How to Transform Old Linens with this DIY Bleaching Technique

Have you ever tried bleaching linen before? It might seem like something you’d only do by accident, but the results are actually really pretty and it’s very easy to do!

Pretty pink and pastel linens closeup, with scissors and thread.

You know how, sometimes, you’ll be working through a DIY and then suddenly realize that it’s totally not going to work out and you just have to abandon it? It happens to me at least a couple of times a month. And most recently, it happened with some DIY bleached aprons that I wanted to try out.

Unfortunately, I bought the wrong kind of aprons (aka super cheap ones that were one step above a paper towel, yet they did not absorb liquid?!), and the bleach didn’t work at all.

SO…instead of throwing in the towel on the idea, I switched to linen napkins and had much better results. In fact, it worked like a charm with the colorful linen napkins I had leftover from a workshop. So, I put a quick tutorial together in case you want to make your own.

The results of this process are a little different than your typical bleached textile DIY. It’s a little more understated and more toward the acid wash side of things, which, as it turns out, is my jam right now for some reason.

If you’re looking for another cool project to try with bleach though, check out my reverse tie dye DIY. You can create really beautiful patterns that look like shibori with bleach as well.

Materials needed for DIY bleached linens project.

Materials for Bleaching Linen

– colorful napkins (or another textile)
– bleach
– spray bottle

How to Bleach Linen

1. This one is super easy. All you need to do is pour a little bit of bleach into a spray bottle.

2. Then, put on some gloves and spray the bleach directly onto the surface of a colorful napkin.

You should start to see the color lifting right away.

With my linen napkins (from West Elm), the color started lifting within 15 seconds. Some textiles may take more time though. It varies based on the material.Spraying linen mint colored napkin with bleach for a lighter color textile.

Step showing how to use bleach to create a subtle acid wash pattern with your linens.

3. Then, run the entire napkin under water thoroughly for at least 60 seconds to rinse the bleach away. Wring out the water from the napkin as best you can, then pop it in the dryer, iron it, and it’s ready to use.

Totally doable, right?

Here’s what the napkins looked like after they had all been bleached and washed, but not dried yet. The color looked much more saturated while the linens were still wet.

Bleached Linen Napkins

Bleached Linen Napkins DIY

Bleached linen napkins up close, in several colors.

 

Bleached linen napkins in pastel colors on a white table.

What kind of color change can I expect from this technique?

After the napkins were rinsed and run through a cycle in the dryer (photo below), I could see the color changes a lot more clearly than when they were still wet (above photos).

For me, the mint linens turned white and off white, depending on how long the bleach was left on. And there are some soft greens and blues that pop through in certain areas, mainly at the edges.

The terra cotta red napkins turned a really pretty pale pink, with a subtle acid wash pattern.

Acid wash linens in pastel colors, from DIY bleached linen technique.

And here’s what they looked like after I ironed them…BIG difference…

Pink bleached linen napkins with gold silverware.

Stacked napkins in pastel colors with scissors and string.

Pink and pastel napkins stacked up on a white table.

Step photo of bleaching linen and final photo of the finished napkins.

How to Bleach Linen (and Other Textiles)

Have you ever tried bleaching linen before? It might seem like something you'd only do by accident, but the results are actually really pretty and it's very easy to do!
Total Time15 mins
Keyword: acid wash, bleached linen, bleaching clothing, diy, napkins
Author: Brittni
Cost: $0-10

Ingredients

  • colorful napkins or another textile
  • bleach
  • spray bottle

Instructions

  • This one is super easy. All you need to do is pour a little bit of bleach into a spray bottle.
  • Then, put on some gloves and spray the bleach directly onto the surface of a colorful napkin.
  • You should start to see the color lifting right away.
  • With my linen napkins (from West Elm), the color started lifting within 15 seconds. Some textiles may take more time though. It varies based on the material.
  • Then, run the entire napkin under water thoroughly for at least 60 seconds to rinse the bleach away. Wring out the water from the napkin as best you can, then pop it in the dryer, iron it, and it's ready to use.

Notes

What kind of color change can I expect from this technique?
After the napkins were rinsed and run through a cycle in the dryer (photo below), I could see the color changes a lot more clearly than when they were still wet (above photos).
For me, the mint linens turned white and off white, depending on how long the bleach was left on. And there are some soft greens and blues that pop through in certain areas, mainly at the edges.
The terra cotta red napkins turned a really pretty pale pink, with a subtle acid wash pattern.
Tried this recipe?Mention @paperandstitch or tag #paperandstitch!

Photography and styling by Brittni Mehlhoff

So what do you think? Do you like the way the napkins looked before the bleach, where the color is flat and saturated? Or do you prefer the more organic / muted after version?

21 comments | Click here to reply

Girl, these are GORGEOUS. Seriously. Beautiful!

Cyd

Thanks so much, Cyd! I really appreciate that.

Brittni

I love the look! But I hate to use bleach since it is so bad for the environment. Is there an alternative to the bleach that I could use? I have some old napkins that have a few stains and I would love to revive them using this technique.

Thanks

Susan

Hi Susan. That’s a good question. I found this natural bleach alternative that you can make at home http://hellonatural.co/natural-bleach-alternative/ but I’m not sure it will react to the fabric the same way, since I’ve never tried it. If you give it a try with this natural option, let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear if it works.
-Brittni

Brittni

I’ve accidentally bleached dyed clothes before, when cleaning the bathroom 😉 but never on purpose! Love the gorgeous pink colour that the napkins have turned!

Hayley

Haha. Yeah, that’s happened to me before too, Hayley. But now that I’ve tried it in a more intentional way, I’m completely addicted to this process. So easy!

Brittni

These linens came out so cute! I also love that this would be an awesome way to cover up some stains that are lingering on old ones!

Paige
http://thehappyflammily.com

Paige

Thanks Paige! Glad you like ’em.

Brittni

I really like this look and it seems so easy!

xoxoBella | http://xoxobella.com

Bella B

It’s SUPER easy, Bella! Let me know if you end up giving this technique a try.

Brittni

Looks super easy and love the effect. But you really should rinse with vinegar to neutralize the chlorine (if you use chlorine bleach) or it will continue to degrade your fabric.

Mary Behrens

I hadn’t heard that Mary. Thanks so much for the tip. I’ll be sure to try that.

Brittni

I love how they look after the bleach – it adds such a great texture to the color!

Kevin | Thou Swell

I love the final muted tones and how subtle the acid wash is – really nice change from most bleaching projects. Hannah x
http://crafternooncabaretclub.com

Hannah

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The napkins turned out awesome , love the washed out look so much better.

Pamela

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Hi! Love this idea, I was wondering on where you bought your napkins from and how big were they? Trying to do tea towels, not to sure on where to buy material

Emilie

Hi Emilie. The napkins are from West Elm (leftover from a workshop I did). They don’t have the same coloaways anymore, but I’m pretty sire this is the same napkin (with different color options): https://rstyle.me/n/de4st9mvmw And the dimensions were 20 inch squares.

Brittni
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