DIY: Bleached Out Tees

December 6, 2010

DIY bleach tees tshirt

Hello, Friends! Ralph finished up his sibling Christmas gifts this weekend. He created great-looking bleached out tees, each one unique and representing something he thought each individual sibling would love. They turned out super cool. And I’ve got the images and techniques ready to share. Find the full DIY below.

DIY bleach tees tshirt

For Betty, Ralph chose a simplified flower. Cute!

DIY bleach tees tshirt

This one’s for Maude. In case you’re wondering, orange Camp Halfblood t-shirts are a major part of the Percy Jackson book series. : ) Ralph made a second one for Maude’s best friend. Maude is going to go nuts over these.

DIY bleach tees tshirt

Olive’s favorite color is green and her favorite fruit is a pear.

DIY bleach tees tshirt

Ralph made a t-shirt for himself too. He is really into skate brands at the moment, so he recreated the Electric logo.

DIY bleach tees tshirt

For Oscar, Ralph used duct tape. Ralph’s happiest about how this one turned out.

DIY bleach tees tshirt

J is for June, of course.

1) Start by gathering your materials. You’ll need a 100% cotton t-shirt in a bright or dark color (you can use a pastel, but the contrast from the bleach won’t be as intense), bleach, rags and something to block the bleach. We used vinyl cutouts and duct tape as blockers.

DIY bleach tees tshirt

2) Spread out the t-shirt, then put a layer of rags or an old towel between the front and back — so the bleach doesn’t bleed through to the back of the shirt.

DIY bleach tees tshirt DIY bleach tees tshirt

3) Apply the design you want on your t-shirt. For most of our designs, we used sticky-back vinyl that was cut into shapes and letters using a Silhouette machine. For Oscar’s tee, Ralph put strips of duct tape across the shirt in a diagonal pattern. If you don’t have a Silhouette machine, you could still buy a sheet or roll of sticky-back vinyl and cut out the shapes you want by hand.

DIY bleach tees tshirt DIY bleach tees tshirt

4) Next, pour some bleach into a container and dip an old rag into the bleach. Press the rag on to and around the vinyl or tape. When the shirt is as bleached as you’d like it to be, life the front of the shirt, slip out the rags and immediately rinse the shirt in water to stop the bleaching process.

DIY bleach tee tshirt DIY bleach tee tshirt

5) Dry the shirt in the dryer and you’re ready to wrap it up. Yay! (Find a few more helpful tips at the bottom.)

DIY bleach tee tshirt

DIY bleach tees tshirt

Some helpful tips:

- If the bleach doesn’t seem to be working, there is probably sizing on the t-shirt fabric. Just wash and dry the shirt and try again. This happened to me twice and washing the shirt did the trick.

- Wider pieces of vinyl seemed to work better than thin pieces. For example, the lettering on the Camp Halfblood t-shirt was super thin and the bleach crept behind the letters. We used an orange fabric marker to correct any over-bleaching. The camp tee was the only design where this happened.

- For the pear we used a sponge brush instead of the rag. The rag makes for cleaner edges around the design. The brush made fuzzy edges. Both can be cool depending on what you’re looking for.

- You’ll probably get a few random dots of bleach on the shirt in places you weren’t planning. Don’t stress. It will look good anyway. : )

Need more sibling gift ideas? We made several fun projects this year: Monogram MugsBottlecap MagnetsCustom Leather Patches and Photo Snowglobes. You can also find a list of projects from past Christmases here.

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1 carolyn December 6, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Love this idea — the kids are going to look great in them! Way to go Ralph!

2 Joanna December 6, 2010 at 12:37 pm


3 Ren December 6, 2010 at 12:39 pm

very cool!

4 andrea milne December 6, 2010 at 12:39 pm

those are really cute. I’ll have to file this one away for when my kids are a little older. thanks for sharing.

5 Tanya December 6, 2010 at 12:41 pm

I love this but would LOVE some ideas on how to beef up all white shirts. I have a ton of those.

6 Design Mom December 6, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Hi Tanya! We had good luck with tie dye a couple of years ago. Here’s the link:

7 oh amanda December 6, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Love it! But I had to laugh b/c I clicked over to this post on twitter b/c I thought it said “bleached out TREES”! ;)

8 Design Mom December 6, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Hah! If we ever bleach trees, I’ll be sure to let you know. : )

9 Chris December 6, 2010 at 12:45 pm

sweet! these are great for everyone.

10 Steph December 6, 2010 at 12:45 pm

He should be so proud!! These shirts look awesome. What a GREAT idea!

11 Dana December 6, 2010 at 12:56 pm

How awesome! Love it and now I have one more project to add to my enormous list – thanks Ralph!

12 Joyful Imperfection December 6, 2010 at 12:59 pm

I am a grown up. I want one of these, especially love the pear. Do you block your children from your gorgeous blog at Christmas to avoid spoilers? :)

13 Design Mom December 6, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Yes! No kids are allowed to read my blog for a month before Christmas. Luckily, everyone likes surprises so they cooperate willingly. This is also true when we’re making the actual gifts. We’ll ask everyone else to go watch a movie or play outside while one of the kids and I work on gifts. No one ever complains — they know they’ll get a turn too.

14 Damaris @Kitchen Corners December 6, 2010 at 4:48 pm

good question. I was wondering the same thing. These are beautiful Gabi. I love the duct tape one. I can’t wait to go to Hawaii next week. Christian’s mom is crazy about tie-dye and I’m sure we’ll make a bunch.

15 Kellie@Greenhab December 6, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Love this! I look here every year for ideas!

16 Patricia C. December 6, 2010 at 1:03 pm

These are beautiful! Excellent idea. I’m going to try it this weekend.

17 bdaiss December 6, 2010 at 1:07 pm

So wonderful! I love that they are so personalized.

Another tip – you can use a spray bottle for a more misty look.
And don’t forget BE PATIENT! Don’t over apply the bleach. Sometimes it looks like it’s not “working” and then all of a sudden everything goes crazy.

18 Amanda Shaw December 20, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Thanks for this tip- I’m on here reading this while we try it and I was just thinking that it didn’t look like it was working as well as I’d like- but I guess we just need to be patient and wait and see. I did wash mine first to make sure they would work. LOVE THIS IDEA!!

19 Robin Kendall December 6, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Ralph did an awesome job! Love the ideas he chose for each sibling.

20 tracey December 6, 2010 at 1:09 pm

These are awesome!! : )

21 Molly December 6, 2010 at 1:14 pm

What a cool idea! I have a ton of ideas now – thanks!!!

22 Mary December 6, 2010 at 1:15 pm

What a great idea to do with or for kids (big or little)!

23 Rosa @ flutterflutter December 6, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Brilliant idea!! WOW. My kids would LOVE the striped shirt.

24 Leanne December 6, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Ralph did such a great job! I’m sure his siblings are going to love them and look amazing in them too. Such thoughtful gifts!

25 Jo December 6, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Super cool indeed! Oh, your children are so lucky to have you (and each other AND all the uber cool sibling gifts, of course…)! :o) :o) :o) I’m going to keep the instructions for my son who will start making his sibling gifts once his sibling arrives next May. :-) Thank you!!!

26 Barbara December 6, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Such a great idea! I love how your kids make their gifts for each other.

27 Juliette December 6, 2010 at 1:29 pm

What a cool project! I wonder how much fun it would be to experiment with technique and tools. How about using a spray bottle for some of it? I just might have to try it! Thanks for the inspiration!

28 Rachael December 6, 2010 at 1:35 pm

These look awesome, and I love the “Camp Halfblood” shirt in particular!

29 Martina December 6, 2010 at 1:35 pm

These turned out great! Very creative. Nice job, Ralph!

Ashley Ann had a tutorial on bleach art t-shirts earlier this year. She and her boys used spray bottles (or was it water guns?) and had the shirts hanging out on a clothes line. The spray creates a neat affect too.

30 Marta December 6, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Ralph is so talented! (maybe after his mom?) I can’t wait for Max to be a little be more older to star to do projects like this one…
all turned out great but I should say that the one with the stripes is my favorite! can wait to see the other projects from Ralph’s siblings…

31 Melissa@HomeBaked December 6, 2010 at 1:59 pm

I’m wondering if you could use freezer paper stencils instead of sticky vinyl? (I’m always trying to use the craft supplies I already have in the house!) These look great!

32 kitchen-dreams December 6, 2010 at 2:04 pm

this is really a good idea. i’m thinking back to some things that i ruined with bleach that i may have been able to turn into something great. as always…thank you for sharing our great ideas!

33 Caitlin in MD December 6, 2010 at 2:26 pm

You have an awesome family. So many incredible memories being made.

34 Ashlynn December 6, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Very coolio

35 vanessa @ silly eagle books December 6, 2010 at 2:32 pm

I love how your kids make each other gifts every year. They always do such a great job. Thanks for sharing their ideas!

36 Nelly December 6, 2010 at 2:36 pm

I’ll have to say these are really cool. I am not much for DIY projects, but I might consider some T-shirts.

37 carolyn December 6, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Love all these projects…would love to know where you get all the ideas from!

38 Zandri December 6, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Please can I come have Christmas at your house? These sibling presents are so amazing!

39 carrie December 6, 2010 at 2:48 pm

My oh my this is such a great idea! I wish you had posted it sooner since all my Christmas gifts are done. Next year, for sure!

40 Ashley Johnson December 6, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Love your ideas!

41 Leasa December 6, 2010 at 3:22 pm

I saw two people mention ways that we create these T-shirts with our Girl Scout troop – we use freezer paper to make the stencils (iron it onto the shirt) and we spray the bleach on with a spray bottle.

I’m going to have one of my kids make these T-shirts for her sisters this year. We’ve only made them in Scouts with words and a few simple shapes. I love the idea of one simple shape. Fun!

42 Sara December 6, 2010 at 3:26 pm

LOVE this idea – - great for teacher gifts too!

43 deborah@applesinwonderland December 6, 2010 at 3:49 pm

so is ralph going into the tee shirt business? these are all so cool. i think my 10 year old would love to make these for his brother and his friends. thanks ralph…..and his momma:)

44 Ann December 6, 2010 at 4:09 pm

I see your kids having a little side business here! Awesome work!

45 Lisa December 6, 2010 at 4:56 pm

My daughter is drooling over that Camp Halfblood shirt too – what a great idea! I have the same question as Melissa@Halfbaked – do you think it would work with freezer paper stencils? It seems like it would . . .

46 amy December 6, 2010 at 6:13 pm

that is such an awesome idea.

I think my boys are going to be old enough next year to do this, and the kids will have such a ball making gifts for each other!

47 kitchen-dreams December 6, 2010 at 6:41 pm

eek! in my earlier comment i meant to say thank you for sharing YOUR great ideas. sorry about the typo.

48 stacey December 6, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Great job Ralph!! The sibs will surely love them!

49 Sarah December 6, 2010 at 7:14 pm

These shirts look amazing! Excellent work!

50 Jodi December 6, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Love this idea! And that Silhouette machine sounds very cool. I’ll have to look into it. Regarding the question above about freezer paper, stick on vinyl letters from Staples etc. could also work:
And I love the way your T-shirts look to begin with. Did you wash them in something special first? They have a very pretty vintagey look. Thanks for this idea — can’t wait to try it out!

51 Design Mom December 7, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Great idea with the vinyl letters, Jodi. And no, I didn’t wash the tees in anything special, I just picked them up at Old Navy. Maybe it’s the camera. : )

52 Krystle December 6, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Super cute!!

53 Kathleen December 6, 2010 at 10:37 pm

I think Ralph needs to set up an etsy shop!
These are awesome.

54 Miss Stovetop December 7, 2010 at 12:08 am

I totally want Raph as my elder brother :D

55 Miss Stovetop December 7, 2010 at 12:14 am

Oh and may I add, you absolutely must must must have the kids wear these and take a picture together after Christmas :D

56 Natalia December 7, 2010 at 5:18 am

What a fantastic idea!! They look very classy – dare I say it, not ‘craft project DIY present from a sibling’ at all (that’s a good thing).

And I think Ralph must be pretty cool – I love the name (it was my Grandpa’s name), he makes presents for his siblings AND the presents he makes are cool. Way to go Ralph!

57 Jill V. December 7, 2010 at 6:27 am

OK, so you have completely inspired me to do homemade gifts going forward between my three children. What a great, fun idea! Love them.

Thanks for always inspiring all of us.

58 Rachel December 7, 2010 at 7:56 am

Love! Dan is doing t-shirts too!

59 Monica December 7, 2010 at 8:06 am

I love this idea! Something a little different than tie dye but still super simple.

60 Design Mom December 7, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Yes, it’s like the opposite of tie dye. Both are so fun for kids!

61 Eliza December 7, 2010 at 8:18 am

I’ve done this with a spray bottle – fun effects either way!

62 Sandra Gonzales December 7, 2010 at 9:34 am

You always provide the greatest ideas. This summer my daughter and her best friend did some potato print painting on t-shirts. They had so much fun and I appreciate how affordable it was.

63 juliagblair December 7, 2010 at 10:18 am

I am SO Impressed! Love all the colors, designs and ideas!
Thanks millions for sharing!

64 Holly Lu December 7, 2010 at 10:53 am

Can you do this on totes and other cotton items?

65 Design Mom December 7, 2010 at 2:00 pm

I’m sure it would work equally well on pretty much any 100% cotton item. I’d recommend testing an inside seam first. Something like a tote might be chemically treated to repel water — which means it would also repel bleach.

66 Sarah Jane December 7, 2010 at 11:27 am

What a great idea! Love it! And I love all of your kids’ names. What a great collection of timeless favorites! Olive was at the top of our list…I think my hubby still kind of wishes we’d gone with that…it was his favorite. And how special to make gifts for each other. I will keep this in the back of my mind for when mine are a little older.

67 Jeanette from Everton Terrace December 7, 2010 at 1:19 pm

I’ve just remembered that I think I wanted all your kids do it themselves gifts for myself last year too. I love the pear tshirt, would wear and might just make one for myself!

68 Melanie December 7, 2010 at 1:33 pm

These look awesome! Definitely something we will have fun with! My roomies in college did something like this on hoodies, I forgot about it until now.

I am wondering about washing them… should I wash a bleached item separately so the bleach doesn’t bleed onto other clothes? The 1st time or always? Or it’s not enough bleach to be concerned? Thanks for any tips! ^_^

69 Design Mom December 7, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Hi Melanie! You’re in luck with the washing. As you as you’ve rinsed the bleach out when you’re making the tee, the bleaching process stops. Then you can launder them with related colors as usual.

70 Maren Humphrey December 7, 2010 at 2:22 pm

I LOVE this idea. I have a maternity shirt that got bleach splattered on it after just two wearings and I haven’t had the heart to throw a good shirt away. Now I can just put a design on it and make it look like it was on purpose! Thanks!

71 Melissa December 7, 2010 at 3:27 pm

These are so cool!!

72 Jessica December 7, 2010 at 11:14 pm

These are so awesome! Can’t wait to try this tutorial!

73 alyson boehr December 8, 2010 at 3:58 am

I love this idea…my bleachings are always accidental!

74 Barchbo December 8, 2010 at 7:34 am

I think Ralph must be the best big brother in the world! He even made one for Maude’s best friend – so thoughtful! Ralph Rocks – you’ve done well, Gabby!

75 Jill Bailey December 8, 2010 at 11:59 am

Wow, a friend just sent me the link to your blog and I’m hooked – line and sinker! As a stay-at-home mom who does freelance graphic design on the side, I can relate to your story and I’m lovin’ your style. Bravo!

76 Jen December 10, 2010 at 7:55 am

Sorry if someone asked already – but where did you find solid color tees in so many colors? I am having a horrible time finding solid color tees in 2T-4T (that aren’t white)…but I am not giving up yet. any suggestions?

77 RKBC December 22, 2011 at 10:58 am

I know this question was asked a year ago, but for anyone else looking, try American Apparel!

78 Bethany B. December 10, 2010 at 10:53 pm

I LOVE it!

79 Page December 12, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Am I the only one who had problems with this? The bleach crept under my vinyl letters, even though they were thick. Maybe I used too much bleach?

80 MamaShift December 14, 2010 at 3:28 am

This is such a definite! I can’t wait to see the face on my little 10 year-old girl skater’s face! I don’t live in the States so I can’t get the fancy supplies but I think I can do a Foundation skateboards logo with just duct tape. Thank you for this fantastic idea!

81 Jen December 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Cute idea! I once used an old Aqua Doodle pen filled with bleach and drew a design onto a shirt, it looked so pretty when done.

82 Aimee December 23, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Thank you for the inspiration. I just had my kids (5, 5, and 4) make a couple of shirts using this method for their father for Christmas. They look awesome. I can’t wait for him to see them!

83 Jen December 27, 2010 at 6:22 am

I ran across this posting before Christmas and being on a VERY tight budget this year, I KNEW I had to give this a try. I found my shirts at Michaels, and the 12 month at Walmart in the kids section. Cut 4-wheelers with a saying for the boys and pretty butterflies for my niece out of contact paper I had on hand with a Cricut. Had SO much fun doing this with a friend. Only had problems with one, and my niece LOVED it anyway. THANKS for the wonderful idea and tutorial.

84 Kim in AZ May 25, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Can you please tell me what font you used for the Camp Half Blood shirts? My son saw these and wants to make them for he and his best friend (who happens to be moving soon). I’ve tried to locate font myself but nothing is looking quite right. Thanks!!!!

85 Kim May 26, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Does anyone know – would it work if you tie-dye shirts and then bleach on top of the tie-dye? I have a camo tie-dye in mind and then bleaching on an image or wording for my son’s scout troop. Would love any input.

86 carri July 2, 2011 at 10:17 am

Very clever

87 Aggie August 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm

These are so cute! :)

88 Rebecca Wood September 3, 2011 at 9:08 am

I just did this and it turned out amazing!! I made my t-shirt to remember a mission trip that I just went on… such a great way to do so!! :)

89 Alexandra Villa November 15, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Soo creativee, loove it

90 Trudy December 11, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Thanks for this. I have just made a Christmas tshirt for my 6 year old. He is going to love it. (he celebrates Christmas all year round and it will get plenty of wear.)

91 Pam Rieser December 22, 2011 at 8:43 pm

We just finished making shirts for Christmas gifts!

92 Leslie January 5, 2012 at 7:32 am

I love this. I was actually thinking this would be a great summer project and an awesome way to recycle the tees the kids have gotten those little oily stains on. I want to try to do a fairy design for my daughter and drum sticks for my son….

93 Graeme Ellzey May 22, 2012 at 10:04 am

Where do you get the cute colored t-shirts?? Love them!!

94 Kat Chaplin May 29, 2012 at 11:41 am

Have you tried using rubber stamps? Wonder what we could use as ‘resist’ that bleach wouldn’t bleed through. Perhaps a water based glue that would wash out after the bleaching process was complete.

95 Danielle November 7, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Instead of using a rag to dab the bleach on, I would suggest using a spray bottle with diluted bleach. In the very least it can add a speckled look if you ever need it. That’s what I do whenever I bleach shirts

96 norah December 7, 2012 at 8:59 am

Just finished making these as Hanukah for my nieces and nephews. I actually recommend not washing them first. Having the sizing on there to give you a lot more control even though it takes longer for the color to fade. My first (pre-washed) batch was a complete fail because the bleach so quickly seeped right under the vinyl designs. thanks for another great idea Gabby!

97 Abigail Byrd January 5, 2013 at 11:15 pm

what font is the Percy Jackson tee in?

98 Lisa Love February 6, 2013 at 6:16 pm

I have made some of these bleached t’s! I’m on my third shirt and now I’m using some cool tribal animal prints to make some for my boys! It’s quite addicting!

99 GSDMJ February 28, 2013 at 12:53 pm

I am having issues with the bleach going under the letters, even though they are firmly stuck to the fabric…any hints or suggestions?

100 Fattama March 26, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Hi, I love your tutorial! It’s descriptive and the best one I’ve seen! I was wondering if this would work if i made a stencil and put the bleach in a spray bottle?

101 Cindy deRosier May 23, 2013 at 9:27 am

I’m the Editorial Assistant for Fun Family Crafts and I wanted to let you know that we have featured your bleached t-shirt project! You can see it here:

If you have other kid friendly crafts, we’d love it if you would submit them. If you would like to display a featured button on your site, you can grab one from the right side bar of your post above. Thanks for a wonderful project idea!

102 Stephanie T May 28, 2013 at 2:19 pm

I did these and used White Glue as my stencil for the words….works really well and washes out very nicely. Awesome way to personalise our Girl Scout Troop shirts.

103 Emily July 16, 2013 at 1:19 pm

does it work with yellow?

104 Erin July 22, 2013 at 4:35 pm

I know this is an old post, but thank you very much for the idea. I’m a girl scout leader and my troop makes troop t-shirts each year. This is our 5th year and I was running out of ideas (and so done with tie dye and fabric/puffy paint. This is fabulous new option!

105 Sarah August 6, 2013 at 4:48 pm

How exactly do you wash them after?? :)

106 Maggie August 18, 2013 at 9:43 am

what if you use paper or cardboard?

107 D September 21, 2013 at 7:42 am

using a spray bottle of bleach will give you softer edges instead of the hard lines you get using a rag or sponge

108 Jessie January 31, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Hi there.
Do you know if non-chlorine bleach would work in the same way?

109 Patricia Ryan June 12, 2014 at 7:26 pm

I would love to borrow your ideas for our Library summer kids’ blog, either paraphrasing or reblogging. Is that okay with you?

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