Bleaching Quilting Cotton Fabric

Published Categorized as Quilting, Tutorials 10 Comments on Bleaching Quilting Cotton Fabric

When I was working on my recent Moda Bakeshop project, Granny Windermere’s Placemats I noticed that the background fabric that I chose was a bit busier than I had anticipated.  While pondering what to do I remembered listening to a podcast where an artist talked about over dying and bleaching fabric to give it a different effect. I figured this would be a great project to give that a try with!

Bleaching Quilting Cotton Fabric

So let’s get this started with some fair warning, this is the first time I’ve tried this so be warned that results may vary.  I’ve heard that some dyes bleach out faster or slower or even not at all so feel free to do a test piece first!

Supplies to bleach the printed quilting fabric

I started with bleach, a storage tub and a slotted spoon.  In the tub I mixed 2 gallons of water with 1 cup of the concentrated bleach.

Pinking the raw edges helps to prevent unraveling during processing

The fabric’s raw edges were pinked to prevent excess unravelling.

Fabric soaking in 2 gallons of water and 1 cup of concentrated bleach

I gently stirred the fabric making sure it was well submerged and that the fabric didn’t clump together anywhere. It got a little bleach-smelly in the kitchen so I kept the screen door wide open!

I left the fabric in the bleach bath for 15 minutes based on the results I saw checking every five minutes. With a lighter fabric I probably would have removed it after 5 or 10 minutes.

Rinse and use a bleach deactivating product

I immediately rinsed the fabric and used a bleach stopper to stop the bleaching process.  I’m not an expert on this part of the process and will do it differently next time but this article and this article are good places to research stopping the bleach process.

Comparing the bleached and unbleached fabric backgrounds

You can see here how the bleach bath changed the fabric color.  I really like how much this process changed the look of the fabric and I can certainly see myself doing it again in the future!

Bleaching Quilting Cotton Fabric

Have you ever bleached or over dyed fabric before? I’d love to hear about your results!


  1. Very interesting. I’ve dyed fabric when it wasn’t what I wanted but never considered bleaching it for fear that it would make the fabric too prone to ripping/tearing (too brittle?). Also were there supposed to be links to articles on how to stop the bleaching process? I didn’t see any, but I’m resourceful and can google it. 🙂

  2. I’ve used bleach to discharge fabric for an art project. In that case I used a thick bleach infused cleanser. It’s an interesting process. Less toxic the discharge paste. It is surprising that some colors are impervious to bleach. In clothes, it seems only the ones i DON’T want to lose their color show the bleach spots….which by the way may be another color instead of white.

    1. I don’t know much about the discharge paste (btw thanks for the reminder that the process is called “discharging” Rochelle!) it does figure that the colors you want to bleach tend to be the ones that discharge the least; that’s why I was thankful to have extra fabric for experimenting with!

  3. Looks like you achieved a nice soft aged effect with the bleach. Be aware that bleach weakens cotton fibers; your bleached fabric is likely to wear out and fray much faster than untreated fabric. It’s good that you used a bleach-stopping product, too. You can find more about bleaching fabrics, overdyeing, and products to do so at Pro Chemical & Dye.
    If you try bleach on batik fabrics you can get some amazing color changes. For example, I bleached a dark green and got sort of a brownish peach. Always pre-test! You can get some interesting artistic effects using a fine mist spray.
    With commercial printed fabrics, another way to get the soft faded look is to use the reverse side of the fabric as the right side. Depending on the print, this can be very effective. In fact, back in the 1970’s there were store-bought shirts for both men and women that were made featuring the back side of the fabric.

    1. Good tip on flipping around the fabric for a softer look but because of the weave of the cotton fabrics, with a white tone on tone I’ve accidentally flipped the fabric around before but all that did was drive me bonkers since I found it after quilting!

      Thanks for sharing that resource too Jan:

      Next time I give this a try it will be with a little more advanced planning and that looks like a good place to get products for other fun textile manipulation projects!

  4. I have not tried this but it was so interesting to be in on your experiment! I also wanted to say that I really love your site – Just discovered it today. What a great resource! Thank you for doing it. 🙂

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