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How to Do a Bleach Bath for Your Hair

Maffew is a hairdresser, marketer, and dabbler in many things who enjoys sharing knowledge about the science of hair coloring and hair care.

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Bleach is an extremely useful tool for dyeing your hair because it's the only product that can lighten hair substantially. In fact, if you've dyed your hair with a permanent dye, it's practically the only way you can lighten it at all. Unfortunately, it can also be quite damaging but luckily there is a way to limit the damage and still get extensive hair lightening.

This is where the method of a bleach bath becomes a useful alternative. Sometimes you don't need to perform a full bleach process to lighten hair effectively but dye would still be too weak to use as an alternative. A bleach bath is prepared in a way that makes it a gentler bleaching option while still producing significantly more lightening than is possible through other methods.

Read on to learn all about the technique, when it is best used, and how to prepare and apply it yourself at home for easy results with minimal hassle.

The technique is a great way to create fun color results like this blue dip dye.

The technique is a great way to create fun color results like this blue dip dye.

What Is a Bleach Bath?

Normally when you bleach your hair, the bleach powder is mixed with peroxide and applied as directed to dry hair. This is an effective way to lighten your hair, but it can be overkill if you don't need a lot of lightening or you're dealing with fragile hair.

While you can choose to mix the powder with a lower volume of developer to reduce its strength, this can still be very harsh on your hair. A bleach bath—also known as a bleach wash or soap cap—is a milder alternative to this process and it's also incredibly easy to apply at home.

If the idea of lightening your hair intimidates you or you're worried about your ability to apply the product properly yourself, a bleach wash is a great option because it's less likely to cause significant irritation or lead to uneven results. It can be the ideal way to become more comfortable with lightening your hair at home.

Bleach Bath vs. Regular Bleaching

Bleach baths differ from a regular bleach process in a couple of ways and every hairdresser has their own method for performing one. The main differences include that:

  • A shampoo is added to the bleach mixture
  • The formula is applied to wet hair instead of dry hair
  • It is generally mixed up with a lower volume of peroxide

These qualities lead to a more dilute preparation of bleach that is far gentler on your hair and scalp as a result. On top of this, applying the preparation to wet hair means that it is much quicker to apply it to your whole head, and the results are very even and consistent throughout all your hair.

You can lift stubborn dye with a bleach bath.

You can lift stubborn dye with a bleach bath.

When Should You Use a Bleach Bath?

Bleach baths are handy for a few reasons due to their milder lightening action and ease of application. The primary uses include:

  • Stripping out hair dye
  • Correcting over-toned hair
  • Lightening hair one level
  • Lightening fragile hair

Stripping Out Traces of Dye

If you dye your hair with bright colors and you change these colors all the time, a bleach bath can be used to remove stubborn traces of color that haven't washed out yet. In this case, because the bleach is diluted and isn't in contact with the hair for very long, very little damage occurs compared to a regular bleach process.

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Lifting Stubborn Permanent Dye

A bleach wash can also be used to strip out permanent hair dye when it turns out too dark or in situations where you need to remove a buildup of color. In this case, however, hair dye remover is much more effective and a bleach bath should not be used unless the dye remover fails to lift enough of the color out.

For stubborn color or excessive dye buildup that doesn't respond readily to dye remover, a bleach bath is a useful option that can strip out a lot of the remaining dye while still being gentle on your hair.

Lightening Hair One Level

Of course, bleach baths can also be used to lighten your hair in the same way as regular bleach. When used in this way, they provide you with a much gentler bleaching action and cause less damage to fragile hair but you won't see the same amount of lift that a full bleach process would provide.

The volume of developer used plays a significant role in how much lift is possible like with regular bleaching. While it's possible to use a higher strength to achieve more lift, this does also increase potential damage so there's a tradeoff to be made.

Correcting Over-Toned Hair

A bleach wash is a reliable option for dealing with hair that has turned out too dark or absorbed too much tone. Unlike dye remover, it works on any kind of dye including semi-permanent, and can be applied for just a few minutes to quickly strip out extra color sooner than it would otherwise wash out naturally.

Lightening Fragile Hair

Use a bleach wash when you have fragile hair and only want to lighten it a little. It is also an ideal method for color correction on hair that is already damaged but you should always be careful working with damaged hair, even with a milder preparation like this.

Wondering which formula is right for your own needs? Check the handy table below for a quick cheatsheet.

What Type of Bleach to Use for Your Hair

When to use a bleach wash vs. when you have to do a full bleach.

Hair ConditionType of Bleach

Over-toned

Bleach Bath

Over-processed

Bleach Bath

Stubborn Color

Bleach Bath

Mild Lightening

Bleach Bath

Dyeing Hair Blonde

Full Bleach

Removing Dark Colors

Full Bleach

Regrowth Tinting

Full Bleach

Recipe for making a bleach bath.

Recipe for making a bleach bath.

How to Prepare a Bleach Bath

It's easy to prepare the formula at home and it only takes two major steps to get started:

Step 1: Mix bleach powder and peroxide developer as usual. The ratio of powder to peroxide can vary a little depending on the manufacturer, but for the most part, this is a 1:2 ratio of bleach powder to the developer.

Step 2: Add at least one part of shampoo. In this sense, the ratio becomes 1:2:1 bleach powder, to developer, to shampoo. The amount of bleach powder that you add should be matched by the same volume of shampoo.

Note: You can increase the amount of shampoo a little, to further dilute the bleach bath, or you can simply use a lower volume of developer.

What Volume Developer Should I Use?

When it comes to the volume of developer, 10 vol or 20 vol are generally used. It's important to remember that the real concentration of peroxide will be significantly lower because of the shampoo that is added and the amount of water that is in your hair when you apply the preparation.

As such, a bleach wash will lighten your hair less than a regular bleach can when using the same volume of developer. Remember to account for this milder effect when you formulate your mix to ensure that you get the results you need.

  • Choosing the Best Hair Bleach
    If you're bleaching your hair, you shouldn't use just any product. Find out which hair bleach products are superior and will give you better lightening, less damage, and more consistent results...

How to Apply a Bleach Bath

The application of a bleach bath is fairly straightforward.

  1. Apply the bleach bath quickly to wet hair using either your hands or a brush.
  2. Massage the bleach bath through your hair to ensure even coverage.
  3. Watch the color carefully.
  4. Quickly rinse the bleach out when the desired color is reached.
  5. Use a deep conditioner.

Hair Should Be Wet

A bleach wash needs to be applied to wet hair and you will need to dampen your hair with water before you begin. You should also only apply the preparation to hair that is unwashed in order to minimize irritation and prevent excessive dryness from the combination of shampoo and bleach.

Letting your hair go at least a day without shampooing—preferably two—is the single easiest way to prevent a lot of the tingling and itchiness that is associated with bleaching.

You Can Use Your Hands or a Brush

Apply the bleach bath quickly by hand or brush. You don't need to use an overly precise application as the dampness of your hair helps to easily blend it all through.

The goal is to get it into your hair as quickly as possible to produce an even result and you can choose the application method that is most comfortable for you because the technique itself prevents unevenness and other issues.

Massage for Full Coverage

Once your hair is completely covered with bleach, you can massage it through your hair to ensure every area is covered evenly. To prevent irritation and focus the product where it needs to be, move your hands in an outward motion from mid-lengths to tips through individual sections of hair instead of pressing it against your scalp.

Wait and Watch

When the bleach bath is distributed evenly through your hair, you'll need to watch it constantly. Unlike regular bleach, the intended use of a bleach bath to strip out remaining colors or produce gentle lightening means that the product won't usually need to be left in your hair too long.

You can wash it out as soon as the desired result is produced or leave it in for a total of 20–30 minutes for greater lightening depending on your individual goal.

Rinse and Condition

After you've achieved the level of lift you require, rinse the product out and condition your hair thoroughly with a good deep conditioner to replenish your hair's moisture. A bleach bath will leave your hair dry, and you will need to restore this moisture to keep your hair feeling soft and healthy.

Conditioner also serves to correct the alkaline pH from the process and this helps to get your hair feeling soft and smooth again sooner. You can add a small splash of white vinegar to your conditioner to boost this effect and speed up the recovery even more but time will always be a factor. Let your hair rest for at least a week before doing anything else with it.

Acidic products like conditioner help to normalize your hair's structure again after lightening for a smoother and shinier appearance.

Acidic products like conditioner help to normalize your hair's structure again after lightening for a smoother and shinier appearance.

How to Care for Bleached Hair

  • Condition: Hair that is lightened with a bleach bath needs the same care that you'd give it if you'd used a full bleach. This means intensive conditioning and gentle styling until the moisture is restored and your hair has been allowed to recover. Just like with regular bleach, you shouldn't perform a bleach wash more often than once a week to avoid stressing your hair.
  • Heat Protection: When using heated styling tools, your hair should always be protected by a heat serum or spray, and this is even more important for hair that is freshly bleached. Don't use a blow dryer, straightening iron, or curling rod for at least a few days if you can avoid it. Bleach is drying, and dry hair is more susceptible to damage from heat and styling.
  • Leave-in Conditioner: If you find your hair still feels a little dry even after conditioning, a leave-in conditioner can be used to add a little extra moisture and this can be followed up with a smoothing serum to lock that moisture in and keep your hair feeling its best.

Check out my related article about how to repair damaged hair for more techniques, tips, and tricks for getting your hair to feel great again and keeping it that way.

Once your hair has had a chance to recover, you can return to handling and styling it as usual. The great thing about a bleach bath is that this won't take very long. It's a gentler way to get the color you want, yet it will still keep your hair looking and feeling beautiful.

Do you have a question about the bleach bath process or an experience to share? Leave a comment for tailored advice and share your insight with other readers.

More Information

  • How to Bleach Hair
    Learn the tricks of the trade when it comes to preparing and using bleach.
  • How to Dye Hair Blonde
    Dreaming of blonde hair? Find out how to dye your hair blonde for professional results.
  • Caring for Dyed Hair
    Bleach or dyed hair needs specialized care to keep it looking and feeling its best. Find out how to care for dyed hair and maintain your new color.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Maffew James

Comments

desert-rhubi on August 01, 2020:

Hello, I need some hair advice. Friday Night I bleached my hair And then the same night I dyed it a blue teal color from Artic Fox. I ended up not liking the color and have been doing vitamin c treatments to fade the color. I’m wondering if a BB with 40 vol will bring my hair back to a lightened color/back to a pale yellow like my hair looked after bleaching it. I’m trying my best to go back to a light pale yellow color please help!!

Welsh Girl on July 10, 2020:

Can you do a bleach bath on already bleached hair? I want it a lifhter lighter and to try and get the brassy colour out. Wa

Hat percentage peroxide would you recommend? Thanks

Answer for Brittany on June 15, 2020:

More than likely, you’ll want to tone after a bleach bath. I’m about to BB my own hair to get some “semi”-permanent (it’s been months and this Arctic Fox virgin pink WILL NOT FADE) and I’ll be back at a level 10. Too yellow, so I’ve made my own toner with very diluted Punky Color violet to tone it away from banana yellow.

Brittany on June 15, 2020:

Do I need to use a toner after the bleach bath?

Rocio on June 12, 2020:

Thank you very much. Best review/explanation/advise by far and extremely useful for beginners like me. Currently burgundy with darker points. Trying to lightening little bit to recover my natural middle brown. Very sensitive scalp here so even when I wish a bold fantasy color bleaching it to blond its not an option.

GoldieLocks2 on May 21, 2020:

My Colorist had my hair a beautiful Ivory blond just top half of my head underneath is still my virgin dark brown. Due to COVID-19 and not knowing when are Salons are going to be able to open my Mom and Granddaughter who's in her 1st year of Cosmetology decided to tackle the project last weekend after me spending a month researching products and color lines. And in all fairness the did a good job it did turn out a little more golden yellow than I prefer I had planned on mixing a Wella Color CharmT10 with a T18 but the order I placed only came in with the T10 which I thought was going to work out fine because as it was processing it was looking like the lovely Ivory beige that my Colorist had gotten me to, that is until it dried and I still have the yellow gold with quite a bit of very lite blonde, so my question is what would be better, to do a bleach bath or tone it with the T18 with the violet tones now that it has finally come in. My hair is still pretty healthy I don't know if that's because I've always used the Olaplex in the bleaching and Toning process since I started this a year ago in March, and do I have to tone after bleaching or can I just do a heavy conditioning treatment.

Imperfection94 on April 08, 2020:

My hair is pretty dark naturally. I would say it's almost completely black. I do have mixed hair though.(I'm half Caucasian and half Hispanic. M hair is more one the Caucasian side then the Hispanic side) I'm the type of person who like to have their hair all one color. I've dyed m hair black about 2 months ago because I get a few pesky white hairs that are really noticeable. I was wondering would I be able to do a bleach bath on my hair and lift one level at a time with very little damage? Also after lifting my hair 1 level should I tone it? Also, am I am able to put a deep purple or some other color over it?

Kourtney on March 26, 2020:

Hi there, thank you so much for explaining that! Easiest tutorial I have found, by far. I was curious if anyone might have some advice on using a Conditioning wash instead of normal shampoo in this recipe? Any information is helpful! Thank you

Amber Miller on March 20, 2020:

Heyyyyy!

I've been using AF Aquamarine on my hair for a little over a year. I have about 4 inches of regrowth now and I'm over the green. Should I do a bleach bath on just the green then use a regular due on on my regrowth once I get the green all the out?

Please help!

Trista on February 29, 2020:

I have natural medium silvery-ash color blonde hair that lightens in an ombré fashion naturally to a light blond. I know I don’t need full on bleach to lighten it to platinum if I want to get a vibrant color. But sometimes the bleach wash doesn’t raise it enough levels to get some vibrant or pastel colors. Is there a way to avoid using full on bleach but still being able to lift an extra level or two without over processing and damaging my hair? A lot of times I can just do a straight toner or a blond dye with a 30 or 40 developer to get the level I want whether I’m just going for a lighter blonde or a vibrant color that my natural hair can’t achieve alone but not usually with the pastel colors. I know I can’t get away with that for pastels. Do you have any suggestions that is the most gentle on my hair? I really would rather not put my hair through full bleach when my natural color is just a Medium silvery ash blonde, it just feels like it’s not necessary and my hair is naturally a bit thin, so I always want to go the most gentle route. You seem to really know your stuff so I’d be real grateful for any suggestions you may have.

DiscoDancerBoston on January 28, 2020:

Your articles are so well written and helpful, thank you! I'm considering a bleach bath to try to budge my henndigoed hair. I used Rainbow henna powder (only two ingredients=henna + indigo) every 2 months for about 3 yrs. It covered my few grays and my hair is super healthy, BUT, over the years it's gotten WAY darker than I want (probably level 3 or 4 on the ends). My natural color is a medium brown, like a 5, perhaps a little lighter even. Anyway, after resting the hair for 2 months (no henna), I did a strand test with some gentle perm color (Naturcolor--I think it's 3% peroxide), and nothing--no change whatsoever on the length/ends. Tried honey lightening, clarifying shampoo, yogurt mask. Did another strand test--no lift at all. I am getting desperate but I don't want to super-damage my hair (which is why I was using henna in the first place). Do you think the bleach bath would be effective? Thanks!

Loretta on January 26, 2020:

Anybody heard of not doing a bleach bath before menustration? Saw some info on this and unsure if this would increase likelihood of chemical burn or just simply increase sensitivity?

Megan Brown on December 11, 2019:

I did this with 30vol and it was great, it took all the pink out my hair and lightened the blonde and I only left it on for about 8 mins, absolutely loved it!

Maffew James (author) on December 09, 2019:

Hi Marisa,

Really depends just how long it is. You could go with 60ml (2oz) of powder, 90ml-120ml (3-4oz) of developer, and then add shampoo until the volume of product roughly doubles. Less shampoo increases the lightening power and vice versa.

You'll end up with quite a bit of product, which will be better than running out mid-application, then you can adjust this for next time to use less. Most of the product will be shampoo so use a relatively cheap shampoo and it won't be much of a waste. The quality of the shampoo barely matters since it's only in the mix to dilute down the lightening/irritation and help wash artificial colour out of the hair.

Marisa Balzan on December 06, 2019:

I am going to do a bleach bath on my daughter's very long brown hair and it's a little too dark ...just want to lift it ...how much powder do I use and how much perxide and shampoo fo I mix in the bowl.

Maffew James (author) on November 09, 2019:

Hi Iliana,

10–15 minutes should be fine to brighten it a bit, ideally just keep an eye on it while it's in. It can be hard to anticipate how much it will lighten beforehand.

One thing I'd say to note with your hair is that the different sections—the regrowth, lengths, and grey strands—will likely react differently. The shorter you can keep the application the better because a longer application has more chance of starting to show some unevenness where the hair has been dyed different amounts or is naturally lighter underneath the dye in it.

Also, note that the bleach will lighten the colour but it will also make it look duller too. It could just look like a duller red, or it could go a little coppery. You might like the colour, but be prepared to follow up with a new shade of red just in case. Ideally, go a shade lighter than you normally would too because your hair will be a little more receptive to the dye after the bleach wash and you don't want it to darken too much again.

Thanks for the comment, let me know if you need any clarification on anything and good luck with brightening the red.

Iliana on November 08, 2019:

Please answer immediately? Demanding questions with a bunch of ??? Goodness, people do have a life.

Thank you for such great explanation and all the effort placed into this. I have been dying my hair blonde intense red and I could no longer find my hair dye and used one that left my hair dark red, not good. I also have grey so I dye roots every 3 weeks and the whole hair every 6 to 9 weeks. This method will lift up the darkness a bit without hurting my hair. I hope you can answer before I do this in about two weeks, how long do you leave it? I am planning on doing it in the shower and leave it for 10-15 minutes while I bath, shave, etc ... Thanks again.

em on August 17, 2019:

Actually it's 1 part bleach powder, 1-2 parts developers and 2-3 parts shampoo (i.e., 1 oz bleach, 1-2 oz developer and 2-3 oz of shampoo). In others words, the amount of shampoo should equal the amount of bleach and developer COMBINED.

Jess on May 12, 2019:

How long should you keep the bleak in?

na on March 30, 2019:

I am aware how long ago this person wrote the comment... But geeze Tori you are a bit ignorant and demanding when the information is already explained in the post.. The picture on the top tells you what is meant by 1:2:1... 1 part bleach, 2(so double the amount you used for bleach) of developer, and then 1 part of shampoo.

For example 1 cup bleach, 2 cups developer, 1 cup shampoo. The amounts you use will vary on your hair length and probably other things but definitely length.

Ula on January 30, 2019:

I use this ratio as replacing the bleach with the pink colourant to give my hair a colour hint and tone it at the same time. It works really perfect to me. I already recommended your website as well as this bleach bath as perfect helpful source. Well done bellatory!!

Jess Harris on December 26, 2018:

I hope this helps someone. Please don't bleach over non natural colors. It locks the color in. Strip your hair color first and then go on with a process.

Dee Gold on October 03, 2018:

Pls aswer immmedently should i do a bleach bath to night or what ro get rid of the yellow ?? That was the question i had ask around 8 minutes ago

Thank you very much!!!

Lesley on September 23, 2018:

Can you highlight your hair after using nutrient hair dye Permian than

Tori on June 29, 2018:

I need specifics, real measurements... 1 part, 2 part of what??? I am using a liquid, a powder and what kind of shampoo? and How much? SPECIFICALLY of each

Marion Cushman on June 10, 2018:

Thank you for the artical. I had black grown out to 3inches. I just wanted it out. I slept in the coconut oil and added my bleach wash the next day. I only left on for 10minutes but I got the black out. It's a reddish brown now. I probably would have been better for 15 but i didn't want to much damage. My hair was soft but I also added leave in conditioner . Any way thank you I'm glad to have the black gone without spending a fortune.