Shirt bleaching tutorial: make things infinitely better by ruining them!

Guest post by Ang Jandak

TA DAHHHHHYou might know me from my bleach stamping invites, which really got me hooked on bleach.  That came out wrong, basically I was intrigued by what it did to paper, and decided to throw bleach on all kinds of stuff to see what happened.  (Ironically, the items that say “KEEP AWAY FROM BLEACH” normally have the coolest effects.)  Far from ruining them, bleach really gives fabrics an amazing depth and texture that fabric paint and screen printing just don't.  So here, for your viewing pleasure is a video tutorial of the easiest quickest way to add an unique touch to anything wedding related.

For those who don't do the video thing, we have a friendly text breakdown for you.


  • Xacto knifeYou could use a box cutter/utility knife, but if there are a lot of twist and turns I would suggest the Xacto knife)
  • Temporary Spray Adhesive – Most craft stores have this, people use it for scrap booking (Although strangely, hubby found ours in the woodworking area).  Just make sure it's temporary.  And that the sprayer tip is there, apparently there's a huge problem with them not making it onto the cans. 
  • Photo Paper – I'll be honest here, first time I did this, I used these kick ass waterproof full sheet vinyl labels, and I had tons left over, but they fell off the face of the earth.  The photo paper/spray adhesive was a total last minute shot in the dark but it worked great.  Just make sure you let the ink dry before you start cutting or it'll rub off on your hand.
  • Stuff to Bleach – Anything that has dye in it can be bleached. The effects depend on the technique you bleach it with and the type of dye used.  I like using natural fibers (Cotton, Bamboo), but any generic T Shirt will work.  I got these obscenely cheap shirts and Martha Stewart napkins at a local warehouse close out sale.  Keep an eye out for “essential” sales, I've gotten tank tops at Old Navy for $2 a pop during those.  I also bought a sheet, I'm going to use it to make a headboard for our bed.  So how much you want to spend on this part depends on you.
  • Spray Bottle – Best ones are either in the Lawn and Garden section or Cleaning Supplies, but you can get smaller pretty ones in the Health and Beauty Aids Department.  Just make sure that it has a spray option (Not just stream)
  • Bleach – Just generic bleach, nothing fancy.
  • Bleed protection – If you're making a shirt, make sure you put something inside the shirt to keep it from bleeding through to the other side.  I used a piece of cardboard with paper towel on top.


Print your design on the photo paper.  Try to get an outline.  (If you don't you'll waste a lot of ink, and when you spray it there's a chance the colors will bleed.  Which I think looks cool, but you might not).  If you don't have Photoshop or Illustrator, there are several free programs that you can try, like the Aviary Suite, Inkscape, or Gimp.  While the ink is drying, you can prep your work area.

Craftily Cutting

If you have a cutting mat, set it out, if not use some cardboard, make sure it's thick enough that you aren't going to cut through it.  Then you start to cut.  Some tips that I learned through trial and error are as follows:

  • Go SLOOWWWW, when you get into a groove and start whipping, it's easier to go totally off base.  It's not a big deal if you mess up, you can always clean it up if it's horrendous, but especially if you have finicky little pieces it's better to take your time.  Plus you don't want to slice a finger off, and that's easier to avoid if you aren't rushing.
  • Cut details out first.  I know it's counter intuitive, but when you're working on really delicate stuff, if you wait til later to do it, you're going to be stressing and pulling on already fragile areas.
  • Rotate the paper around curves.  (The video shows this pretty well, so if you're stuck, you can watch it)

Once everything is all cut, bring out the spray stuff (Obviously if you went with the label sheets you don't need to do this part).  Flip the pieces you just cut out UPSIDE DOWN (So the printed side is facing the table), and spray the backs.  My suggestion is to make sure that your work surface is covered with newspaper or something, because even after the adhesive dries, it leaves a grippy texture.  Unless you want a grippy texture on your kitchen table…  Follow the directions on the spray can, mine was a temp/permanent spray, so it advised letting the adhesive sit for 3-5 minutes for ultimate tackiness, without being stuck there forevers.

When you have “appropriate tackiness” (Works very hard not to expound upon wedding tackiness puns),  bring out your item to be bleached (don't forget your bleed proof cardboard insert!), and place your band spanking new stencils wherever you want them.  The awesomeness of the temp adhesive is you can peel them up and move them around to get your placement exactly right.

Setting the Stencils

Once everything is set down and you like it, push down firmly to make sure none of the edges are peeling up.  (Bleach will seep in under any gaps.)

Then pick up your spray bottle, take a step or two back (With eye protection if so desired), and give 2-4 good squirts.  You're aiming for a light mist to drift down, you do NOT want to saturate the fabric.

Let it sit for awhile.  The Oxidation process will keep going, and the longer you leave the stencil, the crisper your design will be.  I usually let it sit for at least 10 minutes before the design gets peeled off.

Peeling stuff is fun

Here is the shirt right after the stencil was removed.

Still 4

Toss your stuff in the dryer, DO NOT WASH IT!  The little bleach crystals are still hiding on there, if they get hit with water they'll reactivate.  Tumbling them in the dryer on low will knock the crystals loose, so the process is stopped.  After you do this, you can wash and dry them normally.  Here's the same shirt after it's been dried.


As you can see, the bleach lightens it up considerably.  By varying how long you let the bleach set, how far away you stand, and the method you apply it with, you can get very different results.

Assembly of Amazingness

So there you go!  Have fun, if any of you decide to use this I'd love to see!

OBT Member Mary Beth tried her own spin on these for her Bridesmaids and OMFG, they is the AWESOME!

Meet your new BFF wedding vendor

Trending with our readers

Comments on Shirt bleaching tutorial: make things infinitely better by ruining them!

  1. What about just using freezer paper instead of the spray adhesive? I stencil shirts pretty frquently, and if you iron the cut-out freezer paper (wax side down) onto your shirt, it sticks like gang-busters. Basically, when you’re cutting out your stencil, cut out the freezer paper at the same time.

  2. That is so cool! I love the title as well. I might have to make these for our next girl group outing. I’ll be linking as well. Thanks so much for the project!

  3. OMG I’m in love!!!! Deffinatly taking a trip to the craft store asap to try this one out!!!!

  4. How AWESOME!! I can’t wait to try this!! I have a Silhouette machine and my brain is going crazy thinking of crazy fun things to make for this technique…

  5. I have a stupid question: Do the bleach crystals you’ve gotten off of your fabric in the dryer stay in there? Will a few loads of my laundry be spotty afterwards?

  6. This is great. You could totally do this for a family reunion. It would be so great for every family to design their own. thanks for the idea.

Read more comments

Comments are closed.