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Bleach Dyeing and Why You Shouldn't

I had coined the phrase "anti dye" to name the process I use to creating my sweatshirts and Ts, but the process is also referred to as color removal, discharging color, decoloring, and just bleaching.

I recently received this email and decided it should be a public response because I get it from time to time, and I haven't seen much written about it online. And there needs to be more warning about the process.
Hi Karin, Hi Kyle!
Love my bleach dye sweatshirts!
Question: have you ever bleach dyed with the shibori arashi PVC pipe method? If so, good or bad experience? Any tips?
I never recommend anyone dye with bleach if they can't dye outside, and with a non-vapor mask. People don't realize how toxic it is.  Your eyes will burn and you can get so sick you will vomit. Just a fan in the window will still make you sick, as well as your animals, and it kills brains cells and damages the nervous system. It's a big reason I don't teach it or blog about it (until now).  IT IS TOXIC.  There are "fun diy bleach" tutorials you can find sometimes geared towards kids even, and I think it's dangerous.

There are safer ways to remove color as "color remover or decolourant", but they will also require caution when using as it's sulfur based biproduct and you have to heat it up causing more fumes. It's the same as the chemical indigo reducer "Hydro" but with soda ash added. This is "fan in the window" doable, but it is stinky. Maybe a good warning though!  If your space is smelly it's also toxic.  I will write a demo on this process soon.

So as far as bleach dyeing, I wouldn't.  But if you do, water the bleach down, do outside Only, wear a heavy duty mask, use blend fiber (100% cotton will break down) and work fast. 

The color removes quickly giving you a short 15 minute work time.  And finally and most importantly, have a neutralizer on hand.  Bleach keeps on bleaching, so you have to stop it.  It can also cause chemical burns on your skin. Have white vinegar and water mixture on hand if you get splashed on and use to wash off immediately.  And if it gets in your eyes, run and wash them out with warm soapy water. After dyeing the fabric needs to neutralize BUT combining bleach and vinegar is also Toxic! 

Invest in sodium thiosulfate. A trick I use is creating a "antichlor or bleach stop" bath to finish/finalize the process, which is a pool cleaning agent, used in fabric production, and, fun fact, intravenously to treat metal poisoning.  I have a rhythm where I make the after bath as I am dyeing, but as a beginner I would recommend having that bath created before you even open the bleach, so you can stop the process when you  need to. I will wash everything I used in this bath after as well.  Especially my rubber gloves which will break down if you leave bleach on them.

Then properly, seriously, wash your fabric. I will wash twice, first time with detergent and vinegar on high heat, and then borax and detergent in cold water. Both the vinegar and the borax help get the smell of bleach out of your fabric.

Keep in mind that what ever color you get once the dye is removed, has everything to do with the dye which was used to dye the garment/fabric initially.  The bleach or thiox or hydro will all react differently, or sometimes not at all. 

And just a good phone number to have on hand. POISON CONTROL: 1-800-222-1222

1 comment

  • Thank you so much for this information, it is really helpful. I did not realize previously how toxic and dangerous it is to do. I am definitely going to follow your instructions.

    Joy R

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