Discharge Dyeing FAQ

Discharge Dyeing is the process of removing dye from fabrics with bleach. The postings below are a discussion of that process.


I spent all afternoon Saturday putting diluted Clorox mixtures on dark colored fabric, dipping scrunched fabric in Clorox, painting it on with a brush, etc. The one I like the most is that very dark navy blue Gutcheon cotton with real leaves placed randomly on the fabric. I took the Clorox mixture and put it in a spray bottle and sprayed from several directions. Sometimes the Clorox mixture dripped and the dye discharged in a bigger spot than the mist. Anyway, the leaf detail (jagged edges) is very good and the fabric bleached up to a wonderful dull rose color. Overall the effect is subtle. That particular brand of cotton fabric has a lot of body and I made it up into a vest with cording around the front edges in a solid that matched the rose nicely. I'm lining it in a Hoffman splotchy fabric.....have no idea what its "name" is! Looks nice, tho.

How much clorox to how much water? Doesn't this make the fabric weak? Tell me more, it sounds like an exciting new technique!

As long as it's diluted, that shouldn't be a concern. (I'm assuming it's rinsed afterwards.) The problems crop up if the bleach has an opportunity to mess with the stitching. I've known some people who've prep'd areas on denim jackets with bleach, so that they could come back and paint on that lightened surface. They're always very careful to avoid the seams.

Subject: Discharge Dyeing.......more info

Per Lois E's suggestion, I diluted the Clorox about 1 part to 2 parts water. This worked just fine on 3 of the 4 fabrics I treated. On one of the others, this was too strong and I had to dilute it a bit more. On another, it was too weak and I made it stronger.

Once you have the effect you like (and you NEVER know what colors lie below the color you bought) soak the the fabric in a bucket of clear water, then soak it in a bucket of water mixed with white vinegar (again 3 parts water to 1 part vinegar). Make sure that this soaks for at least 3 minutes....longer is ok. She felt this helped neutralize the bleach. Then rinse in yet another container of clear water. After that, launder the fabric with detergent. There was no bleach smell after I did these steps. Because I was bleaching yardage, I didn't have to worry about weakening any stitching. This process does not work on synthetics. You can use anything as a mask for the bleach. Lois had used a long torn edge from thin cardboard. It made a rather soft edge. It looked like she put it parallel to an edge of her fabric and applied bleach...maybe with a brush; let that work for a bit, then moved the cardboard up (away from the already bleached part) and applied more bleach mixture to the whole exposed area, let that work for a while and moved the cardboard again. The effect was lightest at the point where she started, darker toward the "top" and an uneven, soft edge in between. Nice.

Another piece I really liked started with dark green cotton velveteen. She laid small cedar branches on it, sprayed it with the bleach mixture. The cedar shapes stayed dark green and the background lightened up a lot to a very pale, almost white, green. Made a yummy vest.

So, that's it from my notes and experience. I'm looking forward to the December Sew News where Lois' article describing this will appear.

There's a video about discharge dyeing from Islander Sewing called "Bleach or Dye", with Janet Pray. This is a wonderful video -- Janet gives very detailed instructions about bleaching and dyeing fabrics. Her techniques are great -- my mom and I tried some of them one weekend and had a blast! I highly recommend the video to anyone who's interested in discharge dyeing.

Discharge Dyeing video info

Since I've received a couple of emails about the discharge dyeing video, I figured I'd post the information to the list:

"Bleach or Dye" is the Janet Pray video from Islander Sewing. I think it lists for $39.95 plus $5.00 s/h. The toll free number is 1.800.944.0213. This may be for orders only; their other number is 503.479.3906, and the address is

Islander school of fashion arts, inc.
PO Box 66
Grants Pass OR 97526

If I remember correctly, this video was reviewed in a recent issue of Sew News(I'll see if I can find it when I get home this evening). It's kinda pricey, but it's full of great ideas and nicely detailed techniques (IMHO). Oh, (standard disclaimer) I'm not affiliated with Islander in any way -- just a happy customer!

Discharge Dyeing

Our quilt guild did this last summer. It was great fun. We did it at a member's house, on the driveway and hung everything up on the clotheslines to dry.

We were asked to bring 8 fat quarters of a dark solid. It was interesting to see that some "blacks" had green or burgundy undertones.

A few ideas for different effects:

One of our members made a wonderful Jazzz Shirt with the different fabrics as window panes. Another combined the fabric with Halloween appliques and made a vest (she's a 3rd grade teacher - the kids think she dresses very cool).

Discharge Dyeing

  • Plastic Doilies - spray the bleach mixture around/over it
  • Ferns, leaves - same way

    We used a similar method to make t-shirts last summer with my Girl Scout troop. Instead of bleach, we used liquid dye, mixed with Sta-Set and water in a spray bottle and sprayed over various items. We used three colors on each shirt and would move the items around in-between each spray. Just spray lightly, don't fill in an entire area. The spray gave a light, almost cloud like appearance and was very pretty where colors overlapped.

    The girls had a lot of fun planning what shapes to spray over. Some of their ideas included a large key next to a heart shape (she put her boyfriends initials above it), plastic canvas cut in shapes, big buttons, lace, notebook reinforcements, rick-rack, leaves, stickers, etc. This was a lot easier to do than tie-dye with a large group of young people and the shirts turned out really cute. After drying, some went back and outlined shapes with glitter paint.

    My favorite was one my sister made to wear in class (she's a math teacher.) She took various math tools like small plastic triangles, 6 inch ruler, protractors and placed them on the shirt and sprayed lightly; moved them around and sprayed again and again (burgandy, dark blue and a little bright yellow). Then she outlined all the shapes with fabric paint and added math symbols like +, X, %, 1/2, etc. to the blank areas. It was a fun shirt and she wears it on days she gives tests, which her kids love (she kids them that they can't look for clues in her shirt). The home ec. teacher at her school like it so much, she did a similar one with kitchen utensils.

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