Bleaching your dreadlocks is tricky since the required chemicals are hard on any hair type. Professional bleaching treatments are best, but with the right products and some patience, you can bleach your dreads at home.
Of course, you need to be extra careful that the process is done correctly and that your hair is properly cared for afterward. If you want to learn how to bleach dreads the right way, our detailed guide will help you out.
Table of Contents
- 1 Before You Bleach Your Dreads
- 2 Supplies You Need for Bleaching Your Dreads
- 3 Prepare Your Space
- 4 How to Bleach Dreads: Start the Bleaching Process
- 5 Tips for an Even Bleaching Result
- 6 Tone After Bleaching
- 7 Risks of Bleaching Locs
- 8 How to Keep Locs Healthy After Bleaching
- 9 Pros and Cons of Bleaching Locs
Before You Bleach Your Dreads
Before you bleach your dreadlocks, there are a few things that you may want to consider. First of all, it isn’t a good idea to just grab bleach and developer and slap it on your dreads. Your dreads need to be prepared for this process.
Look at Your Locs
Start by examining your locs to ensure they are strong enough to handle the harsh chemicals used for this process. If your locs are chronically dry, you shouldn’t bleach them at all.
Also, if you’ve got any locs hanging on by a single strand, bleaching them is one of the worst things you can do.
In addition, dreads need to be somewhat mature before you bleach them. This is because any hair coloring process requires vigorous washing to remove the bleaching chemicals.
New dreads may not be able to handle repeated washing without unraveling. It can take several months for new dreads to be locked enough for this process, so don’t rush it.
Moisturize Your Dreads
You may also want to add some moisturizing products to your dreads the night before you begin. This can include any natural hair oil that you usually use, a cream moisturizer, or a moisturizing spray. Bleaching dries out your hair, so the healthier and stronger it is before you start, the better.
Do a Patch Test
Before you put bleach on your hair, you should always do a patch test. This involves mixing a bit of bleach and developer and applying it to a small patch of skin.
Leave it on for half an hour, wash it off, and then monitor your skin for about 24 hours. If there is no reaction, you can safely proceed with the bleaching process.
Supplies You Need for Bleaching Your Dreads
Once you’ve got your mind set on bleaching your dreads, it’s time to gather your supplies. These include:
- Bleach and developer (or a box kit containing both)
- 1-2 pairs of gloves (latex or vinyl)
- Applicator brushes (if needed)
- A non-metal bowl (plastic or ceramic are fine)
- Hair ties or clips (for longer hair)
- Aluminum foil (optional)
- A plastic shower cap (or plastic hair cap or plastic bag)
- Barrier cream or petroleum jelly (optional)
- Old towels
- Old clothes
- Toner (optional)
- Deep Conditioner
- Hair dryer
Helpful Information About Bleaching Ingredients
Bleaching ingredients, bleaching powder, and developer, are often sold separately. These ingredients are combined to create a mixture that will lift the natural pigment from your dreads. If you have long dreads, you may need multiple bottles/packages of each.
The developer comes in both a liquid and cream, though the cream is preferred since it’s easier to handle. There are also a few developer strength options, which determine how light your hair will get and how much time it’ll take to lighten. The higher the number, the lighter your locs will be after bleaching.
For the best results, you may want to stick with a 20 volume developer. It is less damaging than higher-volume developers, though it doesn’t lighten your hair as much. But if you want to transform your dark dreads into blonde ones, you have no choice but to go with a 30 or 40 volume developer.
As for the shower cap, many boxed bleaching kits already include one. Of course, whether or not you can use it depends on the length of your dreads. Shorter dreads will fit nicely in a smaller cap, but long ones may require a larger cap.
The towels and clothing you choose are up to you, but it’s best to choose old or torn pieces. If you happen to get bleach on them, they will be ruined.
Prepare Your Space
After you’ve gathered all the items you need to bleach your dreadlocks, it’s time to prepare your space. This is a really easy step that ensures that you have less of a mess to clean up when you’re done. Using your bathroom for bleaching your hair is best since it’s got a mirror and sink.
First, remove as many items as possible from the bathroom counter. This includes hair products, makeup, toothbrushes, and anything else you have scattered there. The less stuff you have on the counter, the less there is to spill bleach on.
Once your counter area is tidy, place an old towel down. Lay your supplies on the towel, double-checking that you have everything you need to bleach your dreads.
You may also want to lay a towel beneath your feet to catch any drips. If you expect to be extra messy, you can lay a few more out for any flying drops.
Once your space is prepared, you can put on the clothing you’ve chosen to wear when bleaching your dreads. Put another towel over your shoulders for some extra protection if you’d like. Now you’re ready to start bleaching your dreads.
How to Bleach Dreads: Start the Bleaching Process
Bleaching your hair isn’t a quick task. It takes time to do it right to ensure complete coverage of every dread. The following steps can help you get an even result:
- The first step to bleaching your hair is mixing the ingredients, including the bleach powder and the developer. Put your gloves on before you begin. Then mix 1 packet of bleach powder with 2 ounces of the developer (or 1 part bleach to 2 parts developer) per batch. This ratio will give you the proper bleach consistency.
You may need more bleach than this to cover the entire length of your dreads, but you don’t need to mix extra right away. It’s better to make more as you need it rather than having a ton of the mixture left over. The same goes for box bleach kits. Only make one at a time to reduce wasted product.
- If your hair is long, you will need to separate it into sections. This makes it easier to dye each area without the rest of the dreads getting in the way. Separate the hair into 4-6 sections, depending on the length and thickness of the dreads. Put a clip or hair tie around each section.
- Once you’ve sectioned your hair, apply the barrier cream if you’d like. This will protect the skin around your hairline. You may also want to apply some to your ears since it’s likely that your bleached hair will come in contact with them at some point.
- Now it’s time to begin applying the bleach. Coat the entire outer area of your dreads with bleach using your applicator brush or your fingers. Starting with one of the bottom sections of hair, take each dread in your hand and coat it with bleach. Be sure to cover it entirely with a thick layer.
- Once you’ve completed the bottom sections of your hair, move upward. Coat each dread, checking for missed areas while avoiding the scalp as much as possible. The bleach can irritate your skin, so keep it away from your face as much as possible. If needed, use a second mirror to see the back of your head to ensure full coverage.
- If you’re using hair foils, wrap them around the bleached dreads. You can wrap each one separately or a few together for faster wrapping and less wasted foil. This step isn’t necessary, though it does help trap heat and speed up the bleaching process.
- Cover your hair with the shower cap. Like the foil, this traps heat and moisture for faster bleaching.
- Leave the cap on for about 20 to 30 minutes. This will ensure the bleach has done its job without causing excessive damage to your hair.
- Once the bleach has done its work, you can remove the shower cap and aluminum foil. Put them aside in case you need them again for touch-ups.
- Now it is time to rinse the bleach from your hair. Rinse for a few minutes to ensure that the bleach is out. Squeeze your locs from time to time to ensure that the water gets inside your dreads.
- Shampoo your locs. You don’t need to use any special shampoo for this. Your usual brand will work for washing away the bleach.
Apply a generous amount of shampoo to your dreads and work it in as best as you can. Rinse the shampoo out, and then repeat this process two times more to remove every bit of bleach from your hair. You can check the mirror to be sure you haven’t missed any bleach along your hairline or at your roots.
- Apply a deep conditioner to your locs to replenish the moisture lost during the bleaching and washing processes. Leave your deep conditioner on your hair for at least 5 minutes.
- Allow your dreads to dry completely. Don’t use a hairdryer for this since it will cause unnecessary damage to your already parched hair.
Tips for an Even Bleaching Result
Even those who have bleached their hair before may notice spots they missed during the initial bleaching process. Uneven results occur when you don’t coat the entire surface of your dreads or if you rub some of the bleach off while moving the hair around.
If you notice dark patches among lighter hair, you can fix it quite easily. And if you have any leftover bleach mixture, you can use this for touch-ups. If not, make a small amount for this process.
Using your fingers or a Q-tip, apply the bleach to any dark patches you see on your dreads. Be sure to focus only on these areas. The hair that’s already lightened doesn’t need the extra chemical damage.
Once you’ve covered every spot with bleach, leave it on for 20 to 30 minutes. Then wash your hair as thoroughly as you did with the initial batch of bleach. Follow up with more deep conditioner.
Tone After Bleaching
Depending on the final results of the bleaching process, you may want to apply a toner to your dreads. This product is designed to remove any brassy undertones that you may be left with.
These unwanted tones are caused by red or orange pigments that the bleach may not have totally removed.
If you’re happy with the color you’ve achieved after bleaching your hair, you don’t need to use toner. If you’re not and want to achieve a cooler, less brassy shade, toner can help. You can apply it to alter the color of your dreads from root to tip or just focus on specific areas as needed.
To make toner, you need the toner itself and a developer (volume 20 for a permanent result and volume 10 for a semi-permanent result).
In most cases, you should mix these using 1 part toner and 2 parts developer. To be sure, check the instructions that come along with your toner.
Applying toner to your dreads is similar to applying bleach. Use an applicator brush to spread the mixture over each dread, coating them well. Once all the dreads are covered, leave the toner on for 30 to 45 minutes.
Rinse your hair, and then apply shampoo to remove the toner. Since the application of both bleach and toner can damage your hair, you may also want to use a deep conditioner. This helps to reduce damage for healthier, stronger hair.
Risks of Bleaching Locs
Below, we’ll let you in on some of the risks of bleaching locs:
- Hair damage from developer. If you choose a developer that is too strong for your hair, you can cause excessive damage to your dreads. You may not be able to repair this damage, so choose the weakest developer possible. 30 and 40 volume developers are known to cause hair disasters.
- Leaving the bleach on your hair for too long is extremely bad for your hair. That’s why it is crucial to watch the clock or set a timer. Anything over 40 minutes can cause irreparable damage in the form of split ends, brittleness, or widespread hair loss.
- Allergic reactions to the bleaching products. Hair dye and bleach can cause serious allergic reactions, so patch tests are a must. New allergies can develop over time, so even if you’ve done a patch test in the past, it’s wise to do it every time you plan to bleach your hair. Be sure to wash all the dye and bleach out of your hair if you experienced an allergic reaction.
How to Keep Locs Healthy After Bleaching
There are a few ways that you can restore your dreadlocks’ health after bleaching. One option is doing a weekly hot oil treatment (e.g., using jojoba oil or coconut oil). It will help restore moisture, strength, and elasticity to your hair over time.
You may also want to limit how often you shampoo your hair for a while. Shampoo strips away your scalp’s natural oils, as well as any moisturizers you manually apply to your dreads.
You can even switch to a sulfate-free shampoo, try a cowash, or do a pre-poo treatment to ensure your shampoo won’t strip your vulnerable bleached strands.
Letting your hair air dry is also a good idea. Post-bleaching, your dreads are already parched, and using a blow-dryer can make this issue worse. Unless you have no other choice, let them dry on their own.
Pros and Cons of Bleaching Locs
Bleaching your hair comes with several pros and cons. Let’s get into them below.
- Bleaching your hair is the first step to achieving some new and exciting hair hues, whether you want to go blonde or try out bold fashion colors like blue, pink, or purple.
- Maintaining the color of your bleached hair is relatively easy once the initial process is done. You only need to do touch-ups on the roots every 6 to 8 weeks.
- Bleaching causes more hair damage than any other process. In addition to stripping your hair of its natural pigment, it also strips away its natural oils and moisture. The result is dry hair that is more prone to brittleness and breakage. Your dreads will need some extra love to restore their health and prevent further damage.
- If you happen to get the bleach onto your scalp, you’ll likely be dealing with irritated skin and dandruff.
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If you want to try out a fresh, fun color, bleaching your dreads may be the way to go. It allows you to go blonde, or you can use it as a starting point for almost any other color. But it’s important not to underestimate the intricacy of the bleaching process.
We recommend that you follow our instructions to a T for the best results. Doing so will help to ensure that your dreads are even and healthy after the bleaching process is done. We wish you the best as you try something new with your dreads!
Kenneth Byrd holds a BS in Accounting and Management Information Systems and an MBA from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is a serial hair blogger that has been writing about hair care since 2008, when he co-founded Curl Centric and Natural Hair Box. Curl Centric is a website operated by a husband and wife team that encourages healthy hair care.