How To Do A Bleach Shampoo From Home, According to the Experts
Main image – Studiofirma/Stocksy
If you’ve been looking for a *marginally* safer way to lighten your hair from home, you may have heard of the terms ‘bleach shampoo’, ‘bleach bath’ or ‘bleach wash.’ Whilst most experts recommend you get your hair lightened professionally in the salon, we know that not everyone always takes that option.
So, if you are determined to try it, you’ll have to promise to follow the below expert tips as well as the instructions on your bleach powder or creme to the letter. Pinky promise?
Here, hair experts Susie Geda, Dr Jodi LoGerfo, Stefanie Lendzian, Kerry Yates, Lisa Abbey and Kristin Speakman give their thoughts on the bleach shampoo technique, how to do it from the comfort of home and the tools you’ll need to make it stress-free.
What is a bleach shampoo?
Ok but first; what actually is a bleach shampoo and what does it do?
“A bleach shampoo (or bleach wash) is a hair-lightening technique that uses a mixture of bleach powder or cream, developer, and shampoo that is then applied to wet hair,” explains Dr LoGerfo.
“We call them soap caps, which help lift up old colour or box colour 1 to 2 levels,” adds Lendzian. “We mix the shampoo with bleach and warm water.”
Despite this technique being advised to be left to the professionals (because of the risk of damage to your scalp, hair and beyond), it helps to correct any previous colour mistakes or unevenness, lifts darker patches and brightens up the hair’s overall hue.
According to Speakman, it is also less damaging than other hair lightening techniques because it’s diluted. “It works slower because shampoo and developer are used with bleach, instead of just developer (peroxide),” she says. “Although it works slower, it’s a quick application and often an option to bump the hair lighter.”
How to do a bleach bath, step-by-step
Step 1: Do an allergy test
With any hair colour procedure, it’s really important that you do an allergy test 48 hours before, to avoid an all-over allergic reaction or, worse, chemical burn. Allergic reactions can happen immediately or appear several days later.
One report that studied the effects hair dye can have on the skin and it found that reactions happen more often than you think. “The frequency of allergic contact dermatitis resulting from hair dye is likely to be underestimated.”
To do an allergy test, the NHS recommends “dabbing a small amount of the dye solution behind your ear or on your inner elbow and leaving it to dry.” Wait 48 hours to see if your skin reacts before doing your bleach shampoo.
Step 2: Assess the condition of your hair
Because bleach is so strong, it is not a good idea to apply it to already weak hair (thinking hair that feels like straw or snaps off – ouch). Yates says there are a few things to consider before you bleach wash.
“Is your hair dry? Are the ends split? Is the hair frizzy, unmanageable and rough when sliding your fingers from mid-lengths to the ends? If you answered yes to all those questions, rethink applying a bleach wash.”
Step 3: Gather the right tools
You will need some old towels to put down on the floor and around your bleaching area to protect it from any stains. Make sure you’re wearing clothes you’re not bothered about too as things could get permanently messy.
Do the same Vaseline trick you do when colouring your hair with a DIY colour box – apply it around your hair line to form a barrier between your hair and your skin.
And you’ll obviously also need your powder bleach, your developer, a bowl and brush (or stirrer) to mix everything in, a pair of plastic gloves, a shower cap, a clarifying shampoo and a conditioner.
Step 4: How to mix a bleach bath
Always read the instructions if you’re using a bleach wash kit, but Abbey suggests the following mixing technique otherwise: “Mix up a gentle bleach wash by mixing 1 oz (30ml) of warm water, 1 oz of shampoo and 1 oz professional hair bleaching crème or powder lightener,” she says.
This means the ratio is 1:1:1 of water to shampoo and bleach.
Step 5: How to apply a bleach shampoo
Wearing your plastic gloves, use a brush to apply it evenly “from root to tip as quickly as possible since the bleach wash starts to work immediately,” explains Abbey. “Start in the back and work your way to the front. Finer hair will lighten more quickly.”
If you have fading highlights or balayage, “flip your head over and apply the bleach wash to the ends first then work it upward to where the lighter hair starts,” she continues.
Should I put bleach shampoo on wet or dry hair?
Geda says a bleach shampoo should go on wet hair. “Apply this mixture to freshly shampooed hair,” she says. This makes it ever so slightly healthier for the hair than if the bleach were applied when it’s dry.
How long do you leave bleach shampoo on?
“A bleach shampoo can be left on the hair for 10 to 30 minutes, depending on what you’re trying to remove,” explains Geda. Do not exceed 30 minutes and always read the instructions on your bleach powder or crème to double check. “Rinse the bleach wash thoroughly, for an extra few minutes as needed,” says Yates.
Step 6: Condition your hair
Apply a deep conditioner or repairing hair mask. This will help to hydrate it, add shine and help to protect the hair from damage.
I like Moroccanoil Intense Hydrating Mask (£27.85 from Look Fantastic UK/ $38.50 from Look Fantastic US) for its smoothness and smell. Concentrate mostly on the mid-lengths and ends of your hair so that your roots don’t get greasy.
The do’s and don’ts of DIY bleach shampoo
DO: “go to a professional if you have dark roots and light ends as the roots will typically pull more red,” Abbey warns. “Otherwise, apply conditioner or styling crème to the roots to protect them and then apply the bleach wash only to the lighter portion of the hair.”
DON’T: “try to lift pre-coloured hair more than one level or you may experience uneven lifting,” she adds.
DO: conduct an elasticity test if you’re unsure whether your hair is in the right condition for a bleach wash. “Select a single hair strand from the affected area and moisten it to assess its natural condition,” explains Yates.
“Keep the base of your thumbs together and hold the hair between your thumb and index finger, gently pulling the hair to observe its retraction. If the hair returns to its original position, then your hair is in reasonable good health. If it continues to pull, like taffy, never turning to its original length, then it is highly sensitised and you should rethink applying a bleach wash.”
DON’T: “use Clorox or facial hair bleach as it will disintegrate the hair,” Abbey warns.
DO: avoid very dark roots. “It should never be applied to new growth,” Yates says. “The region of new growth will lighten faster than previously coloured sections, making the end result look patchy.”
Honestly? Our experts want to reiterate that doing a bleach shampoo at home isn’t advised. The salon professionals know best and it’s an easy technique to get wrong.
However, as long as you’re equipped with the right tools (and sense!), it can be achieved at home and it’s a lot cheaper than a salon appointment too.
Take care with bleach and remember to protect both yourself and your bathroom to avoid stains. Always do an allergy test too – it’s a small price to pay to ensure your skin is safe – and treat yourself to a nourishing, deeply hydrating conditioner to finish off your newly lightened locks.
Meet the experts
Dr Jodi LoGerfo is considered an authority on hair loss and her years of research and clinical work on patients with various types of alopecia enable her to diagnose the various patterns of hair loss, identify the causes and offer the latest treatment options.
Susie Geda is a Master Stylist, and the Co-Owner and Creative Director of Bibo Salon, Oakland, Ca.
With over twenty years of experience in the beauty industry, Susie has built a reputation for her specialised skills in hair extensions and styling curly hair. She co-founded Bibo Salon in 2017, transforming it into a hub for creativity, growth, and professional development.
Stefanie Lendzian was a cosmetologist for 20 years before creating NAPRIM Naturals, a range of natural skin and haircare products.
Kerry Yates is a trichologist, beauty expert, and the founder of Colour Collective, a collaboration of experts, influencers and industry professionals from the beauty, business and creative worlds to create new beauty products.
Lisa Abbey is the founder and CEO of Strength x Beauty, a brand of healthy and plant-based hair and body products that use only clean, luxury ingredients.
Kristin Speakman is a hair stylist and the owner of Bella Red Salons. She specialises in advanced colouring education and advanced precision haircutting education.