Bleaching demin AKA don’t make the same mistakes I did!

So my favourite pair of RTW jeans is a distressed pair made out of bleached denim which I love and wear all the time. Finding jeans that fit is no easy task (something I’m sure most of you can relate to) and ideally I would have preferred a non-distressed pair as I’m not sure how long these will last for. I’ve been wanting a similar pair without the distressing for a long time now but have never been able to find stretch denim in a bleached wash that I liked.

Recently Kelly from True Bias wrote a post on her blog about bleaching denim and a light bulb went off in my head. Of course! If I just bleached some denim I would be able to get the lighter colour I was after. I carefully read through her post, as well as a couple of others she referenced. I found both posts (by Megan Nielsen and Alina Design Co) as well as Kelly’s very useful.

The main takeaways seemed to be wetting the denim first (by running it through a rinse and spin cycle in the washing machine), using a ratio of bleach to water that was easy to scale up or down, most of the change happens in the first hour or so and that testing swatches first was definitely a good idea! The ratio I used was one part bleach to four parts water and I simply used the empty bleach bottle to measure out the required amount of water.

I prewashed and dried my 9 oz stretch denim (from the Fabric store) which was originally a deep indigo colour. I cut a few swatches and used a fabric marker to write how long each of these was going to be in the bleach bath for. As I was aiming for a fairly light colour I didn’t bother testing short increments of time but left the swatches in for 30 mins, 1 hour, 2 hours, 3 hours, 4 hours and 5 hours. Every time I removed a swatch I stirred the rest of the fabric around (wearing some heavy duty gloves) and noticed the water turning a delightful rusty colour.

I then washed and dried the swatches and waited excitedly to see the results. Here are all of my swatches (with the top one being an unbleached and unwashed one). As you can see the colour kept on changing even after a few hours and I suspect would have continued changing if I’d left them in for even longer.  The edges did have a tendency to curl up, which became less pronounced the longer the fabric was left in the bleach bath. The black dots you can see on the bottom swatch are just from the fabric marker bleeding through.


I decided to do the bleach bath for my 1.5 x 1.5m length of denim in the bath and underestimated how much bleach I would need. I bought two litres thinking that 10 litres of liquid in total be enough liquid to completely submerge my fabric but I was wrong. By the time I’d mixed the bleach with the water and had my fabric ready to go I was so ready to get started so went ahead with the bleaching anyway – big mistake!

I remember reading on Alina’s blog how she wasn’t able to completely submerge her fabric but by constantly moving the fabric around she was able to keep the colour even. Now she was bleaching her fabric for less than one hour, not the five hours I was planning on so alarm bells should have been ringing. Unfortunately I ignored my sensible inner voice and thought that by occasionally moving things around the colour would still turn out relatively even. If “even” meant big splotchy patches of uneven amounts of colour change then I would have been right (face palm!)

I put the fabric through a rinse cycle in my washing machine and ran it through the dryer, holding on to the vague misconception that everything would turn out alright. It did not. Firstly, as the fabric had not been completely submerged for the whole five hours the colour was way darker than what I was hoping for. More importantly, as different patches of denim had been submerged for differing lengths of time there were very obvious splotches of lighter and darker tones.

After sulking for a good 24 hours I calmed down and thought I might as well give the denim another go in a deeper bleach bath. This time I mixed up the bleach solution in my laundry sink which is quite deep. I also bought 5 litres of bleach so the total volume of the solution was 25 litres. The other change I made was to fully submerge the fabric, but then weigh it down with another wet piece of denim (0.5m leftover from a previous project).

I’m guessing you could achieve the same outcome using any wet piece of fabric that you didn’t mind bleaching. I left it soaking for another five hours and ran it through the washer and dryer again. The result was much closer to what I was hoping for, and the blotchiness was also much less noticeable. Even though it’s not perfect I’m still fairly happy with the end result and am looking forward to sewing up a pair of jeans (hopefully soon!).



After – (the blotchiness is less noticeable in person)

Have you tried bleaching denim at all? Would love to hear any tips or tricks you might have. Happy sewing xx

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