How To Bleach A Flannel Shirt

September 30, 2021

Today I'm sharing how to bleach a flannel shirt, just in time for fall!

hanging red plaid flannel bleached shirt

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A few years ago my oldest daughter came home from college wearing a thrifted, well-worn, altered flannel shirt. By altered I mean some areas looked faded or bleached out, and a smiley face the size of a dinner plate was sewn onto the back of it. The seam around the bottom might even have been ripped out, but I can't remember specifically. Either way, I thought, "Hmm. Interesting." I mean, it looked great on her. Just not my style.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago while attending a vintage market in Michigan. As I moved about the fairgrounds in search of awesome vintage finds, I noticed something interesting. Most of the vendors were selling. . . . flannel shirts?  Upon closer inspection I realized that they weren't just any flannel shirts. They were vintage (or at a minimum, thrifted), bleached flannel shirts. Who knew that was even a thing?

I actually saw a few I really liked. But the prices started at $20.00. And I wasn't really there to buy clothes, now was I? So of course I stored the DIY idea in the back of my head and valiantly shopped on.

Nautica jeans Co. red plaid flannel shirt hanging on fence

Once home I was obsessed with finding a thrifted flannel shirt I liked at a fair price. Goodwill to the rescue. I found this awesome red plaid flannel Nautica Jeans Co. shirt on my first try and it was only $6.99. I looked online and found these shirts for $40-$50. It was Size XXL (which is perfect because I want to wear it as a jacket) and in great condition. So I was stoked to start the project! 

two black buckets two bottles Clorox Bleach in driveway

I picked up two small bottles of  Clorox bleach and two plastic buckets from Dollar Tree and then. . . . realized that it was still WAY too hot to even think about wearing flannel shirts! So I washed the shirt, let it air dry and then put it aside until the weather actually gave me goosebumps. And would you believe that day was actually the first day of fall? So. . . . . guess what I did on the second day of fall? Yep, I done did it!


NOTE: I used buckets because we have a septic system as opposed to city sewers, and pouring bleach down our drains is not recommended. If you're not concerned about pouring bleach down the drain then use your kitchen sink!      

Also, be sure to wear old clothes you wouldn't mind getting splashed with bleach!  



 Supplies for Bleaching A Flannel Shirt 

1. Flannel shirt*
2. liquid bleach
3. two buckets (or use your sink)
4. rubber bands
5. rubber gloves
6. plastic grocery bag

*If you don't have any luck finding flannels at the thrift store, you can always pick up some fairly inexpensive flannel shirts online:

Womens Casual Cuffed Long Sleeve Boyfriend Button Down Plaid Flannel Shirt

Women's Long Sleeve Plaid Shirt Flannel Collared Button Down

 How To Bleach A Flannel Shirt

1. Wash your flannel shirt in the washing machine. Let dry fully (or dry in clothes dryer).
2. Fill bucket #1 with water and bleach. I don't know the size of my Dollar Tree bucket, but I know that I filled it about 3/4 full with water and then I poured in one 11 oz. bottle of Clorox bleach. I'd say that roughly it was a 3 or 4-to-1 ratio of water to bleach. 
I don't believe there's a magic number involved. I think that each situation will be different, depending on the fabric of your shirt (mine was 100% cotton), the vibrancy of the original colors, and how long you leave the shirt immersed in the bleaching solution.
3. Button up all the buttons, including on the cuffs. 
4. Lay the shirt flat, and fold the sleeves inward.
flannel shirt on fence

5. Using a rubber band, twist off the portion of the shirt/sleeves you want bleached.
The higher up you twist off, the more of the shirt and sleeves you will bleach. 

flannel shirt in bucket bleach water

6. Gently drop your shirt into the bucket just up to the level of the rubber bands. (I say gently because you don't want to splash bleach water onto yourself!) 

red plaid shirt in bucket during bleaching process

7. Leave the shirt immersed until you achieve the bleachy look you desire. I ended up leaving my shirt in the bucket for 2 hours. Be sure to check the progress at least around every 15 minutes to make sure the shirt hasn't gotten too bleached or that the integrity of the shirt hasn't been degraded.

I could have left it in longer but I was just too impatient to wait!

8. Fill bucket #2 with water (or fill the other side of you sink) and then transfer the bleached portion of the shirt directly into the bucket (or sink). I used gloves for this process. I dunked the shirt up and down in the fresh water and then squeezed out as much of the liquid as I could. Then I removed the rubber band.
9. Place your shirt into a plastic shopping bag (to protect yourself and your clothes from any remaining bleach) and transfer it to your washing machine. Wash alone with regular detergent using appropriate water temperature based on the type of fabric. Then, depending on your preference, air dry the shirt or put it in your dryer. (I always air dry 100% cotton clothing to avoid shrinking.)

red Nautica bleached flannel hanging in tree


rear view bleached flannel shirt



I have to say that I could not be more thrilled with how it turned out. (It got two thumbs up from each of my college-aged daughters.) So much so that I definitely plan to make more of these altered, bleached flannel shirts. I'm thinking a nice blue/green plaid combo next time. But I know I have to be patient while I wait for some more perfect flannel shirts to turn up at Goodwill.
model weating bleached red flannel shirt
 farmhouse rustic flannel split rail fence jeans boots
I love the fact that it's an XXL - that way I can layer it, wearing it like a jacket (which is how I wear most of my tops lol).

DIY bleached red plaid flannel shirt
They're perfect for this time of year -- perfect for those crisp fall days and even crisper nights. Whether it's for a walk in the woods or a bonfire with s'mores. Just throw on some jeans, boots and an altered flannel! And you'll be good to go.  

Well, that's it for today, friends!

I hope you've enjoyed reading about

How To Bleach A Flannel Shirt

and that I've inspired you in some way. 

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  hanging red plaid flannel bleached shirt

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Leave a Comment!

My thrift store addiction said...

I've been seeing this look too, Kathleen. Thanks for sharing your tutorial and also letting us see how it looks "on!"

Junkchiccottage said...

I noticed that a lot too. Flannel is the hot item for fall. This looks so cute on you. Thanks for sharing how to make this look. Happy Wednesday. xoxo Kris

Ann said...

Great job, Kathleen. I have a friend who makes and sells these shirts with transfers on the back. They a really popular right now!

A Joyful Cottage said...

Very fun. I watched a Youtuber who did something similar. She bleached the whole shirt, then after washing in soda ash (to take out excess color) and drying, she went back and applied three different colors of dye -- one color in each of three sections -- to give it an ombre look. So interesting.

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