Controlled Discharge with Bleach


Part One of Two

After creating several art pieces by painting with thickened dyes on fabric, I wanted to experiment with creating detailed designs on a dark fabric background without having to dye the entire piece.  My familiarity with thickening dyes and paints with sodium alginate led me to experiment with discharging my designs with thickened chlorine bleach.

Much to my amazement it worked beautifully!  I used black cotton sateen purchased at my local chain fabric store and found that it discharged to a very nice bright off-white and many shades in between.  I suggest purchasing a very small amount of fabric (1/8 yard) and try it out for color.  All fabrics discharge differently creating a wide variety of residual colors.  Black is particularly tricky as black dyes are produced by combining many colors.  If you like the results purchase the quantity you need for your project.   

I prepare my sodium alginate with plain water like I would for dye paints.  Be sure to use fresh chlorine bleach – it does degrade in even a tightly closed container over time.  The great thing about this method is that the amount of bleach you will be using is very minimal. 

 Do not mix the bleach with the  alginate until you are ready to paint – then only mix a very small quantity at a time, I use about 1Tbs. of each mixed in a small glass custard cup, but adjust to a heavy cream consistancy.  It will go a long way because you will be painting it on with brushes.  Once mixed, it will not keep longer than one session as the bleach will degrade the sodium alginate.  Throw away any mixture at the end of the day and make a fresh mix the next time you want to paint.

My favorite brushes for this and dye/painting are synthetic filberts, rounds and liners.  The synthetic bristles will stand up to the bleach and dye chemicals.  

Next Post – Lets Paint with Bleach

Ever curious,



Controlled Discharge with Bleach — 7 Comments

  1. What a beautiful effect. Looking forward to seeing more. I’m not a painter, but I find myself wondering about using that mix with a silk screen!

  2. Love the shading you got with this! I’ve been doing some discharge and have the alginate but have yet to try it (too many tools, too much fun!). I love the tips you gave as I wouldn’t have thought about it degrading. I’ve yet to find black which doesn’t discharge to rusty orange. Thanks for sharing. Lisa

  3. I love the detail you got with the thickened bleach… it never occured to me to make it super thick. Now I’m wondering how it would behave pushed through a silk screen. Nice work. 😀

  4. Dear Linda;
    Wow, this is stunningly beautiful – and you did this with bleach/sodium alginate???? Breathaking, no pun intended – lol. Okay, now I must give this technique a try. I’ve done the discharging with black fabric as well as various colors of fabric before, but only with bleach, no thickner. Also, seems every piece of black fab I get turns orangy, great if Halloween is my theme – lolol. Any suggestions on brand of black fabric that discharges nicely to shades of white. Just love your piece here – thank you so much for sharing!
    Oh, one other question – how do you know when Bleach is fresh? I haven’t noticed any dating on my bleach bottles…
    Anna in Tampa

    • Hi Anna,
      Thank you for your kind comments. To answer your questions: I bought black cotton sateen from JoAnn’s but it was a few years ago. I would try it again though, just an 1/8th yard. I rely on my grocery store to provide fresh chlorine bleach but if I have had a bottle hanging around I give it the smell test. Just a tiny whiff will give you a pungent order that you can’t stand. If it smells weak, it is. I have had some (after quite a while) that has no smell at all. Throw it out.

      Ever curious,


  5. You mention rinsing your finished product in vinegar. This is not an effective way of getting rid of bleach. You need a product called anti-clor. You can buy something similar in Walmarts in the fish department where it is put into fish tanks to get rid of any chlorine in tap water. Rinse your fabric well first, then immerse it in bucket of water that you’ve added a few drops of the anticlor and let soak for a short while.

    Your painting skills are incredible. Even using your technique, I’d never do that. But will file the info for some more random type painting.