Bleaching is a chemical process that eliminates unwanted colored matter from fibers, yarns or cloth. Bleaching decolorizes colored impurities that are not removed by scouring and prepares the cloth for further finishing processes such as dyeing or printing. Several different types of chemicals are used as bleaching agents, and selection depends on the type of fiber present in the yarn, cloth or finished product and the subsequent finishing that the product will receive. The most common bleaching agents include hydrogen peroxide, sodium hypochlorite, sodium chlorite and sulfur dioxide gas. Hydrogen peroxide is by far the most commonly used bleaching agent for cotton and cotton blends, accounting for more than 90 percent of the bleach used in textile operations, and is typically used with caustic solutions. Bleaching contributes less than 5 percent of the total textile mill BOD load (NC DEHNR, 1986).

The bleaching process involves several steps: 1) The cloth is saturated with the bleaching agent, activator, stabilizer and other necessary chemicals; 2) the temperature is raised to the recommended level for that particular fiber or blend and held for the amount of time needed to complete the bleaching action; and 3) the cloth is thoroughly washed and dried. Peroxide bleaching can be responsible for wastewater with high pH levels. Because peroxide bleaching typically produces wastewater with few contaminants, water conservation and chemical handling issues are the primary pollution concerns.