how to lighten denim (maybe)

May 14, 2016 in the 101 by Stacey Appel


This is how I lifted a dark blue denim bag to the perfect icy light blue.

Last summer, I picked up this cool denim hobo at Goodwill for about $1. But as much as I like it, the medium indigo color is really not me. Right now, I am totally feeling a really light, icy shade of pastel blue that was big in the late 80s, early ’90s. So I decided to try lightening the bag. I didn’t want to use bleach though, because bleach can give denim a yellow tint. However, I knew about this product from RIT called Color Remover that is used to lift stains and dye from clothes and fabrics. It doesn’t contain chlorine so yellowing shouldn’t be a problem. I bought a box at AC Moore and followed the instructions.

1) Filled up a large stainless steel pot with water.

2) Carefully cut the little powder bag open, poured the powder into the pot and mixed it up with a metal spoon until it dissolved.

3) Set the pot on the stove on HIGH and waited for the water to simmer. It was a big pot so this took over 20 minutes.

4) Wet down my bag in the sink and then gently placed it into the pot, using the spoon to submerge it under water. I turned down the heat to MEDIUM, set my timer on 30 minutes and left the room.

I came back into the kitchen after about 15 minutes to stir my bag around in the stinky solution and was horrified to discover that it had turned bright yellow! AHHHHHH! This is exactly what I didn’t want. I let the bag sit in the solution for the remaining 15 minutes… maybe the yellow was just part of the process and would disappear? In the meantime, I grabbed the RIT box to reread the directions and saw, ‘Do not use on blue denim‘.

Well, that’s unfortunate.

15 minutes later and the bag was still yellow. I declared my little experiment a failure and took my big stinky pot to the big sink in the laundry room and emptied it (no worries, all RIT products are eco-friendly). I then ran my bag under cold water to rinse out any remaining dye remover. And this is when things got really weird. As the solution washed out of the bag, so did the yellow. And what emerged? The most perfect shade of light blue that I could ever hope for… straight up 1989!! I let the bag air dry for a bit and then tossed it into the dryer on HIGH to finish up the job (dryers are awesome for softening up denim).

I still don’t know how this all happened (maybe the nice folks at RIT can chime in?) but the results are killer and the moment I pulled the bag out of the dryer, I slapped on my Duran Duran button and called it a day.