It's way less messy than traditional tie dye!
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Tie-dye is a quintessential summer activity, and the multi-color trend is ultra-popular right now. But before you reach for the white shirts and messy bottles of dye, consider a reverse tie-dye project instead. Reverse tie-dye is exactly what it sounds like: Instead of adding color to white fabric (and staining your hands in the process), you're removing the dye from a solid-color piece of clothing with a mixture of bleach and water.

We like this method because you can choose an article of clothing in a color you know you like and turn that into a tie-dye creation by removing the color in some areas. No more wondering what color the dye powder is actually going to be, and no messy dye drips! And the process couldn't be easier—throw on some protective gloves, rubber band a colored shirt, and start spraying!

two blue reverse tie dye sweatshirts on blue background
Credit: Emily VanSchmus

How to Reverse Tie-Dye

Supplies Needed

  • Plastic tarp 
  • Rubber gloves 
  • Solid color sweatshirt or shirt 
  • Rubber bands 
  • Spray bottle
  • Bleach
  • Bucket

Step-by-Step Directions

Follow these easy instructions to create your own reverse tie-dye shirt. You should be able to complete the project in under 30 minutes. (When you're done, you'll also need to wash and dry the clothing before you can wear it.)

blue sweatshirt on tarp for reverse tie dye
Credit: Emily VanSchmus

Step 1: Prep Your Work Space

Since this project requires bleach, be sure to work in a well-ventilated area—preferably outdoors. Lay down a protective plastic tarp to protect your patio, grass, or other surface from the bleach mixture. You'll also need to protect your skin; have a pair of rubber gloves nearby as well, and don't try this project on windy days.

reverse tie dying sweatshirt
Credit: Emily VanSchmus

Step 2: Prep Your Fabric

Before you begin, you'll need to pick out a shirt to tie-dye. We found that darker colors respond better to this technique since there's more dye to remove, but any solid color fabric will work. We used this plain T-shirt and this solid color sweatshirt. Keep in mind the method works fastest on thinner T-shirt material; the bleach will need to sit longer on thicker sweatshirt fabric.

Lay your shirt down on the plastic tarp and use thin rubber bands to gather and bunch 3-inch sections of the fabric. For a classic tie-dye look, grab a section of fabric and twist it in a circular motion before securing it with a rubber band. Repeat until the whole shirt is bunched and tied.

Step 3: Make Bleach Mixture

The best part of this tie-dye method is that you can skip the dozens of messy dye bottles; you can reverse tie-dye a whole set of shirts with one bottle of bleach mixture. To make the liquid, fill a plastic spray bottle with a mixture of half water and half bleach. You won't need much; for one or two shirts, start with a cup of water and a cup of bleach.

reverse tie dyed sweatshirt
Credit: Emily VanSchmus

Step 4: Spray Fabric and Let Sit

Once you've filled the spray bottle with your bleach and water mixture, don the plastic gloves and start spraying your shirt. Keep the head of the spray bottle close to the fabric to avoid getting bleach anywhere but over the plastic tarp. (If you're working outside, be sure to do this step on a day when there's little to no wind, otherwise, the bleach spray can blowback onto you.)

You don't want to remove too much of the original color, so focus on spraying each bunch of rubber-banded fabric, and don't spray as much of the mixture between the bunches. When you're done spraying, let the shirt or sweatshirt sit for a few minutes until you begin to notice a change in color. We saw the thin shirt begin to change color right away, but it took about 20 minutes for the bleach to affect the thicker sweatshirt material.

Step 5: Rinse, Wash, and Dry

Once you've noticed the bleach begin to strip the color from your shirt, carefully untie all the rubber bands (keep the gloves on for this step) and rinse out the shirt in a bucket of water. You'll want to rinse your shirt a few times in a plastic bucket before taking it inside and running the shirt through the washing machine. Be sure to thoroughly wash and dry all clothing before wearing it to prevent any leftover bleach from irritating your skin. After that, you'll be able to wash and dry the tie-dyed clothing as normal with the rest of your laundry.

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