The Best Way to Acid Wash a Shirt?

But Becca, I thought this was a blog about writing and books and malarky, not DIY projects. Why are you making a post about a totally-last-season 80s comeback?

I dunno, because I can? Actually, here’s the backstory: I got bleach on one of my favorite shirts. Darn. So I consulted the internet on how to DIY acid wash a t-shirt, and I found that there were a lot of conflicting instructions. Use pure bleach, don’t use pure bleach. Wet the t-shirt first, don’t wet it first.

So I decided to do a little experiment to see which method was the best before I recklessly poured bleach on my clearance-rack Forever 21 crop top.

And then share my knowledge with all of you!

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the tools

No matter what instructions you follow, thankfully you need roughly the same supplies, which are as follows:

  • old t-shirts (I have a surplus of ones I don’t care about, so I picked four different colors for easy identification, though I guess if you don’t want to sacrifice any of your own t-shirt you could always buy some plain ones to mess around with)
  • bleach
  • water
  • a spray bottle or two (I could only find one so I just reused it)
  • a bowl or bucket you don’t care about (for rinsing after bleaching)
  • rubber bands
  • safety goggles
  • rubber gloves
  • a surface you don’t care about (or a surface covered in newspaper or something, but preferably outside)
acid wash supplies
safety first!
acid wash supplies
it was a windy day too

the method

I decided to test the four main methods I encountered in my internet searching. Though there are certainly more variations, if I tried to test every one I would’ve probably gone crazy. so, the four methods (and their respective t-shirts) were as follows:

  • blue t-shirt: laid flat, sprayed with pure bleach
  • purple t-shirt: laid flat, sprayed with 50/50 bleach water solution
  • teal t-shirt: bunched up with rubber bands (tie-dye style), sprayed with pure bleach
  • black t-shirt: bunched up with rubber bands, sprayed with 50/50 bleach water solution
acid wash t-shirts
ignore me leg

All shirts sit for ten minutes or more and then get rinsed in water. Obviously, you’re gonna wanna wash them, too.

the results

the laid-flat method

So, for the ones that I just sprayed bleach willy-nilly on, here’s how they turned out:

acid wash t-shirts

Okay, so, here’s what I learned: laying a t-shirt flat on the ground and just spraying it with bleach, diluted or not, presents some problems. Namely, it looks like you just sprayed some bleach on a t-shirt. Also, there was an obvious crease along the seams even though I sprayed it front and back, so I had to try to fix that.

However, you do get some cool paint-splatter looking patterns if you do it right, so here’s the verdict: the spray bottle is a good applicator, but it’s better to use the “stream” setting, not the “spray” setting, otherwise you end up bleaching the entire shirt and losing any sort of contrast.

Of the two laid-flat shirts, I think I like the blue one (pure bleach) better just because I got more of that paint-splatter effect. With the purple one, I got a little trigger-happy and sprayed it everywhere, thinking the diluted bleach wouldn’t bleach everywhere. Obviously it did.

the tie-dye method

The laid-flat method is not a terrible method, and you do get more control over where the bleach goes, but I definitely like the tie-dye method better. And here’s why:

acid wash t-shirts

I mean, the bleached portions definitely turned out more sporadic, but I really like how it just goes pop! Maybe soaking it in bleach or bleach solution would have produced more dramatic results, so maybe I’ll try that next time just for kicks.

(Update, May 19th 2020: I had another go at acid-washing later that summer where I did try soaking it in bleach solution, and it did not work for me at all! It completely bleached the shirt, so I honestly wouldn’t recommend this unless you just do a quick dip, not a full 10-minute soak!)

However, I think using either bleach or the 50/50 solution works–it just depends on how much color you want lifted.

As you can see, with the teal one (which got pure bleach), the lifted areas are almost white, which is pretty cool. The black one, on the other hand, turned orange–which is normal for black t-shirts, I think, but I’m sure pure bleach would’ve produced an even lighter orange. So it really just depends on a) the color of the shirt and b) the desired affect. Personally, I think dark shirts should get pure bleach.

I definitely like the effect of the rubber-band bunching, though. I just did a spiral-type pattern, but you could definitely look up different tie-dye bunching methods and go to town. Acid wash is literally the inverse of tie-dye, so you could probably make some pretty cool patterns. You’re just not gonna get that paint-splattered look.

Unless you spray it afterward. hmm…

so who wins?

Based on my results, here’s what I’d do for a normal, cotton-blend t-shirt:

  1. bunch it up with rubber bands in the pattern of your choice
  2. spray the ever-loving crap out of it with pure bleach for dark colors, diluted bleach for lighter colors. sit for ten minutes or so.
  3. use a spray bottle on the “stream” setting to add paint splatters where/if desired.
  4. rinse, wash, wear.

This is what I did on the bleach-stained shirt that inspired this project–because it was a light color and a thin fabric, I used diluted bleach, which was a good call. The rest I did the same, and here’s the final result:

acid washed shirt
totally rad

I’m actually really happy with how it turned out! You could easily replicate my totally trendsetting style with your own crop top or any plain, cotton-blend shirt of a similar style.

And I actually plan on wearing it in public (along with the black Fall Out Boy t-shirt–the rest were sleep shirts to begin with).

(2020 update: I wear both of them all the time!)

So, if you’ve recently ruined a perfectly good shirt with bleach, or you feel like ruining a perfectly good shirt with bleach, try this acid wash method and see what you think! I hope it turns out well for you, and if it does, tell me about it!

Have your own acid wash method? Did you find this one helpful? Problematic? Am I cut out for DIY articles or should I stick to other malarky? Comment below!

3 responses to “The Best Way to Acid Wash a Shirt?”

  1. Wow I had no idea how to acid wash clothing, so this was super informative. I like how you clearly explained and showed how each of the four variations turned out. I’m definitely with you – I prefer how the shirts that were bunched up came out.. I think because they look so sporadic and are reminiscent of tie-dye. I’d totally believe that you purchased those shirts that way!!

    ~The Newbury Girl

    1. thanks so much, i’m glad you like it!!! it was a lot of fun. still need to wash them though!!!

  2. Like!! Really appreciate you sharing this blog post.Really thank you! Keep writing.

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