It happens to everybody at some point. Bleach gets on your one of your favorite shirts or pants, and you have an ugly, discolored mark. What can you do about it? Can it be fixed, or does it mean that article of clothing is forever ruined?
In all honesty, you can’t really undo a bleach mark. Bleach takes the color out of fabric, period. It can’t be “unbleached.” However, all may not be lost, and there are a couple of remedies that may help you to salvage your item. Before you do anything else though, rinse the area thoroughly with cold water. Even if all of the dye is already out of the fabric, bleach will continue to eat the fabric and leave a hole if allowed to remain, so it is important to remove all of the residue as soon as possible.
In the laundry aisle of most stores you can find clothing dye. There are a couple options with this. You can find a color that most closely matches your item, and follow the directions to dye the entire item the new color, however this does not usually resolve the problem unless the item was already a light color because the bleached area will become dyed in a different way (often lighter) than the rest of the item. The best way to fix the problem with dye is to either apply the dye only to the bleached spot, or use a dye remover (also available in the laundry aisle of most supermarkets) first to remove the rest of the dye from the garment so that it can be re-dyed completely and evenly.
If bleach has splattered on your item, you might try just bleaching the whole item, and living with whatever new color emerges. Place the item in a small load wash with a small amount of bleach. Or, you can hand wash the item with bleach in the water. Prepare yourself: you may end up with a tie dye look. Who knows? You may actually like the effect.
If the bleach marks on your item are small and/or inconspicuous, you may try the “quick fix” of using a permanent marker. This technique works best on black or dark colored items. Simply use a permanent marker that most closely matches the color of your item, and color in the bleached spots. You may have to redo the spots after the next wash as the permanent marker may fade.
Try covering up the bleach mark with a patch. This works especially well if the bleach mark is on a pair of pants (especially jeans) where patches don’t look too out of place.
An Ounce of Prevention
The best way to deal with bleach marks is to avoid them to begin with. Following these simple precautions can help you to do that:
- After adding bleach to the bleach dispenser in your washer, flush the dispenser with several capfuls of water so that no bleach residue will remain to ruin the next load of clothes.
- Do not place clothes that have been bleached (i.e. whites) in the same basket, or even in the same dryer with colored clothes—any remaining bleach residue may bleed onto the others clothes, causing bleach marks and discoloration.
- When pouring bleach, make sure no colored clothes are within splashing distance.
- Bleach can be hiding in unexpected places:
- Be careful when using certain anti-bacterial spray cleaners that contain bleach. If these get on your clothing, they will leave bleach stains.
- If you have a pool, the chlorine that you add to your pool can bleach your clothing.
- Other household items, such as hydrogen peroxide and certain whitening toothpastes, can have a bleaching effect on certain types of fabric, so exercise caution.
- Powdered cleansers such as Comet or Ajax contain bleach that can discolor clothing or other fabric.
For more information on fixing bleached clothes, see our guide How to Remove Bleach Stains from Fabric.