When I go to sell at an antique show, people are always trying to sell bleached flannel shirts! And they are selling them for big bucks! So, what do I decide to do? I decided to try to make some myself! And now that I have, I’m teaching you how to bleach a flannel shirt.
Please, please be sure to check out the what I learned section because you do not want to lose brain cells like me!!!
First off you are going to need flannel shirts! (these are the cheapest ones I could find online) Now, I am making these to sell, so I am bleaching A LOT of shirts at a time. But this is how I do things…in bulk. Doing a lot of the same thing at the same time just is more time efficient!!
And my to-do list is WAY too long to not be time efficient!!
So, gather your shirts! Bleach some for your kid’s friends, your friends, the neighbors… doing it 10 times takes about as much time as doing it once!
Where Do You Get Shirts?
Getting shirts is kind of like getting junk. Want to know where I get junk?
I checked the mens section EVERY time I went to a thrift shop. AND I picked up flannels for next to nothing at garage sales. Between these two places, you should be able to find quite a few and have a nice selection!
I also didn’t pay attention to labels, like I probably should have because turns out, many of them WILL NOT bleach! Now when I research what fabric blends won’t whiten or are resistant to bleach, I can’t get a straight answer!
So I’m going to tell you as an unofficial recommendation, because I’m just telling you my experience..get a shirt that is a cotton blend. If the shirt feels like it has rough scratch wool in it, then don’t get that one because it’s probably not going to take the bleach. A very official answer, you are welcome.
Of course the shirts that didn’t bleach for me, I just tried to sell as is. So buy cute ones that you would like even if the bleach technique doesn’t work! You can always embellish them another way with letters that go on a lettermans jacket or with lace or vintage patches!
- Flannel shirt
- Tub of bleach solution
- Running water
Ok, so you have your shirts, now what?
And probably the most important tip I can give you is to be in a well ventilated area!!!
I read that this should be the location and I thought the bathroom with one door and a closed window qualified as a well ventilated area…WRONG!
If at all possible do this outside! (Watch the video and note that I am outside)
After bleaching a couple shirts in the bathtub I realized it was pretty smelly. Grabbed a fan and proceeded to smell up the whole house. I was too stubborn to give up, and I’m pretty sure I lost a few brain cells that day. So I repeat…GO OUTSIDE!
Another important factor..please be sure to wear clothes that you are okay with getting bleach on them! I would hate for you to do this project and ruin your clothes! And it will happen! I have so many pairs of clothes with paint spots on them because I always think to myself…oh, I’ll be extra careful this time…it’s just a little project, I won’t get paint on myself THIS time…I’m already ready to start, I don’t want to take a couple minutes to change… BUT, guess what happens? I get paint on myself 99% of the time!
So don’t be like Brooke! Change your clothes!
I am also totally the person that never wears gloves when doing a project. I don’t know how many times I’ve ran to the sink with stripper burning a hole through my hand! Again, I always think oh, it will be fine this time, I’ll be careful! Ugh!
So, you have work clothes on and gloves. You are outside with a tub of bleach solution and flannel shirts that are cotton blend. Sounds like you are ready to get started!
The Process: How to Bleach a Flannel Shirt
- Make Bleach Solution
- Dip Shirt in Solution
- Rinse Shirt
- Wash Shirt
In your tub mix half and half water and bleach. I guesstimated, but you could always go grab a cottage cheese container out of the recycling to measure with. Why did I say that? Because that’s what I would do!
With your gloves on, select which end of your shirt you want to bleach. You could do the top section or bottom section.
Dip that section into the bleach. To get an ombre effect, dip a small section into the bleach solution. Then, add a little bit more of the shirt to the solution and wait. Then add a little bit more. That first section has now been in the bleach solution 3 times longer than the top section and should be more bleached, white, after you wash it!
Because I bleached a lot of shirts at once, I would remove them from the bleach solution and then lay them out. I would stack them on top of each other being sure to put all of the bleached sections on top of each other. That means that some of the shirts would be facing different directions depending on if I bleached the top or bottom of the flannel.
After I have dipped all of the flannel shirts in the bleach solution, I would start with the shirt I dipped first and rinse it off. After rinsing the shirts off really well I would again stack them with the bleached sections together.
After rinsing all of the shirts off with water I washed the shirts.
Then, when you pull them out of the dryer…voila! Your masterpiece is revealed!
And, then you will be addicted and want to do more…you’re welcome!
And when you do your next batch you will know how to tweak the process to get the look you want!
Frequently Asked Questions
What type of shirt do I use?
According to my Google research, you do need the shirt to have some polyester in it because 100% cotton shirts can get some holes in them. However, you do not want the shirt to have fibers that are colorfast, because then it will not take the bleach. Meaning there will be no evidence that you tried to bleach the shirt. Since I don’t know exactly what the label would say, my advice is that you want the majority of the label to say cotton. And you do not want to pick something that is scratchy and feels like wool. You are welcome for the super helpful answer ha!
How do I make the bleach solution?
Use 50% water and 50% bleach. If you use a gallon of bleach, then you will use a gallon of water. A guestimate is fine! I would probably error in the side of a little too much water.
What color will the bleached section of the shirt be?
This really depends on the type of fabric. Different fabrics are going to respond differently to bleach. It also depends on the amount of time you hold the shirt in the bleach solution. The longer you have it submerged, the water the fabric is going to be. If you just want a lighter version of the plaid flannel, then don’t have it in the solution as long.
What if I want a different design?
See Tip about spray bottle
See Tip about ombre effect
How long does the flannel shirt need to set in the bleach solution?
The longer you soak the shirt in the bleach solution, the whiter it will probably become. I say probably because different shirt materials will have a different bleach time. If you like for some of the plaid to be visible then you don’t need to let it soak. Soaking time in the solution is less than 5 minutes IF you are going to let the bleach solution set on the shirt outside of the solution before rinsing it off.
- Have a big tub that you can put in a WELL ventilated area
- Buy flannel shirts that do not have wool in them
- Have a water source
- Have bleach *optional put bleach in a spray bottle
- Wear gloves
- Make your bleach solution by using a 50/50 ratio of bleach to water
- Choose an end of the shirt to bleach and dip that section in the bleach solution
- Set that shirt aside until you are finished using the bleach
- When finished, rinse of the bleach solution with water
- Wash your flannels
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