How To (Safely) Bleach Your Hair At Home, According To Stylists & Colorists

Photo: Ecaterina Glazcova   / Shutterstock
woman bleacher her hair at home

You want blonde hair but don't know how to do it. You may have been able to color your own hair at home, but bleaching is a whole different ball game.

Sometimes we can't afford the pricey hair salons, which means we need to do things on our own. While we may have mastered simple blowouts and hair masks, it's time to consider the reality of bleaching your own hair at home.

Can we bleach our hair if we’re not a professional? Well, it isn’t as simple as other processes. That bleach job can be done, but only if the right tools and steps are taken, and you go slow and steady.

Luckily, you can learn how to bleach your hair at home by taking the proper steps.

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This is the point that you have to choose a bleach. Obviously, it's not the same bleach you use to clean your bathtub. (And in case that wasn't already very clear, please don't use cleaning products on your hair!).

The word bleach is just a generic name for any chemical product used to remove the color from fabric or fiber or to clean. This can be everything from clothes bleach to cleaning bleach to hair bleach.

Of course, what's in the product and how the product works does matter for the different types of bleach used. Cleaning bleach is sodium hypochlorite, a liquid disinfectant used for cleaning. In contrast, the primary ingredient in hair bleach is hydrogen peroxide.

Remember: it's important to take advice from experts only. With that, let's get into it!

How to Bleach Your Hair at Home

1. Examine the health of your hair before proceeding.

Before you venture down the road of bleach, determine if the hair is healthy enough for the process.

“Take a look at the ends of the hair and overall appearance. If the hair lacks luster or has a history of damage, bleaching may not be the best option,” warns hairstylist Jane Harris, owner of the Virgin Hair Fantasy and co-owner of 2 Mango Sisters.

Think about the last time there was a color process performed on your hair as well. If it's been a few months, the hair could be ready; however, if it was just a few weeks ago, you may want to reconsider seeking color.

2. Consult with a stylist.

If there's a hair stylist or professional colorist for you to consult with, set that consultation up.

Adds Harris, “If your stylist isn't comfortable providing that service, see if they have a referral.” If they don't have a referral, a simple search for a color specialist may help.

Prepare what you want to ask before the call or in-person visit so your pressing questions are answered.

As to what questions you should ask, Harris says, “Ask about the bleach process, tools needed, timing, and so on. Holding hands over the phone can provide comfort, and with a professional on the other end, it will allow you to avoid some possible pitfalls.”

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3. Know the risks of bleaching your hair.

If you were going to cut your hair, you'd cut a bit at a time before going for a blunt cut, right? Well, it's the same for bleaching your hair.

Before continuing, consider all the things that can go wrong, because there are a lot of them. For instance, overprocessing, hair damage, excess oil, damage to the scalp, and continued maintenance.

Bleaching your hair is not entirely bad if it's done properly. “Stylists are careful to not leave in any hair lightening products for too long or use high volume developers that can cause damage,” adds Clairol color partner, Priscilla Valles.

Hopefully, that will put you at ease before continuing.

4. Perform a strand test beforehand.

"If your hair has been previously colored with a hair color that permanently changes the hair color, do a strand test to check for results and the hair’s integrity," advises Patricia Williams, Roux Education Ambassador.

A strand test is sort of like a test section. For example, were you painting your house, you'd do a test to make sure the color works and fits.



"To do a strand test, mix ingredients as suggested, then cut a few strands from the back of the head, lay on foil, and paint lightener mix to strands," Williams continues. Set a timer for a few minutes, then check and repeat if needed to the desired lightening. This will give you a timing guide and a look at your color (to be).

To play it safe, keep lightener off the scalp (you don't want to burn or irritate your skin), avoid your eyes at all costs, and wear gloves to protect your hands from any bleach or hair color.

5. Prepare the space you'll work in.

Get set up in an area that's ideal for the bleaching process. Lay out everything you need right in front of you.

Much like when making a complicated recipe in the kitchen, it's really best to have all the items you will need for this task lined up in front of you before you get started.

“There's no time to search for missing items when bleach is on the hair,” Harris warns. “Clear out the bathroom rug and anything else that may suffer damage if bleach is dropped. Wear clothing that makes it easy to shampoo the hair when the timer goes off. Make sure the location is near a sink.”

The following tools are a great start: a timer, hair color brush, petroleum protectant, gloves, hair clips, bleaching bowl, plastic cap or plastic bag, shampoo, lightener, developer, toner, gown, combs, and an old towel. And, of course, bleach that's meant for hair only.

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6. Follow the directions closely.

If you’re doing this at home on your own, always follow the instructions on the packaging of any bleach or bleach kit you use. Instructions are very important!

And be prepared for this to be quite a process depending on the finished product you desire. "If you have jet black hair and want to be platinum, you can’t get that with one round of bleach,” Valles advises.

Instead, you should work your way up through different levels of blonde with enough time in between each bleaching to let your hair recover.

“You can bleach black hair but you cannot — or, let me rephrase that, you shouldn’t — go from black to platinum in one day because it can cause damage,” Valles adds.

She also recommends going two shades lighter each time you lighten, once every couple of months. That way, you work your way up to the desired brightness without the risk of your hair falling out from overprocessing.

7. Start with your roots.

It’s better to bleach your roots rather than the whole head. Why? Because the roots are virgin hair that has not been chemically treated.

“If you have never colored or chemically treated your hair, you're lucky and have a better chance of not damaging your hair,” Valles says. She typically looks at the hair to check if it’s not too dry or overly chemically treated, and if there aren’t a ton of split ends. If so, it’s okay to bleach.

“You can use any deep conditioning hair treatments before and after the process to keep your hair moisturized,” she continues. “You can also use a low volume bleach developer, never higher than 20 volume, and ensure it doesn’t sit on your head for too long or else your hair can break off.”

Once the bleach is applied, the average time to let it sit is 30 minutes. But please follow the directions on the bleach product you used!

8. Consider using a DIY bleaching kit.

If you’re trying this at home, Valles recommends DIY bleaching kits because they’ll have a step-by-step guide and precisely measured chemicals.

What you need to do this at home is a bleaching kit that usually includes bleach, developer, and conditioner — and that's pretty much it! But Valles advises having a few more items.

"I would have a brush, a couple of clips, and a towel that you wouldn’t mind staining handy to wrap around your shoulders to avoid damaging your clothes. I also recommend having coconut oil around your hairline to protect your skin from any excess bleach, and a wide-tooth comb to separate the hair sections,” she says.

If you do use a DIY bleaching kit, here are the instructions Valles recommends:

1. Start with coconut oil around the hairline. Make sure there isn't any on your hair. It's also important to use a towel, clips, a wide-tooth comb, and mirrors to help you look at your hair from all angles.

2. Apply the bleach on dry hair. According to Valles, you should always start in the back where the hair is the darkest because that will require more time to process. Then, divide your hair into 4 sections: 2 in the back and 2 at the top.

3. For the back section: Begin at the nape of your neck, and use your rat-tail comb to divide a 1/2-inch horizontal strip.

4. For your roots: Apply the bleach starting there. "Try not to touch your scalp skin, just the hair, and work from root to mid-shaft, leaving about 3 inches of the ends out," Valles adds.

5. Move up until all your sections have bleach. Continue leaving your ends out of the process.

6. Once you complete this, go over the ends with bleach, starting from back to sides and top.

7. Use toner and aftercare products once a week, like a thick hair conditioning mask.

9. Use a toner.

“To bleach your hair while at home, you should always start coloring in the back, then move forward to the sides, and finish at the top of your head for an even bleach,” Valles recommends.

Then, go in with a silver toner to get rid of any yellow tones to brighten up your color. If you’re going for a warm brunette color, you don’t have to go too blonde with your bleach.



“Get to the level of lightness you desire, and use a toner to get rid of any brassiness. The bleach makes your hair light, and then the color or toner you put on top gives you the final color you want,” she adds.

10. You can even attempt to try balayage highlights.

If you think you have the know-how to bleach your hair, why not get a little fancy?

Balayage is a hair color application technique during which the bleach or color is painted onto the hair, creating a more natural, softer look. According to Williams, to perform a simple balayage technique, you paint your bleach mixture freehand on select strands.

"Start with a 20 volume developer and mix with a bleach packet, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once mixed, choose strands to lighten around your face, so that you can watch the lightening process and stop it when you're happy with the color of the highlights," she says.

11. Remember that aftercare is important.

If you don't want to go to a salon, know that taking care of your hair after bleaching it is essential.

Potential hair damage from bleaching without aftercare could include dryness, breakage, and color fading. That's why leaving an intensive conditioner on bleached hair for at least 10 minutes is key to healthy color and highlights.

How can you practice proper aftercare?

To make sure your hair is strong, moisturized, and that the elasticity is intact, you can perform a test on your hair to check it regularly. According to Hair Cuttery Salon's director of technical training, Steve Waldman, “Take a few hairs and test the strength between your finger tips.”

Does it seem brittle? Does it easily fray or break? That means it's not passing that strength test and needs more TLC.

Use conditioners, hair masks, and treatments that have protein in them to help to rebond the hair when you wash your hair. Because when your hair is moisturized, says Waldman, “This will ensure that your next step with tone and color will deposit evenly and look beautiful, whether you're coloring at home or in a salon.”

You can also maintain your blonde hair color at home by using a semi-permanent hair dye.

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Aly Walansky is a NY-based lifestyles writer who focuses on health, wellness, and relationships. Her work appears in dozens of digital and print publications regularly. Visit her on Twitter or email her.