DIY Hair: How to Bleach Dark Hair

I'm all about doing things myself. There are so many hair salon horror stories! And even if I did go to a salon, I'm too much of a sissy to speak up if I don't like what the hairdresser has done. If I cut and dye at home, I have nobody but myself to blame if it's a disaster - and so far, I have no regrets! I've been cutting and dyeing my own hair for about five years now. It's taken a while to get the hang of it, but I sure have saved a lot of money and grief.

This Hub is more for those of you who are bleaching as a first step in putting some exciting color into your hair. If you're going for a platinum blonde, this guide will also be of some use for you. But if you are trying to get a golden shade of blonde, you may have to give in and go to a salon to get it right, though you can find some bleaching tips here.


I'm not a licensed cosmetologist. I'm not holding a gun to your head and telling you to use these methods! This is what worked for me, and luckily I didn't have much damage to my hair. Please do further research to figure out what will be best for your hair type and color before bleaching! If you're willing to take the risk, proceed. At the very least, learn my experience with bleach and get the basics.

Going blonde is a process. You have to have patience, especially my dark-haired ladies! It's best to bleach lightly many times with deep conditions in between.

1. Prepping for the Bleach

Bleaching can be a very damaging process, so you want to make sure your hair is at its healthiest. Keep it moisturized by using deep conditioners and hair masks.

If you're trying to have ballin' hair on a budget, look around for conditioners at home! Olive oil works great as a deep conditioner. Work a tablespoon or two into your hair until it's all saturated. Secure your hair with a giant clip, and wear a shower cap if possible - you don't want to get olive oil everywhere. Leave it on for at least 30 minutes, then wash out with shampoo. I used to leave it on for about an hour and a half, and the results were great - my hair was soft, smooth, and shining.

Freshly oiled.
Freshly oiled.

2. Products and Tools You'll Need to Bleach Your Hair

A bleach kit may not be up to the task!

A failed bleach attempt using a bleach kit.
A failed bleach attempt using a bleach kit.

Manic Panic's "Flashlightning" bleach kit didn't work well for me, because there wasn't enough bleach powder for all of my hair. My hair is thick and dark, and it was not cooperating with the small amount of mixture provided in the kit. Though if you don't have too much hair, you could try the kit.

What worked better for me is that I bought the items below on sale, and ended up spending around $20.

  • Bleach powder: I got a giant tub, and it has lasted me for 2 full bleaches, 2 root touch-ups, and an ombre job I did on a friend. And I still have a good quarter of the container left over!
  • Developer: I bought 40-volume developer when I went blonde. My hair was very resistant to the 30-volume developer I used before, and I was getting fed up. HOWEVER it is much safer for your hair if you use a low volume (10 or 20) several times. You can purchase cream or clear developer, though clear is usually cheaper.
  • Hair dye brush: Use this to apply the powder/developer mixture, any old one will do.
  • Generic brand purple shampoo: Yes, the brand is called “Generic.” It’s relatively cheap, and is used to take the orange-yellow tones out of bleached hair. It's a good thing to have around right after bleaching, and for later on if the yellow tones start coming back.
  • Toner: If you are going for platinum or any sort of blonde, you'll want to get toner, but if you're bleaching your hair to put some other fancy color in it, you probably won't need the toner. Read more about toner and how it works here!
  • Mixing bowl (preferably glass), gloves, tin foil, and a giant hair clip.

3. Preparing and Mixing the Bleach

I like to rip my tin foil into sections before I put gloves on. I'll get about 10-12 sections of tin foil, 5-6 inches wide and set them aside.

At this point, I divide my hair into quarters - vertically down my part, and horizontally across the back of my head. I leave one section free, and hold the other three with a massive hair clip until it's their turn.

Get a big old mixing bowl, your dye brush, and glove-up, it's time to start mixing bleach! If you get a tub of bleach, it should come with a scooper. I had thick, layered hair just past my shoulders, and I started off using two scoops of bleach powder. Mix about three tablespoons of developer per scoop of powder - in this case, five or six tablespoons.

Make sure you mix it well so there are no chunks of powder. If you find you've run out of mixture, don't fret! You can mix more as you bleach.

4. Bleach a Test Strip

Start with a test strip. Take a section of hair on the bottom and brush some bleach on that sucker from the roots to the ends. Fold it up in some foil, and check it every ten minutes to gauge how long you'll have to leave the bleach in. I wouldn't exceed one hour - this can be very damaging and melt your hair. When you are satisfied with the test, note how long it took, and rinse out the test section well.

Dat test strip.
Dat test strip.

4. Applying the Bleach

You'll want to bleach the rest of your hair quickly, so that it all soaks in the bleach for the time you estimated based on your test. If you are going slowly, at least note the time when you are halfway through with your hair.

I usually start with one of the lower, back sections of hair. It's handy to have two mirrors so you can see the back of your head while you're doing this.

Start from the bottom and work your way up your scalp - use your fingers or a comb to gather a horizontal section of hair across the bottom of your head. Don't grab a thick section - keep it no more than a half centimeter (a quarter inch) thick. You want to be sure all of the hair comes into contact with the bleach.

Using your dye brush, apply bleach starting at your roots and working down to the ends. You should apply it on both the top and bottom of the strip of hair. Just make sure you don't miss any spots! Also, try to avoid getting the bleach on your skin. It burns!!

Work your way up the back of your head. I'll foil after about two sections of hair. Just lay the hair flat on the foil, and fold it up so that the bulk of your hair isn't exposed.

Do this for each quarter of your hair, mixing more bleach as needed.

Tin foil for hair!
Tin foil for hair!

5. Rinsing Out the Bleach

Check your foiled strips of hair every ten minutes to see how they're doing. When your hair is as light as you want it, go ahead and wash the bleach out with cold water. Since I have so much hair, it took me a while to bleach, and my strips were through soaking at different times. So I washed the bleach out of each strip individually in my sink, starting with the strips I bleached first.

If you are desperate to see some results quick, you could use a straightener on the foiled strips - heat speeds up the bleaching process. However, I do not recommend this, as it is very damaging to your hair! If your hair is not coming out light enough, even after an hour, wash the bleach out, and give your hair a few days of deep conditioning before bleaching again.

6. Purple Shampoo (Optional); Toner (Optional)

Newly bleached dark hair is usually tinted yellow, and unless you're into that sort of thing, you should grab some purple shampoo. Hop in the shower and apply enough to saturate your damp hair, leaving it on for 10-15 minutes. In the meantime, you can shave your legs and stuff.

If your hair isn't light enough, you may need to bleach again. If it is light enough, but is still a weird tone, whip out your White Lady toner. Mix one part of your volume 40 developer with one part toner. Apply the toner to damp hair, making sure that your hair is fully saturated. You can leave it in anywhere from 15-40 minutes. The longer you leave it in, the lighter it gets. When you're ready, wash it out in the shower.

Here I come, purple shampoo!
Here I come, purple shampoo!

7. Condition the Crap Out of It

After you've bleached, toned, and potentially dyed your hair a crazy color, you must condition!!! I used a deep conditioner in the shower, leaving it in for 3-5 minutes. Then, I applied a leave-in conditioner to my damp hair, as well as a keratin oil spray. Work this kind of stuff into your hair so it gets all nutri-tized.

Your hair may be angry at you for bleaching it, so make sure you use conditioners and hair masks, and try to avoid using heat on it.

Happy Bleaching!
Happy Bleaching!

More Hair Instructionals!

I'm always writing more and more about hair - my hair is my biggest project!

How to Get Granny Gray Hair
10 Pink Hair Ideas
How to Prevent Split Ends
Ten Ways to Dye Colorful Hair

My new guide to hair extensions!

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a beautiful mess profile image

a beautiful mess 2 years ago from Virginia Author

awww thanks boo :) my roots were grown out pretty bad, but i did have a nice platinum blonde for a while! I think since my eyebrows and complexion are too dark for blonde hair, it looked funny if I had blonde roots.

Rebecca Mathews profile image

Rebecca Mathews 2 years ago

Wow! Thank you so much for this article. Last month I had my hair dyed a darker brown but it has faded into a soft brown. I used a low odor dye and it didn't damage my hair much if even at all. Was your hair colored at all or was it natural when you bleached it?

a beautiful mess profile image

a beautiful mess 2 years ago from Virginia Author

No problem!! My hair was its normal color, but it had been dyed previously. I think I had last dyed it a few months prior. But when I dye my hair, I try to use ammonia free, just so I'm using less harsh chemicals.

JMcphee 2 years ago

Truly you need to get you're hair properly trimmed. You've been lucky so far bleaching you're own hair. You are lucky it hasn't snapped off at you're roots

jesstbh 2 years ago

I am planning on bleaching my dark brown hair to a honey blonde & then getting platinum blonde highlights. I was wondering if I could use lightener instead of bleach for the highlights? Also, can I tone with purple shampoo as soon as I rinse out the bleach?

a beautiful mess profile image

a beautiful mess 2 years ago from Virginia Author

Well, I'd say you probably can use lightener once your hair is already honey blonde. If you're looking for a certain shade of blonde though, I might just go to a salon. I was trying to get my hair to be as white as it could be so I could dye it blue, but the stages of that were brown, then orange, then yellow. Purple shampoo will only take out yellow tones on hair that is already super light. It may be something that is too much to do on your own!!

jesstbh 2 years ago

thanks for replying! i'll definitely keep that in mind! this article has been very helpful (:

Sandra hernandez 2 years ago

Where can I get the purple shampoo? How does the bottle look? This is very helpful. Thank you

a beautiful mess profile image

a beautiful mess 2 years ago from Virginia Author

You can find it at Sally's Beauty Supply! I bought "Generic" brand, it's in a white bottle.

Deborah Sexton 23 months ago

Great hub and info. I've witnessed some people with real hair disasters from trying to dye their dark hair blonde

Besarien profile image

Besarien 23 months ago

Great hub! I think it is awesome that you do your own hair! It looks great in all the befores and afters too, so well done! I think you must be a very adventurous and creative soul.

One tip I wanted to pass along is that if you don't have a shower cap handy or don't want oil all over it, plastic wrap works really well. I usually wrap a ring of paper towels around my hairline first to catch any sweat or oily drip. Then lightly wrap my hair in plastic wrap. Then wash oil off my hands and wrap it all again to make sure no oil gets on the furniture. The plastic wrap keeps in body heat. It is like a hot oil treatment without having to heat it. I usually keep it on at least half an hour.

Also, there is a product called Unred Drabber that can be mixed into any shampoo or even bleach powder to take out brassiness. I have seen it at Sally's. Never used it but have heard good things about it. I would ask someone at Sally's before trying it or read some reviews first, unless you are feeling lucky and just want to experiment.

a beautiful mess profile image

a beautiful mess 23 months ago from Virginia Author

Sweet, thanks for the insight!! Plastic wrap and paper towels actually seem better to me, at least to keep oil from dripping. I've finally gotten rid of all of my bleach growth, so I'm back to brown for now... But I'm seriously considering bleaching again! I may have to try this "Unred Drabber" and you'd better believe I'll write about the experience haha!

Deborah Sexton 23 months ago

Maybe you could frost/streak it, like I do. It looks better when the roots start to show, As you said: Olive oil is good for the hair. I heat it up then apply it to my hair...........I Wish you the best

Deborah Sexton 23 months ago

Actually I like your natural hair color in the first picture, where it is streaked, it compliments your complexion. I think nature knows best.

I even like your hair in the fourth picture from the top where you are processing it

I may even let my natural hair color grow out.

Jamie 23 months ago

You're so good!! Your hair looks good too. I've wanted to dye my hair dark ash blonde but I never bleach my hair before which is required for blonde but I wonder if I need to bleach it several time to get off the orange yellow (which Asian hair (im asian :D) usually has when bleaching the first time) before putting on the color. or I just need to put the color on right after bleach my hair? :( I'm looking for the answer on internet and youtube but got nothing. Please help me!

a beautiful mess profile image

a beautiful mess 23 months ago from Virginia Author

You'd probably have to bleach your hair twice. I have really dark hair, and the first time I bleached it turned orange. Nothing you can do with that! I'd give it a day at the very least and then try to bleach again. Rinse with some purple shampoo to take the gross tones out, give it another few days and then do the ash. It's very important to do this over a few days because if you do it all back to back, you'll kill your hair!! I'd take a weekend or some sort of break where you won't be going out so much. That way people will see the finished product rather than the process!

Jamie 23 months ago

Thank you for your quick reply. I see! okay I'll try to follow your step. Hope it turns out great :) thank you alots *love*

Nathan 22 months ago

Out of curiosity, how many bleachings do you think it would take to make some strands of my hair light enough for brightly colored highlights? It's a really dark brown, around a level two on the hair color scale thing.

a beautiful mess profile image

a beautiful mess 22 months ago from Virginia Author

I think between two and three, but it depends really how much hair you're planning on using. The trouble with bleaching is getting it evenly across big sections of hair. If it's very thin sections, I think you could even do it in one bleach.

pony_lover25 21 months ago

Hi, I have just dyed my hair with keune tinta red inifinity medium red violet 4.76ri BUT without bleaching. So now my roots are plum colored whereas the rest of my hair is the same color as it was. The horror! So i'm thinking of bleaching my hair and redying it the same color again. will that work? And i've also heard i would need to bleach it twice or maybe thrice since i have dark brown hair? O_O and hair turning orange? A little advice? thanks!

a beautiful mess profile image

a beautiful mess 21 months ago from Virginia Author

Oh no! That's happened to me a few times - but it's because I've dyed my hair previously. Usually what happens is I'll dye, and then my hair grows out a bit. When I go to dye again, it only really works on my fresh and undyed roots - leaving the rest of my hair whatever color it was. If you're dealing with the same sort of issue (previously dyed hair) I'd suggest trying a color stripper, which you can pick up at a drug store for about the same price as a box of dye. That should restore your hair to its natural color, and when you dye again it should work.

Since you have dark hair, but you're going for red, you don't really have to bleach your hair to a blonde. Red sets in very nicely on brown hair, and the warm hue would cover up any orange that may come from bleaching. If you're set on it, I'd bleach only once. If your hair gets to even just a medium brown, the red should work just fine over it. If I could attach a photo, I'd show you how mine is now!

Another option would be to leave the dye in for a longer time, or just switch dyes. I have lots of experience with Manic Panic, and it works perfectly over my dark hair. It'll give the tint you want, plus it's not harmful to your scalp or strands. If you're interested in going that route, here's a link to my article about Manic Panic dyes! There's a red dye featured last.

annonymous 21 months ago

whoa. you should never use 40vol. developer with a toner. way too harsh. 10vol should suffice.

a beautiful mess profile image

a beautiful mess 21 months ago from Virginia Author

I never actually used my toner... I still have it sitting around somewhere. Diluting with water should work as well!

ponylover_25 21 months ago

thank you. but i have never dyed my hair before. this was the first time. i did use a 20 vol developer with it. I don't know what happened. I was going for this color: (the first image in the ponytail) and instead ended up with this:

and also I Manic panic isn't avalaible here in pakistan, which is why I went for keune.

a beautiful mess profile image

a beautiful mess 21 months ago from Virginia Author

Well then I'd definitely try bleaching once! Maybe twice, just see how it turns out the first time. I used 40 vol developer in my hair because it's pretty dark normally. Best of luck!!

ponylover_25 21 months ago

Thank you so much! Will try it! I'm gonna use this bleach:

along with a 30 vol developer. will that be okay? or should i use a 40?

a beautiful mess profile image

a beautiful mess 21 months ago from Virginia Author

30 will probably be fine. Only thing I'm worried about is that you may run out of bleach powder! That was my problem the first few times I tried - or part of it, at least. As long as you have enough to cover all of your hair you're good to go for the first bleach!

pony_lover25 21 months ago

oh, lol, I'll get two bottles of the bleach then.. :D thanks for all the advice!

Shamooda 20 months ago

This is the post I've been looking for .! I have shoulder length layers and I'm planning to bleach like a single horizontal layer. I'm just planning to lather up manic panic shocking blue everywhere else and to that bleached layer a pastel blue ... Any idea how I should go about.?

a beautiful mess profile image

a beautiful mess 20 months ago from Virginia Author

Just keep your hair separated with a big butterfly clip and use lots of mirrors if you're working by yourself! the blue from the top layers will probably bleed into the blonde layer, so you may not need to get another dye for it.

tiffy90 20 months ago

Its dangerous to use over 2o vol peroxide wheb beleaching as it burns the hair away. Best doing a couple of goes with a lesser volume. Be patient is key to a successful blonde. Natural hair will always bleach down first go with dark or died hair a 2nd go is needed

Shamooda 20 months ago

Thanks for the advice ... I've got brown hair so without bleaching will the blue show up on my hair at all .??

a beautiful mess profile image

a beautiful mess 20 months ago from Virginia Author

It'd be very dark if you didn't bleach. Blue is a tricky color because it can turn brown depending on the base color of your hair. You have to be careful of not bleaching, or only bleaching to an orangey color, because blue and orange make a gross brown! Since I have no experience using blue over dark hair, here's a guide that may be helpful:

natasya profile image

natasya 20 months ago from Indonesia

Motif nice hair, but I prefer the black hair :)

Thomasjames1992 profile image

Thomasjames1992 20 months ago from London

Ive always wanted dair hair! But i have blonde :( ill try this out, Ta Thomas

cathie bridges profile image

cathie bridges 19 months ago from Pakistan

Really nice article !!!

Lena 19 months ago

Which brand of purple shampoo did u use ?

a beautiful mess profile image

a beautiful mess 19 months ago from Virginia Author

It's called Generic!

Samantha 18 months ago

Hi! I am going to try to bleach my hair on my own here in the next few days. I purchased the l'oreal bleach powder, wella toner, 30 developer, and the generic purple shampoo. I create my own deep conditioners with coconut oil and honey and such.

I had my hair professionally bleached two months ago at a salon so it is all over a dirtyish blonde with about a good inch or so of regrowth. It has also turned a bit brass-ish since it has been a while.

My concern is that you said to apply it to the roots when applying to the all over hair. I have read other spots and watched videos where they advise to do the roots after since they process quicker?

What is your take on this where my roots are darker? I believe my stylist said my natural color is a 6 but it looks more like a 7/8 to me. Maybe because the blonde makes it look darker.

Anyhoo, back to my question. Do I bleach the roots at the beginning or wait a bit? Also, should I wait to bleach the ends instead of the beginning since they are more fragile? I have heard they can process faster as well.

a beautiful mess profile image

a beautiful mess 18 months ago from Virginia Author

I would actually bleach the roots later, because they do process much faster. When I was doing my hair, it was ALL super dark and so any progress was awesome! Since only your roots are dark, definitely wait.

I suppose it wouldn't hurt to wait on bleaching the ends too, I usually just do them at the same time as the rest and then give my hair a trim afterwards.

An awesome tip I heard about - put coconut oil in your hair about an hour before bleaching. Fully saturate it with the oil, and then bleach on top! The coconut oil is supposed to protect your hair while still letting it bleach. Plus it comes out much smoother afterwards.

Ian 18 months ago

Yo, dude here. I got black hair, but I wanna try this out. What do you reckon I do? I don't really care for damaging my hair to be honest, as long as I don't go bald, haha.

a beautiful mess profile image

a beautiful mess 18 months ago from Virginia Author

Naturally black? I mean the quickest and unhealthiest way to bleach your hair is to get a high volume developer (40 or so) and bleach powder, leave it in forever, and use a straightener over the tin foil to speed up the process. May still take one or two bleaches, but be careful not to melt your hair into spaghetti.

I'd recomment setting aside a week or so for the bleaching process. Go for a lower volume developer, maybe 20, and try bleaching three times - with a few days and a few deep conditions in between. That way you can get it done fairly quickly.

mel 17 months ago

Thanx soo much for all the advice I have black hair with dum brassy highlights and blonde underneath layers got sick of yhis look n am ready to bleach my hair thanx to ur article I know how I'll let u know how it went

Jay 15 months ago

I'm in the process of bleaching my dark brown/black hair so that I can dye it a bright purple, the first round of bleach turned it mostly into a bright copper red color, but my roots went platinum. Waited a couple days and used a cream rinse multiple times, second bleaching I left my roots alone, but the rest of my hair is still slightly orange... 2 questions, will the purple shampoo take out the rest of the orange tint? And if not should I bleach my hair 1 more time?

a beautiful mess profile image

a beautiful mess 15 months ago from Virginia Author

Purple shampoo won't take out any orange, only light yellows. I'd suggest you give it a little bit of time and some deep conditioning with coconut oil or something similar, and then bleach one more time. Avoid adding bleach to areas that are already light enough.

Regina 13 months ago

I have been coloring my hair black with Bigen for years , now I want to go honey blond.I put a 7stage ligthening in my hair .only the root took but rest of my hair didn't take .what should I do .

Tatyana 12 months ago

Is splat an okay brand to use for bleaching?

Jimmy A Webley profile image

Jimmy A Webley 5 months ago from Birmingham, United Kingdom

Many Thanks, I've just about got my length back after I lost a drunken bet a couple of years ago and shaved it all off. I was totally getting 'the fear' about the dreaded orange. Truly great guide & very much appreciated. X

Warmest Regards, J.

Laura 4 months ago

A "friend" bleached & colored my hair last year. But she literally fried/melted it. I actually like how the colors came out but now my hair is so dry and brittle. I desperately need to do my roots which are now about 3-4inches long. I have my natural med-dark brown underneath, then light auburn in the middle then blond on top. I only have about 1/2 oz of powder bleach & 3oz of cream developer. Will that be enough? And how do I not make my hair just shatter. Should I protect my old bleChed hair. If you could please respond ASAP as I have already divided my hair & started yhe test strip.

Jordan 3 weeks ago

Thank you so much for posting this! Ive been reading tons of articles and nothing has broken everything down as easily as this one. Super helpful!

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