Why Isn’t My Bleach Tie Dye Working

Why Isn’t My Bleach Tie Dye Working?

Author: Anik Yusuf

When trying out the reverse tie dye technique, the first issue most DIY dyers face is that their bleach isn’t working. There are a few possible explanations for this.

One possibility is that the fabric you’re using isn’t absorbent enough. Another possibility is that you didn’t use enough bleach. Or, the most common one, the fabric type isn’t compatible with your bleach at all!

We will all address each issue one by one and the possible steps you can take to overcome it.

What is Bleach Tie Dye or Reverse Tie Dye?

Before we start, let’s quickly go over what reverse tie dye is. Unlike traditional tie dye where you use fabric dye to add color to your clothing, with the reverse technique you use bleach to remove color.

The process is simple enough – all you need is a bleach solution and a piece of clothing that you want to change the color of. So, if you’re looking to lighten up a dark shirt or add some interesting tie dye patterns, reverse tie dye is the way to go.

Now that we know what we’re dealing with, let’s take a look at the most common issue people have when trying out this technique – their bleach not working.

My Bleach Tie Dye Isn’t Working – Possible Reasons & Solutions

As we mentioned before, there are a few possible explanations for why your bleach might not be working. The most common one is that the fabric you’re using isn’t compatible with bleach.

Incompatible Fabric Type

There are certain fabrics that simply won’t react to bleach at all, no matter how long you leave them in or how strong your bleach solution is. These include polyester, acrylic, and nylon. But why?

The reductive bleach chemicals that most of us use mostly work on cellulosic fibers like cotton, viscose, lyocell, etc. So, if you’re trying to reverse tie dye a shirt made out of polyester, it’s very likely that nothing is going to happen no matter how long you leave it in the bleach.

The same goes for other fabrics like acrylic and nylon – they are simply not compatible with reductive bleaches. If you want to change the color of these fabrics, you’ll need to use a different method altogether.

Solution

The good news is that there are still plenty of fabric types that you can use for reverse tie dye! These include cotton, linen, hemp, and even some blends like cotton-polyester. As long as the fabric is made of cellulose fibers, it should work with bleach.

Insufficient Bleach Amount

Another possibility is that you simply didn’t use enough bleach. When trying out the bleach tie dye technique, it’s important to use a strong bleach solution – otherwise, you might not see any results.

Solution

We recommend using a bleach concentration of at least 10%. This means that for every 1 cup (250 ml) of water, you should add at least 1/4 cup (50 ml) of bleach.

Of course, the stronger your bleach solution is, the faster it will work. So, if you’re in a hurry and want to see results more quickly, you can always increase the concentration of your bleach. Just be careful not to go too high – otherwise, you might damage your clothing.

Fabric Not Absorbent Enough

The final possibility is that the fabric you’re using simply isn’t absorbent enough. This is most common with fabrics that have hydrophobic finishing chemicals applied to them.

For example, if the fabric is treated with water-resistant finishing chemicals, it won’t absorb much water. Thus, the bleach chemicals just won’t get inside the fiber structure.

Solution

In such cases, removing the finishing chemicals first is the way to go. Boiling the fabric with Acetic Acid does the trick most of the time.

Fabric Blend Doesn’t Contain Enough Cellulosic Fiber

This is an interesting one that people don’t consider at first! Suppose you’re applying bleach to a Black shirt that contains 80% Polyester and 20% Cotton. What will happen?

You won’t notice much change at all!

That’s because the reductive bleach only affects the cellulosic fibers – and in this case, there simply aren’t enough of them present.

Solution

In order to see any results, you need to make sure that the fabric blend you’re using contains at least 50% cellulosic fiber.

Not All yarns Are Created the Same!

Yes, yarn structure can play a part as well! In some fancy blend yarns, the cotton fibers are just used as the core and the synthetic fibers are used as a sheath. Meaning, the synthetic portion of the blend is what we see from the outside.

So, when you go to dye or bleach this type of yarn, you won’t notice any change whatsoever.

Solution

Just make sure the yarn structure is suitable for your bleach tie dye project.

You Have Damaged the Fabric!

This is also a possible reason, especially when you are bleach tie-dyeing sensitive fabrics like viscose rayon or lyocell. Applying too much bleach at high temperatures can cause the fibers to break down. As a result, the fabric will become weaker and more brittle.

Solution

To avoid this, be careful not to over-bleach your fabric.

How Long Does It Take For Bleach Tie Dye to Work?

In most cases, 20 minutes should be enough time for the bleach to work its magic. However, it’s always best to check on your fabric periodically to see how it’s doing.

If you’re using a stronger bleach concentration, you might see results more quickly. Conversely, if you’re using a weaker solution, it might take longer for the bleach to take effect.

Is It Better to Bleach Tie Dye Wet or Dry?

Just dampen the cloth a little bit. The bleach chemicals work better that way.

When you add bleach to water, it creates a chemical reaction that releases oxygen. The oxygen then enters the dye and starts to break down the color molecules, which is why the dye changes color.

If you wet the cloth too much before adding the bleach, it will dilute the bleach and slow down the bleaching process. So it’s best to add bleach to damp cloths to get faster, more even results.

When you spray bleach on dry clothes, it will stay on top of the fabric and not go very deep. But if the bleach tie dye technique you have chosen require this, then you can go this route.

Do You Wet Shirt for Reverse Tie-Dye?

It depends on the techniques. For some techniques, you will wet the shirt before applying the dye. For others, you will not wet the shirt beforehand. The key is to follow the specific instructions for the technique that you are using.

The most common way to do it is to dampen the shirt in water before adding the bleach. Dampening the fabric in water will help the bleach spread evenly.

Can You Bleach Tie Dye 50/50 Shirts?

Yes, if the blend contains 50% cellulosic fibers. The other fibers in the fabric will affect how well the fabric accepts the bleach. For example, the yarn structure will also have an impact. If the cotton portion of the blend mostly sits in the core of the yarn, the bleach tie dye effect would be almost unnoticable.

Also, to avoid damaging your garment, it’s always best to start with a lower concentration of bleach.

Does Bleach Work on Tie Dye?

Yes, if the tie dye was intended to dye cellulosic fibers like cotton. Bleach is effective at removing dyes from these types of fibers.

However, if the tie dye was intended to dye synthetics and protein-based fibers like wool, bleach would not be effective because wool is a non-cellulosic fiber.

Is Reverse Tie-Dye Just Bleach?

No! It’s almost like regular tie dyeing. You just replace dye with bleach. The difference is that you start with colored fabric instead of white, and then add bleach to the areas you want remove the color from.

Rinse the fabric well after bleaching, and neutralize with an oxidative bleach like hydrogen peroxide if possible. The fabric will fade differently depending on how much bleach was used, so experiment until you get the desired results.

To Wrap Up

I hope this article was able to help you troubleshoot your bleach tie dye project. If not, please feel free to reach out in the comments below or on the blog’s social media page.

And don’t forget, if you’re ever unsure about a step in the process, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and test your bleach solution on an inconspicuous area of your fabric first.

Happy reverse tie dyeing!

Anik Yusuf

Anik Yusuf

Founder & Author

I‘m Anik. I have a Bachelor of Science in Textile Engineering, which means I know everything there is to know about making clothes. (Kidding!)

I worked as a full-time engineer at a composite knit factory for a while before quitting to start my own website, textiletuts.com.

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