/ / / How To Bleach Drop Cloths Successfully
| | |

How To Bleach Drop Cloths Successfully

Learn how to bleach drop cloths with this step-by-step tutorial, including frequently asked questions and suggestions for using drop cloths in your home.

A comparison of a bleached drop cloth with a swatch of the original fabric on top.

Drop cloths are a pretty hot item in the home decor world. From the first tutorial that used them to make curtains, they are now a go-to source for inexpensive, durable, and beautiful fabric. Of course, since they tend to come in that rather bland beige color, the question is can the fabric be bleached? And how can we bleach drop cloths successfully?

Please note that this post contains affiliate links which allow me to earn a small commission when a purchase is made. Read more here.

UPDATES: I have updated this post on August 3, 2019 to reflect my recent experiences as well as some feedback from readers regarding their experiences bleaching drop cloths. This post is also LONG–lots of details for you! Skim through to get the general idea and then when you’re ready to bleach, read through all the details before purchasing drop cloths or getting started.

Two bleached drop cloths on a pine dresser.

DISCLAIMER: A huge part of bleached drop cloth success is the material of the drop cloth. It MUST be 100% cotton. I’ve learned from a few readers that the drop cloths I suggest purchasing may no longer be 100% cotton. I have continued to have success with that brand, but it is up to you if you want to risk it. Additionally, the drop cloths generally come with a seam (though not always) and if it runs width-wise, the panels will likely end up too small for curtains after accounting for the shrinkage of cotton. Even if it runs length-wise, that may be too small for appropriately wide curtains. Keep reading for my before & after measurements.

So, How Do I Bleach Drop Cloths?

Bleaching drop cloths is straightforward and the process rewards you with yards of sturdy snowy white fabric. The rustic texture of a drop cloth is also just right for farmhouse style decor.

You Must Start With 100% Cotton Drop Cloths

Yep. This is important. When I first bleached drop cloths I was SO disappointed. I let them soak overnight (twice!) and basically nothing happened. You can see my sad photo below. Is it lighter? Is it not? Who can say?

Showing how drop cloths made from a cotton/polyester blend cannot be bleached with a side-by-side comparison.

It took me purchasing a few more drop cloths to realize that I was buying drop cloths that were 50/50 cotton/polyester. Well, as anyone who has ever tried to dye polyester fabric knows…it doesn’t work. And this of course holds true of attempting to bleach polyester as well. Go figure.

Most readily accessible drop cloths (found at Menard’s, Home Depot, etc.) are this cotton/poly blend. So, I recommend buying your drop cloths online or finding a local source that provides a 100% cotton option.

Where to Buy 100% Cotton Drop Cloths

All purpose canvas drop cloths on a pine dresser.

When I am ready to bleach drop cloths, I buy them from Chicago Canvas on Amazon. They are 100% cotton. Now, I recommend checking the description before purchasing just to be sure it still reads 100% cotton. Manufacturers do have a way of changing things, so it’s worth double-checking before buying.

UPDATE: I have learned that some readers have not been able to bleach these cloths–I suspect that this is because they may have changed the fiber content on some if not all of the cloths? On the Chicago Canvas website they do have an option for requesting a sample, which could be useful for you?

A product image of Chicago Canvas drop cloths.

I really like the texture and weight of the Chicago Canvas drop cloths as well. It’s just right for farmhouse style home decor. Also, the drop cloth I’ve linked to is a 9’x12′, which gets you a lot of fabric. UPDATE: This is CUT SIZE, not “finished size”. When I measured my cloth that meant it was actually 8′ 2″ x 10′ 4″. Keep reading for more info on shrinkage.

A note on seams: Oftentimes, drop cloths this large generally come with a seam (though not always) and if it runs width-wise, not length-wise, the panels will likely end up too small for curtains after accounting for the shrinkage of cotton. Know that there is no guarantee you will get a drop cloth without a seam!

If you need a large cloth for curtains, you may want to try the following option instead. They may still have seams, but the cotton/poly blend will not shrink as much as the 100% cotton variety.  I also haven’t yet found a seam in the 6’x9′ version and loved them for my curtains!

What If I Can’t Get the Amazon Drop Cloths?

IF for some reason you can’t buy the Amazon drop cloths, I do have another suggestion. However, you won’t be able to bleach them because they are a cotton/poly blend. The Everbilt drop cloths from Home Depot (UPDATE: Home Depot no longer carries the Everbilt drop cloths I used, but it looks like this is their updated one?) come in a very nice grayish color that blends well with the grays and whites that are so popular in home decor right now. I used them as shown below (I bought the 6’x9′ size, and I think this is their update of that version) for our drop cloth curtains.

Unbleached drop cloth curtains hanging in a dining room.

I actually kind of love that they aren’t white. It gives some dimension to our space and layers nicely with my white furniture (still gotta get rid of that beige paint, but I’m working on it!). Just remember, the Everbilt cloths can’t be bleached!

Other Supplies Needed

Besides the drop cloths, you will need bleach, 3% hydrogen peroxide, and a top-loading washing machine. I suggest finishing your normal laundry before beginning as this process will take up your washing machine for several hours. UPDATE 1/15/20: I received a comment from a reader who owns a newer top-loading machine that wouldn’t fill with enough water to get the process started. She discover that the “deep wash” setting allowed her to fill the machine with more water. This tip could work for any of you who may be working with newer machines. Please note I have not tried this myself as my machine is definitely a old model!

Will My Drop Cloths Shrink When I Bleach Them?

The short answer is yes. Always, always bleach, wash, and dry before starting a project. The Chicago Canvas cloths are 9’x12′, which is actually the CUT SIZE, not “finished size”. When I measured my cloth that meant it was actually 8′ 2″ x 10′ 4″. After washing, it measured 7′ x 10′. That’s very different than the packaged “9’x12′”. Unfortunately, the most recent cloth I purchased also had a width-wise seam, so my pieces were even smaller. Keep this in mind as you plan your projects.

Bleach and hydrogen peroxide for bleaching drop cloths.

Step-by-Step: How to Bleach Drop Cloths Successfully

Soak the Drop Cloths in Bleach

  1. Fill your top-loading washing machine with hot water on the largest load setting available.
  2. Add about 3-4 cups of bleach while the washer fills. When full, close the lid to allow the machine to agitate the bleach a bit. Then pause the cycle.
  3. Optional step: Cut the 9’x12′ cloth in half. You don’t have to do this, but it will help it swish around in the washing machine and bleach evenly. If you plan on using the cloth for curtains or another large project, you obviously won’t want to cut it (though note: 9’x12′ cloths generally have a seam down the middle anyway).
  4. Add the drop cloths (don’t add more than one full 9’x12′ amount of fabric total) to the washing machine.
  5. Close the lid and allow the machine to agitate until the cloth is fully submerged and then pause the cycle.
  6. Let the drop cloth sit (close the lid!) for about 6 hours or until snowy white. I would suggest not letting it soak more than about 8 hours or so. Important: I suggest agitating the drop cloth as much as you are able while it soaks in the bleach (every hour is great). This helps the drop cloth bleach evenly.

UPDATE: I have heard that some readers needed to do this process 2x to get to a snowy white fabric. I’m not sure why that is, but if that is the case for you, go ahead and give it another soaking in fresh water with 3-4 cups of bleach again for 6 or hours. 

Rinse the Drop Cloths Thoroughly

  1. After the cloth has been bleached sufficiently, allow the washing machine cycle to run all the way through and rinse the bleach away.
  2. Now fill your machine for another cycle and add several glugs of 3% hydrogen peroxide (around a cup or so) plus laundry soap to the water and drop cloth. Let this cycle run all the way through and then machine dry the bleached drop cloth. The hydrogen peroxide will neutralize the bleach to prevent it from breaking down the fabric any further.
  3. Optional: If you are extra cautious, before drying, run one more cycle with the drop cloth and laundry soap. Follow up with machine drying the drop cloth. Tip: I am always a little paranoid about residual bleach (I doubt it’s an issue, but again, paranoid), so I generally will throw in a load of something that “doesn’t matter” after bleaching a drop cloth (like white kitchen towels) just to make sure all that bleach is gone!
  4. Before using the fabric for projects, iron the drop cloth. Or not. I won’t judge.
Bleached drop cloths folded and stacked.

FAQs on How to Bleach Drop Cloths

What if I Don’t Have a Top-Loading Washing Machine?

Eesh. I’m sorry on this one! You could use your bathtub or laundry room utility sink, but this amount of bleach can do nasty things to finishes. It’s worth double checking before attempting it. You could also phone a friend.

Two soft white bleached drop cloths folded and stacked with a swatch of the original beige-colored fabric to compare on top.

What If the Bleach Doesn’t Work?

If you use 100% cotton drop cloths you should be in the clear! If you find that the process didn’t work, you likely used a brand that unfortunately contained polyester. If you ended up with splotchy cloths, I would suggest repeating the bleaching process right away and then progressing to the neutralization step with the hydrogen peroxide. It’s also worth noting that drop cloth fabric is quite rustic and if you want a really polished perfectly-white look, this method might not be right for you.

A comparison of a bleached drop cloth with a swatch of the original fabric on top.

What If I Don’t Want Bright White Fabric?

I would say that overall these drop cloths turn out to be a very soft white. If however you are looking for a blend between a dark beige drop cloth and bright white drop cloth (think grain sack tones), you could just bleach the cloth for about 3-4 hours. That is what I did for these pillow covers (see below) and I really loved the result. However, if you don’t bleach all the way to snowy white, you will have some unevenness in tone. I liked the rustic feel, but to each his own! If you try it and hate it, just bleach all the way to white.

Bleached drop cloth fabric sewn into a pillow with the original fabric on top for comparison.

Will the Bleach Break Down the Fabric?

It certainly softens the fabric, which is why I don’t recommend bleaching these too long (8 hours is about the max). You will still have a very sturdy fabric, but just don’t go overboard with the bleach or soaking time.

Bleached drop cloths on a pine dresser.

What About the Environmental Impact of Bleach?

Yeah, bleach is yucky. If this is a concern for you or you plan on bleaching more than a few cloths, I would recommend finding a source of white cloth or duck canvas cloth (Chicago Canvas sells this, though it’s a heavier weight than most drop cloths) that won’t require bleaching. I would also avoid this process if you have a septic system. I grew up with a septic system and we never used bleach for anything. The bleach can cause damage to the workings I guess? K, done thinking about septic systems now.

A collage of images showing the process of bleaching drop cloths: original fabric, bleach and peroxide, and the finished product.

Ideas for Using Bleached Drop Cloths Around Your Home

Oh man, there are soo many ways to use those newly bleached drop cloths!

You could make a bedskirt:

Look at this adorable bedskirt that Cami over at Tidbits made:

A drop cloth bedskirt.

Slipcover chairs or couches:

Marian at Miss Mustard Seed sews the most gorgeous slip covers…those pleats!

A living room with wingback chair slipcovered with bleached drop cloths.

Use the drop cloths for curtains:

Like I mentioned above, I used my un-bleached 6’x9′ cotton/poly drop cloths from Home Depot for these curtains and we love how they turned out:

Unbleached drop cloth curtains hanging in a dining room.

Or cut them up and sew drop cloth pillowcases:

I made these pillow cases from my half-bleached “grain sack” colored drop cloth and I think they turned out so pretty and farmhouse-y:

Farmhouse pillow covers made with bleached drop cloth fabric.

Feel free to shoot me any questions you may have! In the meantime, what are YOU using your bleached drop cloths for?

Bleached drop cloths folded and stacked on a pine dresser.

More DIY Projects from Bellewood Cottage

 

Similar Posts

30 Comments

  1. I bleached drop cloths for my daughter’s dining room using this method. The drop cloths shrank over a foot in length. Color was beautiful, but now way to short.

    1. Hi Susu, great to hear to from you! I would definitely recommend bleaching, washing, and drying before cutting the drop cloths for curtains. That way you can adjust for shrinkage (which cotton will tend to do!). And if you start with 6’x9′ drop cloths you should have plenty of extra length (unless you are working with reeeeally tall ceilings, in which case, consider looking at an even bigger size cloth). Hope that helps!

    2. Hi Susu! I wanted to update my comment with what I recently learned from another commenter as well as what happened when I bought a drop cloth to make curtains for my little’s nursery. I got a drop cloth (using the same Chicago Canvas link I share above) and the seam unfortunately ran through the width of the fabric! After shrinkage (which I measured before/after and will update this post with) I definitely had super short curtains (84″) like you mentioned. Such a bummer! When the seams aren’t present or else run lengthwise, it’s ok, but I didn’t realize that the drop cloths sold sometimes have width wise seams as well. So sorry you experienced that and thanks for sharing with us! ~Ellen

  2. This post is like Christmas Day for me…AND that I sold Santa on being a very, very good girl this year Ü We’re in the initial stages of having our house built out of state. And here I am already dreaming of bleached drop cloth curtains and we haven’t even stuck a shovel in the ground yet! These are exactly what I’m wanting for our home. Think I’ll do a mock run just for extra-early fun ♥ Thank you so very much for sharing this post.

    1. Tracy, thanks so much for your sweet comment! I hope you enjoy making your curtains! Drop cloths really are so versatile and I think they’ll be lovely for curtains in your new home! Blessings as you build! <3 Ellen

  3. Hello! I bleached 2 bits of drop cloth for curtains over the weekend & they are a different shade! They are from the same store, same brand and left to bleach at the same amount of time (though at separate times to not overload the top-loader). One los lighter than the other, and after I tried to re-bleach the darker one for only a couple of hours nothing happened! I’d appreciate if you have any advice for me. Thanks!

    1. Hi Yanitza! Thanks for stopping by. I think I would try re-bleaching the 2nd cloth for closer to the original length of time (so about 6 hours, since it does take some time for the bleach to do its job). Also be sure to agitate the washer occasionally so you can avoid dark spots on the final fabric. I haven’t personally experienced what you did, so hopefully another round with the bleach will do the trick. Let me know how it comes out! 🙂

    2. I had this happen to me as well. In the process of making very wide curtains for my husbands work office window. All drop cloths were purchased at the same time from Home Depot. I bleached three times! The one drop cloth would not change color. Very disappointing. Luck of the draw I guess.

      1. Hi there Rhonda!
        That is a bummer! In the blog post I talked about how the Home Depot cloths should actually be avoided–they are a poly/cotton blend (it’s possible they occasionally stock 100% cotton ones, but I have yet to find any) so they won’t bleach. The original color can be quite lovely too, but it’s definitely not white! I like the 100% cotton variety from Amazon (link in the post) for bleaching, but it appears that a few of my readers have had trouble with those too! I’m sorry again that your project didn’t work out!
        Thanks for reading,
        Ellen

    1. Hi Anna! It definitely depends on the dimensions of the drop cloths you purchase and the window you’d like to make curtains for. I like to use a 6’x9′ cloth for each full length “panel”, so if you purchase the Chicago Canvas 9’x12′ cloths I linked here, then you should be able to just cut one in half and get two panels. I like starting with the most fabric possible so that if there’s any shrinkage I can account for that, as well as be able to frame my windows really high and wide (so much better than the super short 84″ curtain panels you find in stores!). Here’s a link to how my curtains turned out: https://bellewoodcottage.com/drop-cloth-curtains-reviewed-part-2/
      You can see that I was able to make curtains for our large doorway and have plenty of fabric left for about a 14″ foldover as well.
      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

      1. I ordered 4 9×12 drop cloths from Chicago Canvas. Two were light in color and had no center seams. Other two were a more tan color and one had a seam that ran lengthwise. The other one ran the other direction and was totally unusable for long So you just don’t know what you will get. I ordered another one and hope I can use it..

  4. I used the exact drop clothes you suggested, ordered them straight from here and they set in bleach over night and are still the exact same color.

    1. Hi Sheila! That is strange…I have thought of a few suggestions for you, so hopefully this helps!
      -Verify you purchased the Chicago Canvas cloths and double check the tag to be sure they are 100% cotton (I checked the Amazon listing and it still says 100% cotton, but it’s worth a double check on the cloths you received).
      -Check the amount of bleach you added. At least 3 cups is about right for one cloth.
      -I’m not sure how much fabric you added to the washer at once, but it’s best to only do one cloth at a time, otherwise the washer will be overstuffed and you’ll get spotty results at best. Like I note in the post, cutting the 9’x12′ cloth in half can help it swish around too.
      -Agitate the washer during the bleaching process to help the cloths bleach evenly.

      As you probably read in my post, I had similar results (cloths not changing color) when I tried to bleach the drop cloths I had picked up from the home improvement store, very frustrating! That’s why I was happy to discover these 100% cotton ones. You can see the difference in results from my photos, so I hope you can find the same success! Thanks for stopping by!

      1. I’m in the process of bleaching the dropcloths from Amazon as well. I ordered 4 of the 9x12s. Two of them were not the same color as the other two. The ones that were tan in color finally bleached after about 8 hours and two cycles of hot bleach water. When they were still splotchy after 6 hours, I drained the bleach water and started over with another washer full of hot water and fresh bleach. I use 1/2 a bottle (58 ozs.) of bleach and cut the 9×12 in half and bleached only half at a time. I would soak and agitate every 2 hours. So it’s taking me an entire bottle of bleach (116 oz) and 8 hours to get half of a dropcloth done. The other two dropcloths which had no center seams in them at all, and were a lighter oatmeal in color did not bleach at all after 6 hours. Just nothing. When nothing had happened after 3 hours, I tried draining and refilling the tub with fresh hot water and another 58 oz of bleach and 3 hours later, still nothing. I have them in the washer overnight and I will let you know if anything happened tomorrow morning. We will see. Chicago Canvas just says their dropcloths are cotton on their website, but the packaging does not say 100% cotton and there are no tags to be found on the drop cloth itself. Another tip: if you are just making curtain panels, I turned the fabric under and stitched it after cutting in half and before bleaching. This keeps it from unraveling and tangling up in the bleaching process.

        1. Thanks again Patti! I responded above to your first comment, but I’m definitely a little confused as to why the bleach is taking so long to work on these new cloths! I have previously been able to bleach them using a few cups (but not a whole bottle by any means) of bleach and several hours of soaking time. I’m wondering if the composition of the cloths has changed even for the 100% cotton cloths (I imagine the light-colored cloths you noted are probably a manufacturer update which are not 100% cotton–argh!). As I mentioned, I will be updating my post with what you have experienced as well–I’m so sorry that things didn’t go smoothly! I still remember my first couple attempts at bleaching and being so sad when it didn’t work. But then the cotton drop cloths solved my problems, so this is such a bummer! Keep us updated with your experience! ~Ellen

  5. I love your post and I plan on making the drop cloth pillows you shared in one of your other posts. Love all of your posts, thank you for sharing all of your gorgeous and brillant ideas!

    1. Judy, thank you so much for your kind words! I hope you enjoy making the drop cloth pillows! I have had a lot of fun making mine! 🙂

  6. Thank you for sharing how to successfully bleach 100% cotton drop cloths. Such an easy project! High five to you! I ordered my drop cloth from Amazon. Can’t wait to go ahead with the bleaching process. I love the pillow shams you made, could you provide info on how you made them? I thought I had pinned the project, but unfortunately it didn’t go through. I was so excited about making them.

    1. Yay, I hope it goes well for you! I always love seeing the before and after. Here are links to my pillow tutorials: https://bellewoodcottage.com/diy-drop-cloth-pillows/
      and https://bellewoodcottage.com/update-throw-pillows/

      I love Lisa’s tutorial at a Farmhouse on Boone for the ticking stripe covers with drop cloth cover + ties on top. That tutorial can be found here: https://www.farmhouseonboone.com/farmhouse-on-boone/diy-grain-sack-and-ticking-stripe-pillows/

      1. I ordered 4 9×12 drop cloths from Chicago Canvas. Two were light in color and had no center seams. Other two were a more tan color and one had a seam that ran lengthwise. The other one ran the other direction and was totally unusable for long So you just don’t know what you will get. I ordered another one and hope I can use it..

        1. Hi there Patti! I recently purchased another drop cloth for a project I was working on and experienced the unfortunate width-wise seam. This was a bummer because after accounting for shrinkage, I ended up with curtains that were only 84″ in length…it ended up working out, but generally I would consider that really short for curtains. Especially since one of the perks of using drop cloths is that they are nice and long for any window height. I will be updating my post to reflect what I recently experienced as well as what you noted in your comments.
          I haven’t however received any of the light color (which you noted didn’t bleach at all when you tried). I am bummed because I bet that those light-colored cloths may indeed be a cotton/poly blend. Not ideal at all! Thanks for sharing your feedback for me and anyone else who may be hoping to bleach drop cloths. I’ll get those updates written up in the post and definitely let me know if you have any other thoughts! Thanks for stopping by! ~Ellen

          1. Hi! I just did my drop cloths and put up my curtains. They came out great. I got some drop clothes from Amazon that were 100% cotton and did not have any seams except on the edge. I have already thrown away the wrappers but I think the brand started with an M. The main reason I am commenting is that I have a newer top loading washer and they don’t use much water so I got on the net to see if I could figure out how to override the water problem. I found out I have a setting on my washer that says Deep wash. This setting worked wonderfully. I imagine that a lot of women could use this information. Is it possible for you to add this trick to the body of your instructions ?It might be helpful to them. Especially since I got my appliances in a trade I didn’t have the users Manuel to refer to. Two things with my curtains, one it took a little longer to get them white and ironing them was grueling! I did iron them when they were damp and I am sure that made it a lot easier than dry!! Thanks for your post, it was most helpful and had, what I think, the best set of instructions. Thanks, I hope my little info can help.

          2. Hi Sandy! All your information is so helpful! I’m going to add a note in my post so that others can benefit from what you discovered. I really appreciate you stopping by and taking the time to share your experiences. Hopefully this post can continue to help those to want to give this a try! Thank you!
            ~Ellen

  7. Thanks for sharing such informative post. You’re always giving your readers something new. Therefore, I’ve bookmark it and I’ll definitely recommend my friends to read this information post.

  8. Hi Ellen,

    Please help me understand what I’m doing wrong… its just not working for me!???😩

    I’ve even emailed the manufacturer who made the drop cloth and they’ve confirmed that it is indeed 100% cotton. Im using 5’x12’ (heavy duty canvas painters drop sheet) thats the title on the pack.. and im soaking it in a portable baby bath tub filled with hot water (its not a large size amount of cloth so it fitted well with the baby tub.. its a rather large tub too) poured in a little more than half a bottle of bleach(2.5L). Ive agitated it by hand with gloves on and have left it soaking for a full day and it has not changed!
    What am I doing wrong? Please help🙏🏼

    1. Hi Jade!
      Thanks for stopping by! I’m so bummed to hear that the bleach doesn’t seem to be working on the drop cloths you have purchased. I would suggest at this point to go ahead and rinse out the cloth as best you can. Let it dry and then look it over to see if it is splotchy or completely unchanged. If it is splotchy, that is a good indicator that the bleach is working, but you will probably need to try another round. If it is unchanged, then I’m not sure where to direct you next if the cloth was confirmed as cotton. That is tricky! I would like to try this project with different brands of bleach as I wonder if that could have some impact on results? Best of luck to you and I hope another round of bleaching does the trick!
      ~Ellen 🙂

  9. Guess what? It WORKED!! 😃 When i rinsed and washed it out was when I noticed it is lighter!
    I don’t know why I couldn’t see it when it was soaking 🤦🏻‍♀️

    I am SO happy it worked! Now I can start on my project yaayy!! I’m reupholstering a love seat at the moment and I have my couch to do as well!

    Thank you so much Ellen for teaching me this trick… I’m so excited! 😁

    Kind regards
    Jade XO

    1. Oh yay!! That makes me so happy to hear! =)
      So so glad it ended up working for you. It sounds you have some gorgeous projects in the works.
      Thanks so much for checking back in and letting me know how it worked out! =)

      ~Ellen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *