Bleach & Dye Denim

Bleach damaged jeans can be fully bleach and dyed a new color! | The Inspired Wren

Last week I killed seven (7!) pairs of denim in one laundry disaster. This week, I turned two of those seemingly destroyed pants into wearable, color-dyed jeans.

I cannot be trusted with bleach. In a previous home, I dropped an open bottle on the carpeted area in front of our washing machine (I convinced Mr. Wren the area needed to be tiled after that). And just last week, I accidentally poured bleach instead of vinegar into the fabric softener cup on our washing machine. It's a top loader with an agitator and it was a very sloppy pour into that center cup. There were eight pair of jeans in the machine at the time. I somehow managed to hit each pair. Only one pair remains wearable as is, because the bleach only hit the waistband. It took me a good twelve hours to recover enough to talk about it. By that time I realized I had an opportunity to turn lemons (well, bleach) into lemonade! Or at least chic & timely, color-of-the-year marsala jeans.

Bleach damaged jeans can be fully bleach and dyed a new color! | The Inspired Wren

There are a lot of tutorials floating around the webiverse and Pinterest on how best to bleach then dye denim. I read a few and then began on my own. You'll notice I didn't title this post "tutorial" or "how to." Typically, when I publish a tutorial it's a project I've successfully completed an average of three (or more) times. This is a project I've done once. Just this time. And it worked. For me. So, let's just say...


WARNINGS! Remember, do not pour the bleach or dye outside into the ground or storm drain as it will run into the water table. And you probably don't want bleach down your kitchen sink if you have a garbage disposal as it can cause serious damage/rust. Likewise, don't pour dye down your bathtub as it can stain those fiber-glass/plastic tubs and scratched ceramic, too. With the dye, just be sure to follow all proper warnings and precautions that come with it. This next heads-up seems obvious, but please be sure you're working in a well ventilated area when using bleach (my bathroom has a window that I opened fully in addition to running the fan, and I still ended up opening a lot of the windows in my house to help dissipate the fumes). Finally, rubber gloves are your hands best friends for both the dye and the bleach.

I had a few concerns as I started. First, bleach can damage fibers. I was worried that the previously ruined areas of the pants -- those that were hit with straight bleach in the original "incident" -- would not make it through the bleaching step without tearing. They did. Second, I don't have a slop sink. So it took me some time to decide where in my house I would do each of these steps; especially knowing my clumsy nature and propensity to spill things. What I didn't need was a larger bleach or dye spill. I opted to do the bleach step in my tub so that I could pour the bleach solution straight down the drain (those pipes could probably use a little disinfecting). And I worked with the dye in my kitchen so that I could dispose of it down the stainless steel sink.

Bleach damaged jeans can be fully bleach and dyed a new color | The Inspired Wren
Before, but clearly after the "incident."


Bleach the current color out of your garment with a measured bleach solution. 
1 Cup Bleach for every 1 Gallon Hot Water -- agitate every 20 minutes until done.

To bleach the jeans I worked with a measured solution of one gallon hot water to one cup bleach. For my container and jeans I used about six gallons of water plus six cups of bleach in a plastic storage bin and checked on the pants every 20 minutes. Each time I checked they were closer to white. I'd stir them up some, open up the folded parts so the bleach could do it's work, and then set the timer for another 20 minutes. It took about three hours to get the pants evenly pale. As expected the seams and hems took the longest to lose color, though there were some random patches on the flat fabric that stubbornly held the original color just as long. It's notable that my jeans became yellowy-white, whereas The Peanut's only ever faded to a cool, blue-tinted white.

Bleach old or damaged jeans so they can be dyed! | The Inspired Wren


Use your washing machine to wash the bleached garment.
Use a lot of water and an extra rinse cycle. Or three.

I drained the bleach down the tub and took the very wet jeans to the washing machine where I washed the two pairs of pants with a tiny bit of detergent in an extra-large load of water with a second rinse selected. Then, for good measure, I ran another medium-size "quick rinse" cycle. At this point I couldn't smell the bleach unless I put my nose right up to the pants -- though it's unclear whether that was because they didn't reek or because I could no longer smell anything. Then for good measure, I ran another full wash cycle with second rinse (no detergent).

After bleach, before dye -- Bleach old or damaged jeans so they can be dyed! | The Inspired Wren
During; after the bleach but before the dye.


Dye your garment following the instructions on the dye of your choice.
Read carefully, different brands have different directions for a reason.

I admit I had a hard time choosing dye. I tend to wear dark colors: black and dark-washed denim. I wanted to make these pants wearable again. I was tempted to dye them back to denim blue, but I wanted to be adventurous. My unofficial Instagram poll was full of blues and greens. The Peanut probably would have loved teal, but I wanted to be sure I would actually wear these after all my work. Then it hit me! And a quick Google search helped me! Rit brand dye actually has the formula for Pantone's Marsala on the website, so that's what I decided to work with. I used equal parts Scarlet, Cocoa Brown, and  Wine (not called for in the marsala formula) -- true marsala has more yellow/brown than the popular burgundy of the 90s, but I colleged through the 90s and was looking for a little nostalgia at the same time; I threw the Wine in hoping to add a little blue without actually adding blue.

Marsala = 1 part Scarlet + 1 Part Cocoa Brown | The Inspired Wren
1 part Scarlet, 1 part Cocoa Brown, and 1 part Wine (not pictured)

I've heard not-so-great things about Rit; I got suggestions for fiber-reactive dyes such as Tulip and Dylon. But I really wanted marsala, so I read up on Rit dye, and made sure I followed the directions and tips for dark color: lots of dye (a full bottle total), a cup of salt  and a squeeze of dish soap added before the garment but five minutes after the dye, 30+ minutes, and all on the stove-top for consistent heat. Then I finished off the dye process with Rit's Color Stay [affiliate link].

I had some trouble getting the pants to "run clear" after the dye bath. But once I threw them in the Color Stay it was ...closer to clear.

Give jeans new life with dye! | The Inspired Wren
Rinsing before the Color Stay bath.


Wash and dry your garment as you normally would.
But alone and with some old towels.

After 30 minutes in the Color Stay I moved the jeans to my washing machine with two old towels and three or so color catchers. The old white towel turned pink, as did the color catchers. As expected the color faded -- anything is darker when wet. But I really like the final look. I may wash these again one more time before I wear them as I don't want to risk color transfer to any furniture I sit on. Keep an eye here and Instagram -- if they really lose color on a second, or future, wash I'll update. For the foreseeable future I will wash both of these alone until I'm confident they won't bleed onto other clothing.

Dye old denim Pantone's Marsala -- color of the year! | The Inspired Wren
This was a fun project. One I would never have attempted if it were not for the original bleach accident. But I'm glad I did. I'm looking forward to wearing my new color jeans, something I would never have had (never would buy) if it weren't for the incident. 

The remaining five damaged pairs of jeans include two old pair of mine that I should have thrown away months ago (holes and ill-fitting), two that were running short on The Peanut (again, no great loss), and a favorite pair of Mr. Wren's. Sadly, Mr. Wren does not want marsala, or teal, jeans. Luckily only that one pair of his was among the carnage. I offered to splash them with bleach a few more times to achieve a solid 80s pop star look. He turned that down, too. For now we'll just replace those with a new pair of classic-blue Levis. I guess it would be a little too matchy-matchy if we all had marsala jeans.

PS -- If you like this fabric manipulation, be sure to check out Ink-Jet Printing on Fabric, too!

TUTORIAL: Fabric Printing | Learn how to print your own fabric with an ink-jet printer in this quick tutorial. | The Inspired Wren   TUTORIAL: Christmas Forest Pillow | The Inspired Wren

Ren Murphy writes for The Inspired Wren.

You should really see all that goes into each project!
From my marathon sewing sessions, to all that I do when I #shouldhavebeensewing catch daily updates on Instagram (and Flickr) of works-in-progress. Get that behind the scenes view you’re looking for, and sneak peeks of upcoming tutorials, too.

The Inspired Wren is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to