I collect bird feathers as of late for crafts. Not trusting where the feathers from the craft store come from (do they kill those poor birds just for their feathers?), I can find them for free easily and with no guilt simply when I run my dog along the canal. To date I have a whole bag of feathers, mainly starling and magpie (the magpie ones I won’t bleach-too pretty already), and I want to bleach the plain black starling ones so I can dye them and paint them later. But how do I bleach them?
After a bit of research, I found out how- simply bleach bird feathers the same way you would bleach your own hair. Remember those powder bleaching kids you used to use to dye your hair white with so you could put funky colors in (what, I’m the only one?)? Well- those are safe enough for bird feathers without tearing them apart. Here’s how to bleach bird feathers.
Buy a hair bleaching kit from Walmart (the one with the powder packaging- like Clairol Professional Hair Lightener), 20% hydrogen peroxide, a brush to slather the mix onto the feathers with, gloves for you to wear, a plastic bowl, and tin foil. Most hair bleaching kits supply the brush, gloves, and the peroxide along with the bleaching powder. If not, just buy them, a stiff paintbrush will do. Wash the feathers with dish soap to remove the natural oils and debris from the feathers so they bleach better. Allow to dry completely for about an hour before bleaching.
Place tin foil on a counter for putting the bleached feathers on. Make sure you are wearing old clothes, because you will get bleach on them. Prepare the bleaching kit by combining the bleaching powder with the hydrogen peroxide as directed on the packaging in the plastic bowl. One by one dip the feathers in the mixture without bending or breaking the feather, and then place them on the tin foil. ‘Paint’ more bleach mixture onto the feathers with the brush on both sides to make sure that you have coated the entire feather. Leave them to ‘set’ as they bleach, checking on them every 15 minutes or so. Do not allow them to bleach for more than an hour, or they will get damaged.
When the feathers have been bleached to their lightest (the darker the feather, the darker the bleached turnout will be), simply rinse the feathers in warm water until the mixture has been rinsed off. Make sure you are still wearing the gloves, as the bleach can get on your hands and burn. Allow them to dry again, and now you can paint/dye them as you wish!
note: the darker the feather, the less it will bleach. Just like hair, it can only bleach so far. A super dark feather will hit a very light tan color at the most. Also, you can enhance the bleaching process by covering the feathers after you’ve coated them with bleach with another sheet of tin foil and running a blow dryer over the foil to heat the feathers. Also, you can dye the feathers any color you want with hair dyes, including the funky hair dye colors that you can buy at Hot Topic. Or you can paint them however you like.
Some feathers wash better than others. Starling feathers are less water repellent than, say, duck feathers. Don’t be afraid of your feathers losing shape when you wash them. Once they dry, you should be able to reshape them.