Learn how to bleach, tone, or dye your hair step by step, easily explained!
This “how to bleach hair guide” will give you all the knowledge you need to do a successful hair transformation at home and AVOID bleach fails, no matter if you’re going blue or blonde or anything in between. Learn how to bleach and tone your hair at home like a professional!
//How to bleach and tone hair step by step
Over the years I’ve watched tons of bleach fails videos and similar on YouTube, and to be honest, most of the fails could have been avoided with just a little more knowledge about how to bleach and tone your hair at home.
If you have a passion for hair, and a basic understanding (which this step-by-step guide will give you), you should be able to do your hair at home with a stunning outcome. But it’s a practical job (you learn by doing) so you cannot compete with hairdressers, even if you read all the textbooks there are.
I would of course recommend doing your hair at a salon, but I know a lot of you are going to do it at home anyway, so why not share some of my knowledge so you’ll have a better chance of achieving the hairstyle you want, and not become entertainment for Brad Mondo’s bleach fails-videos (although all PR is good PR, right?)
Let’s dive into it.
Learn how to bleach and tone your hair step by step
(I recommend reading all “chapters” for a better “hair understanding“)
//How to bleach and tone hair step by step
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How to bleach and tone your hair at home, step by step:
The first step: can your hair tolerate bleach or dye?
You have to ask yourself if your hair can tolerate the color/bleach. It’s important.
If you start a rough chemical process on very damaged hair, it will either:
1. Make your hair extremely broken, ugly, and impossible to deal with. I mean, you can’t even brush it, it’s literally gum.
2. Your hair will get what we call “a chemical cut”, which means all your hair, or parts of it, fall off. No Bueno.
Prepare hair for bleaching, and repair your damaged hair!
How to know if your hair needs moisture or protein?
To figure out if your hair needs moisture or protein, take a strand test: Remove a hair strand from your head, and then pull it until it breaks. If it breaks easily you need moisture, and if it breaks slowly and has a “gummy” texture, you need protein.
However, to archive healthy hair – you need both moisturizing and protein-rich products. If you only use one of them, your hair will get difficult to deal with. You need to find a balance between moisture and protein. For instance, if you lack protein, mainly use protein products, and use moisturizing products once in a while. And vice versa.
Super effective products that repair your damaged hair, and prepares it for bleaching:
Cut your ends, and treat your hair with good products that work. For protein products, I strongly recommend Kevin Murphy’s repair series, which is GOLD! Use the re-store treatment (most important), and if you can afford it – buy the repair shampoo&conditioner here as well. If you want something hydrating, use this KMS moist repair treatment. KMS moist repair and Kevin Murphy’s repair products are by far the best stuff I’ve ever tried, and I’ve tried a lot!
If your hair is very ruined, you should consider using Olaplex, which is super effective repairing products with a lot of science supporting it. It’s quite expensive, so this is only necessary if you really need it. A great tip is this very affordable travel-sized Olaplex-kit containing shampoo, conditioner, a treatment, and a leave-in product. I have this myself, and it’s a great way to try it on a budget. I used the four products together once a week and it lasted me for quite some time. With Olaplex it’s normal for the hair to feel worse at first, and then the magic happens.
After a few weeks or months, do a new evaluation. Can your hair take it now?
If you are very uncertain, you can always go by a salon and ask a hairdresser whether or not your hair can take whatever you are planning to do.
If your hair is healthy, you should still make sure to have some good and proven products like the ones I just mentioned. You need them to repair your hair after and during the chemical process.
It’s so important to use good products to repair your hair!
//How to bleach and tone hair step by step
Also check out:
Different hair types
Thick hair strands (typically Asian hair) can handle a good deal of wear and tear, while thin hair strands (often curly hair and afro hair) tolerate much less. Fine hair (not thick, not super-thin) gets damaged more easily than thick hair but is stronger than curly hair.
What’s your hair type?
And remember, it’s a difference between having thick hair strands and having lots of hair. Look at your hair strand, not the amount.
//How to bleach and tone hair step by step
The second step: Bleach, Color, and Toner – which should you choose?
Color makes your hair darker, but it can also slightly lighten if strong enough.
Bleach makes your hair several shades lighter.
Toner is used to correcting colors because all hair lightening gives a warm tone (red, orange, or yellow) no matter if it’s bleach or color.
For slightly darker hair, use a toner.
If you want darker hair, go with a color.
For slightly lighter roots, use a color.
If you want lighter hair, go with a bleach + toner.
For crazy colors like pink, use bleach + toner.
//How to bleach and tone hair step by step
HOW TO BLEACH YOUR HAIR AT HOME STEP BY STEP
Bleach is a little mixture that removes the color in your hair through an irreversible chemical reaction. Your hair will get damaged on some level, but if you follow this guide carefully, we can limit the damage and hopefully steer away from fatal bleach-fail consequences like a “chemical cut”.
Equipment – How to mix bleach powder and developer
You need two things: Gentle bleach powder (or cream, but the powder is preferable) and a developer (hydrogen peroxide). When you mix the developer and bleach, the chemical process that lightens your hair starts, so obviously you need both (I’ve seen many people on YT trying with just a developer, so I felt I had to emphasize it). We’ll get back to how to mix the bleach shortly.
What developer strength should you use?
The developer comes in different strengths (volumes), let’s see which strength suits your hair:
Volume 40 (12%) is the strongest. Should be avoided unless you have dark, strong, and super thick hair strands. The 40vol is too strong to use for roots/on your scalp(!). Use once, maybe twice if your hair tolerates it, then switch to volume 20 for the remaining bleaches (if you’re not at your desired level).
Volume 30 (9%) is also very strong, mainly used on brown hair going blonde. Use once, maybe twice if your hair can tolerate it, then volume 20 if you want to go even lighter.
Volume 20 (6%) is usually used on lighter hair colors or weaker hairs (since it’s gentler). You can go very light with this one as well, but since it’s the weakest you have to use it for more sessions than the ones above. If you have brown/dark hair or have box dye in it (which is hard to remove) you have to use the 30vol first.
Now that you have chosen your strength, you need the actual bleaching products. A gentle powder bleach and a developer:
The best bleaching products:
I want to recommend the bleaching products from Wella Perfect. They’re gentle and predictable and used by salons all over the world. It’s also one of the least damaging hair bleach brands. You need the Wella bleaching powder, and their developer (change to the strength/volume you need). The products are totally affordable, and they’re going to last for years.
You also need gloves, a mixing bowl (not metal), an application brush, and a plastic bag to lock in the heat (a transparent shower cap is a genius for that). Find everything super cheap here at amazon.
And at last: OLAPLEX. It’s optional, but I would recommend using it because it minimizes the damage in the bleaching process. The Olaplex is easy to use, just add a small amount of ‘no 1 bond multiplier’, into your bleach. (We will get back to the exact amount). This will prevent damage. However, the Olaplex no 1 product is exclusively for salons, so it might be hard to get your hands on it, but you can try here.
Coconut oil, baking soda, and other household products for bleaching
I would NOT recommend household products and home remedies for bleaching. It can really damage your hair and skin. Professional bleaching equipment like the ones I just mentioned are cheap, effective, and will last you for years. Why choose something else?
Some at-home-bleachers use coconut oil in their hair before applying the bleach. There’s no evidence that this has any benefits, and I highly doubt that it works since the bleach will “eat” right through it. But it won’t harm you, so feel free to try.
So, now that you have all the equipment you need for bleaching,
Let’s start the bleaching process!
How to Mix Bleach and Developer
How many parts developer and bleach are mixed depends on the brand. But most products, and the products I have recommended above have the ratio 1:2, which means one-part bleach and two parts developer. If you use one scoop bleach powder, you need two scoops developer. You want the consistency to be like a satisfying soft pudding. Use the mixture immediately.
When it comes to your roots, steer away from the 40vol. You do not want to put that on your scalp. Ideally, use 20vol on your scalp, you might have to do it in two sessions if you have dark hair. Make sure to have an oily scalp when you apply the bleach. We will get back to this.
Stuff to know before bleaching the hair
- Since the bleach starts to work immediately after you add it to your hair, you have to work fast. Some people like to do one side at a time, consider that if you have long or thick hair.
- Bleach needs some help to lock in the heat, otherwise, it will dry out and stop working. Salons usually use foils for this, and sometimes plastic “caps”. It takes a long time to apply with foils, even for a trained person, and it’s especially difficult to do on your own. That’s why I recommend using a simple transparent shower cap instead, that’s genius, fast and easy.
- If you are bleaching your whole head of hair: it’s clever to section your hair with crocodile clips like these before you start applying the bleach. This makes the process easier and faster. And, you are less likely to miss spots. Here’s an idea of sectioning:
If you don’t own much hair you can do bigger sections, and if you have a head full of hair you can do smaller sections.
- Once again, make sure to have an oily scalp when you do your roots. Don’t forget this. If you apply bleach to a newly washed scalp, you are going to itch and burn like crazy. If you on the other hand apply it to an oily scalp, you most likely won’t feel a thing.
- I also want to mention something called a bleach bath. This is bleach mixed with shampoo. It’s very easy to apply this, just “bath” your hair in it, and leave it on for a maximum of 1 hour. This is like a very weak bleach, that can lighten your hair around one shade, or remove an old toner. Mix bleach powder and developer as usual, stir, then add A LOT of shampoo (no conditioner).
Different ways to apply highlights to hair:
- If you are doing highlights: You have three choices for application.
- Cap. (Not a shower cap, but a highlight cap w/needle like this one)
Foils are the best option if you have a talented friend who can help, and if you can reach the desired nuance in one bleaching process. If not, you have to find your highlights later to re-bleach, and that’s difficult.
If you have to bleach several times, then a cap might be a better idea – because you can rinse the bleach off while keeping the cap on, then dry the hair and apply some good products before re-bleaching the already sectioned highlights.
The last option is freestyle, where you simply paint on the highlights and use a shower cap for heat. When doing a balayage most people use foils, but it’s also an idea to bleach the lower parts of the hair, and then carefully brush/blend in the bleach in your un-bleached hair, the freestyle way. No matter what you choose, it’s difficult to make it look good, but you might nail it. Who knows? )
Also read: The perfect skin care regimen, step by step.
How to apply bleach to the hair
- No matter if you’re bleaching everything or just highlights, start at the lower parts of the back of your head and work your way up, keep the bleach 2-3 cm away from your scalp. The heat from the scalp makes the bleaching process shorter, so make sure to always start at the bottom of each section, and work your way up.
- Use a GOOD amount of bleach, be super generous, you want it to be totally covered and creamy and white. So many people use waaay to little bleach, which results in bad coverage and dry bleach that doesn’t work. It might be preferable to be a little messy and apply it with your hands (with gloves on) rather than a brush since it’s easier and faster.
Apply A LOT of bleach!
- Remember, bleach does not lather. You have to apply it manually on each strand. That’s why sectioning is so important. Make sure everything is covered. Use your fingers (with gloves) and comb through your hair.
- After the application is done, put on the shower cap. This is important, if you don’t do this the bleach will dry out and stop working.
- Check how the bleaching is progressing every 10th minute. How fast the bleaching lightens is very individual and depends on many factors. For instance, dry/broken hairs usually lighten faster than healthy virgin hair or box-dyed hair.
- Leave on for a maximum of 45 minutes. Again, better safe than sorry. This is especially important if you use a 40vol or 30vol developer. Unless you are already blonde going blonder, you have to do several sessions anyway.
- Rinse with lukewarm water. And yeah, your hair is going to be some kind of shade of red, orange, or yellow at this point. Don’t be scared, it’s just the way it is. If you are going lighter, nourish your hair and apply some good products suited for bleached hair (you want protein-rich products like the Kevin Murphy repair series, or/and anything from redken extreme here). Repeat the bleaching process a couple of days later. If you are at your desired level, you can tone your hair. I will explain toning further down.
How to apply bleach to the roots
- If you apply the bleach on your roots at the same time as the rest of your hair, your roots will get MUCH lighter due to the heat of your scalp. You don’t want that. Worst case scenario you’ll get that chemical cut we talked about.
- When (in the process) to apply the bleach to your roots depends on what result you are looking for, aka for how long you need to lighten your roots.
- However I recommend not to do the roots in the same session as the rest of the hair. That’s because the root application is time-consuming, and it’s really hard to calculate how long it will take, how fast it will lighten, etc. And at the same time, you have to keep an eye on the rest of your hair. Let’s just say, it’s a low threshold for extreme failure.
- Because the root application takes time and the bleach lightens the roots fast (due to the heat of the scalp), a lot of DIY-bleachers do half their hair at a time. This is a good idea, a least until you learn how to do it faster.
Always apply a generous amount of bleach!
- Remember, bleach does not lather, you have to literally cover each hair strand manually. Apply a generous amount of bleach, just like with the rest of the hair.
- If your hair is already lightened and you are only doing your roots, try not to overlap the previously bleached parts.
- How you apply it is up to you. The technique hairdressers usually use is to divide the hair into four vertical sections: split your hair in half through Centre parting (like if you are doing two braids) then split your left side in half with a vertical parting just behind your ear, the same goes for the right side. Now you have four sections. Use a hair tie or crocodile clips to separate the sections. Again, be generous with the bleach 😀
- One of the perks of having your own bleach and developer is that you’re able to do your roots more frequently. A piece of good advice is to do all your roots (the time-consuming and boring job) once a month or every other month, and then every other week or so, only do the roots that are showing. This application literally takes 2 minutes, no problemo.
That’s it for the bleach. To summarize what’s important to remember when bleaching your hair at home:
– Evaluate if your hair is strong enough for the process
– Use good and proven products to prepare and repair your hair
– Choose the correct developer volume (hydrogen peroxide strength) for your hair
– Bleach does not lather, apply a generous amount of bleach, use a shower cap to lock in the heat
– When doing roots, apply bleach to an oily scalp. Don’t use 40vol for this.
…But the process doesn’t end here unless you want orange/yellow hair.
LET’S MOVE ON TO TONING
How to bleach and tone hair step by step: All about TONING
What is a hair toner?
Toning is like a mild hair color that corrects shades. For instance by making your yellow hair ashy. It’s not only for bleached hair, it also corrects colored hair. Maybe you want your brown color to be more chocolaty? a little darker? or shinier? The opportunities are endless.
Toning isn’t difficult, but unfortunately, a lot of DIY people seem to have way too little understanding about this subject, which results in a bad outcome or more common: no result at all.
Before you start your toning process, you need to understand the color wheel:
You’ve probably seen it before, maybe in art class in elementary school. It’s easy to understand, to correct colors you just need to add the opposite color. As you can see, the opposite color of yellow (warm) is purple (cold), and you’ve probably heard of purple shampoo that removes yellow tones.
If your undertone is red, you need a green base to neutralize it. And for an orange shade, you need a blue base. (Make sure to read the last chapter about hair coloring to understand this better).
But unless you have very light hair with just a hint of yellow, a shampoo with a color tint (like purple shampoo) isn’t enough to cancel out “the bad”. You need something stronger to correct your hair. You can use products like purple shampoo to maintain your hair shade after toning it with something stronger.
The stronger toners (semi/demi-permanent colors) are based upon the color wheel as well. But they contain other colors as well. And just to make it clear, toners aren’t just focusing on “making the hair cold”, it’s toners for all kinds of desired shades. You’ll learn more about this in the chapter about hair colors further down.
The most important thing to know about toning
- You need to use a toner that’s at least one shade darker than your hair color. If the toner is lighter than your hair, you won’t see a difference and if a toner is the same shade as your hair you might see a slight difference. If you want a big change, like removing yellow or orange hair, YOU NEED A TONER THAT IS DARKER THAN YOUR HAIR! Almost every DIY-YouTuber I’ve seen has failed on this. There’s no point in using a toner if you don’t follow this rule!
The best Toners to use
Many high-end saloons use Redken shades EQ for toning. I love love love this toner and would never change it, it’s by far the best I’ve tried because it’s very gentle yet effective, lasts surprisingly long, and leaves hair very shiny. And, they have a ton of different shades. You need one or several of the small bottles of Redken shades EQ (the color) and the processing solution (like a developer) (under color options – choose processing solution developer original 33 oz). The processing solution is big, so you only need one. Remember, toning isn’t a one-time job, you need to do it from time to time, so it’s clever to buy several of the small color bottles because of shipping, etc.
I would also recommend mixing different shades to personalize it. Mix the colors and the developer 1:1 (in other words 50/50, equal parts). The downside with Redken shades is that it’s a little difficult to get your hands on them because they are kind of exclusive for salons. But you can buy both colors and developers here at amazon.
As I said, they have quite a few shades to choose from. You can mix anyone together, and then add the same amount of processing solution. Stir, and apply it to wet (not dripping) hair. Leave it on for 5-25 minutes.
The redken toners we use the most are:
091 Chrome (silver)
08GN Ivy (green)
09B Sterling (blue – with a hint of purple, this is good for removing a light orange. Use a darker blue for darker orange)
09V Platinum Ice (violet)
As mentioned, you can mix anyone together. For blonde hair, I love to mix 09V Platinum ice with 09N Sahara, which gives you a cool/neutral, sandy blonde:
(Combination number two from the left)
I’m also a sucker for 09N Café au lait, it’s great alone but also beautiful mixed with other shades. Check it out.
//How to bleach and tone hair step by step
You can also use a slightly darker color on your roots, this makes your hair look thicker and regrowth won’t be as visible.
Even if you go to a hairdresser, you should own a good toner to use at home between visits, to avoid brassy hair.
I also want to mention a very popular toner among DIY hairdressers. Wella color charm, but in creme, because this is much more gentle than the liquid version. However, The Redken toner is even more gentle, personalized, effective, and lasts longer. The Wella toner is a little cheaper and easier to get your hands on. Just like with Redken, you need one or several colors which you can find here, and a developer which you can find here, note: small bottle, buy several. (Stay away from the popular t18 unless your hair is at a very, very light yellow shade).
How to tone your hair with purple shampoo
Let’s talk purple shampoo. This is simply a shampoo with a purple color, which removes yellow tones from bleached blonde hair. I’ve been through A LOT of purple shampoos, and only one purple shampoo has been able to really cancel out the yellow, even dark yellow. This magical shampoo is called fudge purple shampoo and you can buy it here. You’ve probably seen it before. You can also use it on dry or damped hair and leave it in for up to an hour for an extra-strong effect. Unless you have almost white hair, purple shampoo is only for maintenance after you’ve toned your hair.
But what if you’re not a yellow fellow? This Principe (base-color added to shampoos) also works great with blue and green. However, there are very few products out there made for this purpose, but you can find the best-selling Matrix blue shampoo here, this is GREAT for brassy gold/orange tones on brunettes or dark blondes. You can also make something similar yourself by adding pure colors to shampoos. Pure green to neutralize red tones, or pure blue to neutralize orange tones. Or maybe both. Just add some color to your shampoo. Use gloves to avoid staining your hands. These colors from manic panic are perfect for that!
How to get pink hair – crazy colors
And, when we talk about crazy colors. If you want your hair to be colored like cotton candy, a unicorn, or a rainbow, you should consider trying a temporary color (a toner) before doing a permanent crazy color. Especially if it’s pink, or even worse, red – which is very hard to remove. There are especially two fails that happen:
- Before you use a crazy color, your hair needs to be very light blonde, and you need to tone away any warm tones(yellow/orange) before using a crazy color. If, for instance, pink is used on medium blonde hair with a yellow tint, your hair will end up orange-pink-red. Not the cool dirty pink, or soft pink, but brassy orangy pinky.
- If you have blonde hair, use light and soft colors like pastels. If you use darker colors, it’s hard to get rid of them. Especially if your hair is bleached and porous.
//How to bleach and tone hair step by step
Last but not least, if you have some old toner or crazy color in your hair that you want to get rid of, try a bleach bath. That usually takes care of it. I wrote about bleach bath in the bleaching section above.
Let’s skip to the last part – hair coloring
How to dye your hair at home like a professional
Understanding the colors:
Permanent colors use the same principle as toners, so if you haven’t read about toners above, please do so.
All regular colors have numbers, and I want you to understand them.
Hair color levels go from 1 to 10
1 – black
2 – darkest brown
3 – dark brown
4 – brown
5 – light brown
6 – dark blonde
7 – blonde
8 – light blonde
9 – very light blonde
10 – lightest blonde
These, the whole numbers, are neutral colors. Neutral colors are not warm or cold.
You’re at one of these levels, however, there’s a big chance that you have some other pigments in your hair as well, maybe a reddish tone to your level 3 dark brown hair, or maybe an ashy tone to your level 8 light blonde hair. These additional hair shades are described with decimal numbers:
.1 – blue
.2 – purple
.3 – golden
.4 – copper
.5 – mahogany
.6 – red
In the section about toning, you learned that blue and purple are cold tones neutralizing the warm tones orange and yellow, and vice versa.
If the color of any level has .1 or .2 in it, or maybe both, then it’s a cold color.
Are you able to explain your color with numbers? 😀
For instance, a sandy blonde would be something like 9.23
And a brown-red color could for instance be 3.6.
This system is used by almost every hair color brand.
Box-dyes mostly use this as well, but often with a little twist like changing the numbers from 10.2 to 1002 or similar. However, I would strongly advise you to buy professional hair colors and not box dyes. Box dyes are usually very damaging and almost impossible to remove, even with bleach. In addition to this, professional hair colors are actually cheaper because it’s so much more product and they last for a long time. But, if you insist on buying box dyes, always look at the number and don’t give the picture much thought.
How to color your hair at home step by step
You need color, and a developer (hydrogen peroxide). The developer comes in different strengths (volumes). For hair coloring we usually use 20vol. If you have grey hair, or maybe want to lighten your hair a bit, you can use 30vol. You can lighten your hair, especially the roots, 1-2 shades with a lighter hair color and a strong developer (vol30). But be aware that all kinds of hair lightening leave your hair in a warm tone, so you need a toner if you don’t want that.
If you are coloring your roots, make sure to have an unwashed oily scalp, which minimizes the irritation.
Also, remember to patch test, this is important, you don’t want an allergic reaction.
If you are going from blonde to dark, it’s a good idea to do it in two rounds. In the first round, use color around level 5 and make sure to choose a neutral or warm color because If you use a cold brown, there’s a big chance your hair will end up greenish. In the second round, choose any color.
If you are going from really dark to medium or light brown, the best thing is to bleach your hair to a dark/medium orange, and then use whatever brown color you want, look for something containing .1 (blue) to neutralize the orange, and whatever other numbers you’d like.
The best hair color for professional results at home
It’s actually a BIG difference in hair colors. A good hair color product is gentle and will not damage your hair too much, the color is also much prettier, makes your hair look healthy, and lasts for a long time without being impossible to remove. A bad hair color product (like all box dyes) ruins your hair and makes it frizzy, the color gets brassy very fast even though the dye is very difficult to remove, and it often gives you an orange or green tint. AND, box dyes are much more expensive if we think about quantity.
I’ve used these colors from Wella Koleston Perfect for several years. It’s a pretty common brand in salons all over the world. If you’re used to box-dyes and similar and then try this, you’ll feel the difference. They’re gentle and affordable, and they do what they say. All you need is a koleston developer with 20 or 30 volumes here (buy at least two), and one or several colors (preferably 2-3 tubes of every color). Remember, hairdressers usually mix two colors together to personalize them. You can do that as well. The sky is the limit! (Note, Wella has their own little twist on the color codes – just look at their color description instead, and keep the color codes in the back of your mind).
0/88 Is a pearl blue color that is great to add to brown colors to remove brassy/orange tones.
Some hair types “absorb” more color than others. If you feel like your hair always becomes very dark when coloring it, choose a lighter shade. For instance, choose 7/03 (medium golden blonde) instead of 6/03 (dark golden blonde) if you would like a dark golden shade.
Good luck! And remember, if you’re a cautious person, you can always do a few test rounds on a piece of hair with bleach, toners, crazy colors, or colors. Whatever you’d like!
Also check out: The skincare ingredients that are scientifically proven to work!
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