How To Reverse Tie-Dye

How To Reverse Tie-Dye main article image
Posted on March 22, 2021 by Emily O'Leary

When I first saw the bleach tie-dye trend floating around the internet, I just knew I had to try it. While I was looking into bleach dying shirts, I came across another trend entirely – reverse tie-dye. 

Reverse tie-dye is basically when you bleach the shirt first and then dye the bleached parts of the fabric. The contrast between the dark shirt and the dye makes for an eye-popping design.

What you need to get started with you reverse tie-dye project

First, you will need a dark-colored t-shirt. Preferably, you might want a black shirt. This will ensure while you are dying the fabric later on that you will not see the excess dye seeping through the shirt. This process will likely not work on a lighter-colored shirt as well as it would on a darker color.

Secondly, you will need a bleach toilet bowl cleaner. I know what you are thinking, and that it sounds totally bizarre. The bleach in the toilet cleaner will bleach the t-shirt much like if you used a bleach and water mixture. If you do not have any lying around the house, you can opt to use a fifty percent water and fifty percent bleach mixture instead.

Choose a dark dye color

Next, you will need some tie-dye, obviously. Make sure you purchase a quality dye so you can make sure the dye will stick to the bleached parts of the shirt. Make sure you also have a dark enough dye color. I will note that a darker dye color, like purple, will have a greater chance at showing through the bleached portions of the shirt than a lighter color, like turquoise.

Some other miscellaneous items you will need will include rubber bands, disposable metal tins, plastic bags, disposable gloves, and patience. This project will likely take a while to complete, and it may take longer than a day depending on how long you let everything sit for. This was a fun day project to do with my sister and my mom!

Prepare shirt for bleaching

The first step in this process is to prepare your shirt for the bleaching process. The shirt should be completely dry for this step. You will want to use your rubber bands to tie off your shirt in the design you want it dyed in. You can either do a scrunched design, a bullseye, whatever you want – get creative!

Next, you will want to apply the toilet bowl cleaner to the shirts. I did this in my bathtub in an effort to not bleach anything that was not supposed to, but you could also do this outside in the grass, in a sink, etc. I added a pretty large amount to my shirt because I wanted more of the bleached pattern on my shirt. Do not forget to flip the shirt over to bleach the other side! 

Do not let the shirts sit in the toilet cleaner for a long time, though. I left mine on for about twenty to thirty minutes, but I probably would not exceed that amount of time.

Rinse the bleach

After your shirts have sat for a while, you will want to rinse out the excess toilet bowl cleaner. Rinse it under a faucet first, I did mine in the bathtub as well. After you rinsed out the bleach thoroughly, you will want to wash it with laundry detergent before you dye it. I threw mine in the washer and used the quick wash setting, so it was in and out of the washer in about thirty minutes.

When your shirt is out of the wash, I would let it dry a little bit to the point where it is still damp but not sopping wet. I found it much easier to dye the shirts while still slightly damp than fully dry, as the excess water in the shirt will make the dye bleed.

You have now successfully bleach-dyed your shirt! You could just stop here if you just want a bleach-dyed shirt and like the design. If you still want the bleached sections dyed, continue reading to follow the process.

Dye the bleached sections

Once your shirt is damp, now you are ready to dye your shirt! I did this outside in a disposable metal tin I found at the dollar store. Any dye that does not make it to the shirt will drip into the tin, where it will be soaked up by the shirt. This technique can also be used inside to prevent transferring dye to unwanted surfaces.

You could once again start by sectioning off the shirt. I found it easier to lay my shirt out flat so I could easily target the areas I wanted to dye, but it is your preference.

After you have your shirt positioned how you want it, it is time to dye the shirt! What I found easiest was to target the dye to the bleached areas only. This would help conserve the amount of dye you are using to help ensure that you have enough dye to cover the entire shirt. I would recommend wearing gloves if you plan on constantly moving and repositioning your shirt during the dying process so you do not dye your hands. 

Once you are done dying your shirt, you will need to let it sit according to the dye instructions. We let ours sit for about six to eight hours. You can either let your shirt sit in the disposable metal tin, or you can place it in a gallon-sized plastic bag.

After your shirt is done sitting, you will want to rinse out the excess dye from the shirt. I just put my shirt in the sink and ran water through the shirt, squeezing the water out every once in a while, until the water ran clear from the dye. Once you are done rinsing out the shirt, you will want to wash it once again. I also did this through the quick wash cycle.

Now you have a reverse tie-dyed shirt! Although it is time-consuming, I hope you enjoyed the process. Let me know how this project went for you in the comments below!

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