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How to bleach clothes: cotton, linen, silk and polyester – complete guide

how to bleach clothes

Guides you through how to bleach clothes made of cotton, linen, silk and polyester, whitening, lightening, removing stains and what to avoid so you don’t damage your items!

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Washing machine vs hand bleaching: quick guide

The first decision you need to make in how to bleach clothes is whether you will do it using the washing machine or by hand. This will vary according to the garments and what kind of bleaching you want to do — stain removal, lightening, patterning or special effects. However, when you have decided, keep these notes in mind for each version.

Washing machine

  • The first thing to look out for is whether the bleach icon allows bleaching. Also, check out which bleach to use.
  • First fill the machine with the usual amount of detergent. However, when bleaching, you should put this directly into the drum. The detergent ensures that no grease or dirt remains and that the fibers stick together.
  • Read the packaging to find out what the ratio of bleach to laundry should be and measure out an appropriate amount of bleach. We recommend that you wear rubber gloves when doing this.
  • Pour the bleach into the compartment provided in the detergent drawer. If your washing machine does not have its own compartment for bleach, you can put it directly into the drum.
  • Now wash the laundry as usual.
  • After the wash cycle, you can dry the clothes as usual. Unless the dryer symbol indicates otherwise , you can also dry the bleached laundry in the tumble dryer.
  • If the textiles are not yet light enough, you can repeat the bleaching process.

Hand bleaching

  • Before bleaching, you should give the clothing a thorough cleaning so that the bleach can reach all the fibers. And of course you should have checked the symbol for bleach to see if the fabric is suitable for bleaching at all.
  • To protect your skin, be sure to put on rubber gloves. You should also wear old clothes in case something drips.
  • Make a mixture of bleach and hot water. Pay attention to what temperature your clothes can withstand . Please refer to the bleach packaging for the ideal ratio. Otherwise, use a mixing ratio of 2 liters of water to 120 milliliters of bleach. Make sure that the vessel (e.g. sink) is not damaged by bleach.
  • Soak the fabrics in the bleach mixture and let them soak in for about 15 minutes.
  • Now wash the laundry thoroughly with clean water to wash out the chemicals. Make sure you keep your gloves on.
  • Finally the laundry is dried. Again, pay attention to the respective information on drying . You can then dry the textile in the dryer, on the line or lying on a towel, depending on the situation.
  • Repeat the bleaching process if you are not satisfied with the result.

How to bleach clothes: cotton, linen and silk

You can bleach cotton, linen and silk at home to give your clothes a used look. Interesting patterns can also be conjured up on clothing. However, bleaching can be dangerous to your health, so you should take protective measures.

How to bleach silk: what you should be aware of

To bleach silk, follow the same instructions as below for cotton and linen, but make the bleach solution much more gentle and weak, and silk is more delicate and also releases its dye more easily and quickly. With very delicate silks, a strong bleach solution will simply destroy the fabric. It is best to start with a solution that is weaker than you think you need for silk — and then repeat it if necessary — than to use too harsh a solution and ruin the garment.

Bleaching cotton and linen: what you should be aware of

Before you start bleaching, please note the following tips so that you can safely use the process. For example, do not use an oxygen cleaner for bleaching and never put the bleach directly on the garment.

  • Do not bleach good clothes at first as bleaching should be practiced. First, try bleaching an old piece of clothing. In this way you know roughly in advance what the result will be.
  • How to bleach jeans: If you want to bleach high-quality jeans, you have to note that they are usually very deeply colored. For you, this means that you have to bleach such trousers more than other items of clothing.
  • Always work with protective gloves. Do not breathe the bleach as it is dangerous to health. Chlorine and other chemical agents can irritate your airways and, in the worst case, leave burns on the mucous membranes. If you have any health problems after bleaching, be sure to consult a doctor .
  • After bleaching, the garments must definitely be washed well. How to remove all chemical residues from clothing. You should therefore wash your shirt and trousers after bleaching with detergent in the washing machine or by hand.
  • Use a bleach that contains chlorine. Chlorine is also labeled as sodium hypochlorite on packaging. But do not use an oxygen cleaner. Follow the packaging instructions and it is best to use a spray bottle to distribute the bleach on the respective item of clothing.

How to bleach jeans

You can bleach items of clothing such as denim jeans, shirts and pants. You should definitely wash them beforehand. The darker the garment, the more beautiful the contrast to the bleached areas.

  • The easiest way to bleach your jeans is to use the washing machine. To do this, put the bleach in the washing powder compartment of your washing machine. Wash the clothes to be bleached as usual. Always follow the instructions for use of the bleach.
  • However, if you want to create certain patterns on the jeans, you will have to do the bleaching by hand. The best way to distribute the bleach is with a spray bottle.
  • Pour the bleach into the spray bottle. Always follow the instructions for use. Lay out the garment on an old mat that could be damaged. An old blanket, an old piece of fabric or thick cardboard, for example, are suitable for this.
  • Gently spray the bleach onto the areas to be bleached. Never hang up the laundry. In this case the bleach would drip down and form undesirable streaks or patterns.
  • Use stencils when you want to achieve specific patterns. This is the best way to spread the bleach.
  • Let the bleach work in and dry before washing the garment.

How to bleach clothes: polyester fabrics

First of all: polyester is a pretty tough nut to crack when it comes to wholly or partially bleaching the material. In contrast to natural fibers such as cotton or silk, polyester is reluctant to take on color and reluctant to release it off again. That’s because polyester is essentially a plastic… The color is already determined when the fiber is manufactured.

In this sense, natural fibers are much more cooperative. However, a few measures and means can help you to achieve your goal with polyester. 

The complete bleaching of polyester only works with pure chemistry. Corresponding bleaching agents are available in the drugstore, but look carefully at the label to find out whether the plastic fibers are in the range.

Every commercial bleach naturally comes with instructions for use that you should follow step by step. As a preliminary information we will tell you how polyester bleaching works roughly:

  • Soak the fabric in lukewarm water
  • Wait patiently for about an hour
  • Then put the clothes in the washing machine
  • Pour bleach into the detergent compartment
  • Follow the recommended dosage exactly
  • Wash polyester as usual
  • Caution: Do not set too hot!

This is by no means an environmentally friendly process, because of course the bleach makes its way into the sewer after washing. So please use such substances sparingly.

However, polyester bleaching will not harm your washing machine, so you can rest assured. After going throgh the relevant steps for how to bleach clothes made from polyester, you hang your laundry on the line as normal and look forward to the bleached garment.

Quick guide for bleaching polyester

  1. Soak the garment first. The water should be lukewarm. Then wait about half an hour to three quarters of an hour.
  2. Put the clothes in a washing machine and pour the bleach into the detergent drawer. You can get the bleach in the drugstore.
  3. Check the bleach label to see whether it is also suitable for synthetic fibers. If Cl is crossed out on the clothing item’s label, then it does not tolerate bleaching agents that contain chlorine. If the CI is not crossed out, you can use bleach with chlorine.
  4. Another important feature is the correct dosage. You can find instructions for this on the packaging of the bleach. 
  5. Then wash the clothes as usual. However, this should not be too hot, as polyester could shrink.
  6. The waste bleach water is poisonous. Especially if you resort to chemical bleach. Therefore, do not use such a remedy too often and not more than necessary. 
  7. After washing, you can hang up the laundry and let it dry as usual.


A crossed-out Cl on the care label means that the fabric in question does not tolerate chlorine-containing bleaches. So if you are fond of the garment, you better refrain from bleaching.

How to bleach clothes white: brighten white clothes and fabrics

how to bleach clothes white

Even if washed carefully, white clothes begin to lose their brilliant white color over time. Gray veils, sweat stains and even yellowish discoloration of the deodorant or perfume form. Bleaching can help with these problems. 

The chemical products that are most commonly used are oxygen and chlorine bleach. Chemical bleaches are very effective and easy to use, but they can pollute the environment. In fact, there are some home remedies (see below) that can be used in how to bleach white clothes as well. Probably the most common use, since they are the most common item, is how to bleach a white shirt, and the steps below will be perfect for this.

Tips on laundry bleaching

1. Before you bleach the respective garment, check the care instructions. If an empty triangle is shown on it, then any bleaching is allowed. However, if the triangle is crossed, bleaching and washing with detergents containing bleach are prohibited.

2. If you want to bleach an item of clothing for the first time, it is advisable to take a sample in an invisible area. This can be the inside of the collar or the cuff, for example. How to determine if you can safely use the bleach.

3. Once you have performed the sample, run the wash cycle as usual. If you use oxygen bleach, add it to the detergent at the beginning according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you use bleach containing chlorine, put the respective amount in the main wash compartment 5 minutes after the start of the wash cycle.

4. Finally, dry the laundry as usual.

In order to keep the white color of your clothes longer, you should handle the laundry properly. There are a few tips and tricks that can prevent the fabrics from fading and ensure that your laundry is gleaming white. We summarize these below.

1. Wash white clothing after wearing it once or twice

Even if you don’t see it straight away, dirt and sweat can turn the white textiles gray or yellow over time. And since more dirt accumulates with every wear, it is recommended to wash the white garments after every second wear at the latest.

2. Remove stains as early as possible

Fresh stains from coffee or ketchup can be discovered immediately and removed with a suitable agent. However, when it comes to sweat stains, it takes time to see them. Therefore, you can preventively treat the armpit stains from deodorant and sweat with a suitable stain spray. Simply spray the area and let it sit for 15 minutes before washing the shirt.

3. Always wash white laundry separately

While this may seem obvious, you should always sort your laundry carefully. Under no circumstances should colored and white laundry be washed together, especially at high temperatures. If a few light-colored (but not white) clothes occasionally get into the whites, you can use paint and dirt traps.

4. Use detergent containing bleach

When buying white laundry detergent, look out for products that contain bleach. This way you bleach the clothes with every wash and additional bleaching is mostly unnecessary.

5. Use the correct amount of detergent

Overuse and underuse of detergent can leave white fabrics gray and dirty. Therefore, you must always follow the instructions on the packaging.

6. Do not overload the washing machine

Many people fill their washing machine as much as possible to save time and energy . However, this can be unfavorable for the laundry as it cannot be washed completely. There should be enough space in the drum for the water and detergent, so the machine should never be overloaded. Please also note that a lower load is allowed for some programs.

7. Wash white laundry at the maximum permitted washing temperature

As mentioned above, the washing temperature for white laundry should be the maximum allowed. Follow the directions on the label and you can’t go wrong.

8. Dry the laundry according to the manufacturer’s instructions

Drying also plays an important role in white clothing. If clothes stay in the dryer for too long, they can look worn over time. Set the dryer on an auto program that will stop immediately when the clothes are dry.

9. Follow these tips when also washing white bed linen and towels

This way, your bed linen will always stay bright white and the towels soft and fluffy.

Stain removal using bleach

Bleaching home remedies will help remove fresh stains in a hurry. But one thing should always be clear to you when using it: The shot can also backfire and permanently damage the tissue.

Salt often helps with red wine stains and similar fresh soiling. Sprinkle this on the damp stain as soon as possible! The salt grains soak up the liquid together with the (red) dye. Immediately afterwards in the washing machine!

Hard guns like nail polish remover and thinner should only be opened when nothing helps. With a bit of luck, they work against lacquer and other paint stains on polyester and bleach them out. Then it is important to use the washing machine again quickly.

Home remedies to replace chemical bleach

If you can’t find the right bleach, you can use home remedies. Here, however, there is a high probability that the home remedy will have a poorer effect or no effect on the item of clothing. You can still use home remedies to combat stains.

  • For example, white vinegar is suitable as a bleaching agent. First, treat stains or the entire garment with it. Do not mix the vinegar with water. Leave it on for half an hour. When washing, you can also put a cup of the vinegar in the detergent compartment and wash the garment as usual.
  • Also, hydrogen peroxide can be used for bleaching. While it is not as effective as chlorine, it is also good for clothing that cannot be bleached with chlorine. All you have to do is add three percent hydrogen peroxide to the detergent compartment. If there are stains left over after washing and drying, treat them individually.
  • Baking soda and lemon juice can also remove stains. To do this, mix lemon juice and baking soda. Treat the heaviest dirt with it. Wait half an hour to three quarters of an hour. For washing, add a cup of baking soda to the detergent compartment.

When clothes can be bleached – This symbol gives it away!

You probably also know that white laundry looks a little grayish over time. Or has a red item of clothing accidentally slipped into the white laundry and everything is pink? Bleaching can help here. But not all clothes can be bleached. A look at the laundry symbols sewn into the clothing helps here. But what does the symbol for bleach actually look like?

  • The symbol for bleach is a triangle and as such is easy to recognize. If nothing is shown except the triangle, you can use all types of bleach.
  • If the triangle, the symbol for bleaching, is striped, it means that oxygen bleaching should be done.
  • If there is a CL in the triangular symbol for bleach, it means that chlorine should be used as the bleach.
  • Shouldn’t be bleached at all when the triangle is crossed out.

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genevieve dumas new Genevieve Dumas is a design, fashion, food and style writer who has worked on major magazines and mastheads in the United States and Europe.