Can I bleach my curtains white?
September 5, 2009 9:02 AM   Subscribe

Curtains are expensive! But I have some old ones -- can I bleach them white?

I have some 100% cotton tabbed curtains from Target in goldenrod/wheaty yellow. The fabric seems pretty sturdy (they're not sheers).

Can I bleach them in the washer? It wouldn't be a tragedy if I botched the job, but I'm hoping to get them as white as possible without a lot of variegation. Also preferably without causing any holes, since that would lower their essential curtain-ness, and force me to tell guests I've invented some new offshoot of shabby-chic.
posted by jenmakes to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
Try dye remover -- much more likely to work, and it won't leave holes. Don't be stingy with the number of packets you use. You may not get them completely white, and if there's polyester stitching it may stay wheaty. Dye remover followed by a new dye in a light colour would probably get you reasonably nice curtains, though.
posted by kmennie at 9:07 AM on September 5, 2009

I would try something like Rit Color Remover first, since that's less apt to damage the fabric. You might not get a pure white, but that tends to lighten color more evenly, whereas bleach almost always creates streaks, from my experience.
posted by xingcat at 9:10 AM on September 5, 2009

I have some recent experience with this, where a problem with the water dyed some clothes beige, and I tried to bleach them back to white. The ones I ran in the washer came out streaky. But the one skirt that was important to me, I treated as if I were dying it -- diluted bleach in a tub, let it sit for a while, swished it around thoroughly -- and that worked out well. I doubt you can do that with full-size curtains, though.
posted by palliser at 9:19 AM on September 5, 2009

Alternatively, curtains from IKEA are very cheap, and this way you don't have to potentially ruin good curtains
posted by scrutiny at 9:38 AM on September 5, 2009

Trying to use bleach to completely remove dye from cloth is very likely to damage the cloth, too.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:33 AM on September 5, 2009

The very way that bleach works causes fabric to weaken relatively significantly. If I disliked the color - and I do dislike yellows, personally - I'd consider dyeing them a darker color, since that's less damaging to the fabric.

I also second the get cheap curtains somewhere else. Given the amount of straight runs of fabric that is involved in curtains, getting a non-streaky result is riskier than with something where you could tuck or re-pleat a streaky area.

Also, if they're cotton-poly, that's a world of difference than straight cotton. And the thread used may still resist any color-changing attempts. (You can tell, for example, in Dr Horrible, that they dyed the lab coat between acts, since the thread resisted the red dye.)
posted by cobaltnine at 11:08 AM on September 5, 2009

Chlorine bleach is very hard on fabrics. Try a color remover instead. Or find a color you like and overdye them.

Please note that you'll need a pretty massive tub to get the remover or dye evenly distributed.

Why not just donate the curtains to your nearest thrift store and get new ones?
posted by dogrose at 3:26 PM on September 5, 2009

if there's polyester stitching it may stay wheaty.

This is a big problem with both dying and bleaching-- usually the thread reacts in a completely different way from the rest of the fabric. So be prepared to have the stitches show up prominently.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:00 AM on September 6, 2009

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