bleach stamping a tee

Every summer at the library we have a summer reading program for kids and teens and that means we staff get to (are encouraged to) wear promotional t-shirts. They are paid for by our Friends of the Library (and they’re not very expensive in this crazy economy we live in – about a dollar, I was told – ?!) and we get a choice of several different designs. The only problem is… they don’t say what they’re for – no summer, no reading, no 2012, no library name – the figures are holding books, but the design doesn’t scream READ to me! We get them as part of a package of promotional materials so they can’t be customized.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t customize mine!

I did some quick internet research to see if bleaching with my clear acrylic stamps was likely to work, and then got down to business.


  • thin plastic cutting board
  • bleach pen
  • stamps
  • paper towels, wet and dry, for clean up
  • gloves and apron/smock
  • cotton bud (q-tip)
  • table workspace, nearby sink of cold water

I put the cutting board between the layers to stop the bleach bleeding through to the front of the shirt. Then I shook up the bleach pen (I forgot that at first and got a bunch of liquid instead of the nice thick gel) and used the thin end of the pen to “ink” the stamp letters with bleach. I used a cotton bud to catch any excess that spilled off the edges of the letters. And then I stamped…

This sequence took about 5 minutes. I was pretty surprised that it turned yellowish-green! The color the bleach brings out depends on the dye that was used to create the shirt color. You can leave the bleach on longer (one person online left it on overnight) but I think there is a risk that the bleach will eat right through the fibers of the shirt and make holes. Bleach can damage certain kinds of stamps (I have heard) and it will disintegrate spandex.

I rinsed out the stamped words after about 10 minutes (the krl got a minute or two less and the 2012 and the cotton bud dots only sat about 5 minutes) and then stamped the 2012 over the top of the handwritten date (I didn’t really like how it looked handwritten). I wasn’t sure if it would work quite as well on wet cloth, but after another 5-10 minutes or so it looked OK so I rinsed the bleach gel off the shirt and called it done.

I gave it a quick hand wash with warm water and detergent and hung it out to dry.

I like the distressed look!

And it’s a whole lot better now that it advertises what it’s supposed to be advertising.

By the way, I am not the only one who will be customizing my shirt. We actually have a competition most years. It started after a few of us altered out shirts just to make them wearable. Most women don’t look good in a men’s cut heavyweight tee! Some superstars actually tailor their shirts into a feminine shape with a nice neckline. I tend to keep things simple because in the long run I don’t want another tee, I don’t need another tee, and most years I don’t get a shirt at all. This year the design was cute, and it’s my favorite color…

I saw another bleach idea online that I liked the look of – using a stencil. You can either paint bleach inside the stencil, or lay down a solid shape and spray bleach water around the edges to make a negative design. Freezer paper would work well to make stencils – you can iron it to fabric and it will stick until you peel it off. I’ll have to think about whether I want to decorate more of my clothes.


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