These pens contain hypochlorite bleach that has been thickened, so it will not run and spread as easily as unthickened bleach will. For larger projects for which one bleach pen would be too small (and a large number of bleach pens would be too expensive), you can buy a special bleach thickener to prepare thickened bleach yourself; PRO Chemical & Dye sells a product for this purpose under the name Monagum, while Dharma Trading Company sells something called Bleach Thickner. (See my list of Sources for Dyeing Supplies Around the World for links to these and other dye retailers.)

Before you begin your project, you must prepare a stop-bleach bath. Chlorine (hypochlorite) bleach must be neutralized immediately after use or it will continue to eat away at your fabric, eventually creating holes. As soon as your fabric has discharged to the desired degree, rinse it in water and then plunge it into a bath of Anti-Chlor, Bleach Stop, or another bleach neutralizer, available from your dye supplier. Do not use vinegar, as it will create caustic and dangerous chlorine compounds when it reacts with bleach. If you have no other bleach stopping chemical, you can soak the garment with 3% hydrogen peroxide, such as is sold in drug stores as an antiseptic; this costs more than Anti-Chlor, but is safe and effective. Anti-Chlor is by far the most economical bleach stopping agent. Get this ready before you begin to apply the bleach. You can use Anti-Chlor or Bleach-Stop in the washing machine, or in a plastic basin or a bathtub. (See my FAQ page on How can I neutralize the damaging effects of chlorine bleach?.)

When stamping fabric, you must select (or make) a stamp without small details, as these will work only on paper, not on fabric. Using the bleach pen, squeeze a small amount of thickened bleach gel onto the stamp and spread it with the brush applicator end until it is smooth, then apply to the fabric. Apply more bleach to the stamp before making the next mark. Alternatively, you can make a stamp pad by placing white paper towels in a plastic meat tray or a glass plate, and soaking them with chlorine bleach. Be careful to do the latter only outside or in an extremely well ventilated place, and wear clothing that you don't mind ruining. Remember that chlorine bleach is quite toxic; wear rubber gloves to limit skin exposure. Also wear safety glasses, when working with liquid bleach.

After all of your stamped designs have visibly lightened the garment - watch closely, as it might take only a few seconds, or up to half an hour, depending on the specific dye that was used in the garment - rinse the garment and stop the bleach action with your choice of bleach stop chemical, then launder the garment as usual. 

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Posted: Saturday - July 08, 2006 at 06:44 AM          

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