Ostrich feathers can make a glamorous addition to your craft and fashion projects, but before you can use them, you may have to bleach them. Bleaching not only removes the existing pigment, it also cleans the feather and changes its physical structure so that it can absorb dyes better. One easy method of bleaching ostrich feathers is to use hydrogen peroxide. You can mix powder bleach sold for lightening human hair with a 20 per cent solution of hydrogen peroxide, and then apply it to the feathers.
Mix up a solution of soap and hot water in a container large enough for the feather. If you don't have soap flakes, you can flake cake soap with a sharp knife. Use about 1 cup of soap flakes and make sure they are dissolved in the hot water. Wash the feathers thoroughly in the hot soapy water to get rid of the natural oils and any dirt. Allow the feathers to dry completely.
Put on your rubber gloves. Mix up one sachet of powder bleach with 1/2 cup of 20 per cent peroxide solution in your nonmetal container. Mix completely, ensuring there are no lumps. Lay one of the feathers in the container. Press down with the brush. Turn the feather over and press it into the solution so that it is fully covered with the bleaching compound. Repeat for as many feathers as the compound will cover.
Roll out a sheet of aluminium foil. Remove a feather from the solution and, without cleaning the bleach compound from the feather, lay it on the foil. Carefully fold the foil over the feather, taking care not to bend or crease it. Repeat for all of your feathers. Using the warm setting on your hair dryer, blow warm air over the foil-wrapped feathers for a few minutes, ensuring the foil packets are heated as evenly as possible. Leave the bleaching compound to work on the feathers for 20 minutes.
Open one of the foil parcels. Wipe away the compound from an inconspicuous area of the feather to check the colour. If it isn't light enough, dab compound over the part you cleaned, replace the foil and leave for 10 minutes more. Check again every 10 to 20 minutes, ensuring that the feather is not being damaged by the bleaching compound, up to a maximum of an hour. Do not leave the bleaching compound on the feathers any longer than this, as it will attack the feather and may damage it.
Wash the feathers very thoroughly in running water, taking care to remove every trace of the bleaching compound. Lay the feathers on paper towels to dry.
Wear old clothes and put down dust sheets when working with bleaches and dyes.
Peroxide and other substances used for bleaching hair can irritate skin, eyes and lungs. Wear gloves, and make sure you wash off any splashes immediately. If the peroxide gets into your eyes, wash them out with copious amounts of water and seek medical attention.