I Tried the TikTok Hack for Updating Thrifted Baskets, and I’m a Fan

published May 12, 2023
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Bleached wicker basket holding flowers, resting on a wood secretary desk

Thrift stores are great resources for tons of affordable small decor items, like funky glassware, character-rich picture frames, cool candlesticks, and more. One thing that you’re likely to find at just about any thrift store you step into? Wicker baskets. These aren’t usually the cool, faded boho-style baskets that you can pick up at home decor stores. Usually, they’re orange-y in tone, with a shiny lacquered finish that makes them look dated.

The good news is that it’s not that hard to give those old-school baskets a new look that can fit into home styles ranging from boho to coastal modern. There’s a TikTok trend that’s been making the rounds among various intrepid DIYers and thrifters showing just how you can do that using bleach and hot water. Because my ultimate fantasy involves living in a Tudor in the English countryside, my home is overrun with baskets I’ve picked up from thrift stores — and unfortunately, some have that shiny finish. Eager to see just how easy this trend is, I set up a little dunk tank to test it out, and found you really do need to stick to a specific recipe to get the results you want. 

I gathered a few different baskets with various finishes from my collection for the test. The results varied, and I found the best outcome worked on the cheaper baskets that had a shiny finish but were not actually stained. For best results, plan to start bleaching your baskets in the morning, and be sure there are clear skies in the forecast so you can let the sun’s UV do some of the bleaching work for you. Here’s what else you’ll need to get started.

Supplies for Modernizing Thrift Store Baskets

  • Bleach
  • Large tub
  • Heavy item to weigh baskets down (such as a brick)
  • Hot water
  • Rubber gloves and protective eyewear
  • Scouring pad
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The first basket I tried was exactly the sort of basket you think of when referencing a basket from the 1980s. The finish was slightly yellow, shiny, and not something I’d bring into my fantasy English countryside manor. After some experimenting, I found the perfect ratio of bleach to hot water to give this the sun-faded look I was after (more on that below). Out of all the baskets I tested, this one lightened the best.

Even so, I was disappointed to find not every bit of varnish was coming off after soaking. I grabbed a scouring sponge and tried scrubbing the varnished areas off; while it was difficult, I was able to remove some of it. That said, all that scrubbing did start messing with the integrity of the reeds, and was creating little bits of pulp everywhere. I gave up on trying to get every last bit of the shiny varnish off and actually still like the results quite a lot. 

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The next basket I tried was a very dark espresso color. I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d get, but thought if the color lifted to a light brown it would be very pretty. Imagine my surprise when it turned out bright yellow! I soaked it a few more times to see if I could remove the yellow and take it down to white, but it just wasn’t going to happen. I’ll need to stain it to cover up the new “bleached” color.

Last, I tried soaking a braided jute basket. This basket is used strictly for organizing and is usually stowed away in the basement, but I was curious to see if the natural color would bleach to a lighter white. Drumroll, please: After much soaking, it didn’t do a single thing.

My Winning Recipe for Creating Bleach-Faded Boho Baskets

If you want to get the casual boho look on your own baskets, here’s the method I found worked best: Add 6-plus cups of bleach to 10 gallons of very hot water. Mix, then place a heavy object like a rock or a brick inside the basket and let it sink to the bottom of the bath for up to two hours per side. Then, place in direct sunlight to dry.

What I Learned While Testing This Hack

I have, needless to say, a few takeaways after all of my basket bleaching. First, all baskets are going to leach color into the bleach bath, but some, like the espresso stained basket above, will leach so much color that you’ll need to toss the water out and start again before bleaching any more baskets. For best results, it’s probably a good idea to change out the water after each basket; you want that water to be hot, and it’s going to cool off the longer it sits.

Be patient. Your basket won’t look “bleached” until it’s dried. Trust the process, be sure to rotate your basket in the water so each side bleaches evenly, then remove it and let it sit in the sun to dry. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when it does!

Better-quality baskets won’t budge much on color. I tried bleaching a large gathering basket as well a smaller Longaberger basket and I didn’t see much change at all. Based on my experience, this is a hack that’s best suited to cheaper baskets that have a shiny varnish, as the bleach helps break that varnish down and expose the natural reeds beneath. When you don’t have a varnish to break down, I don’t think you’re likely to see much difference.

This is one DIY trend that I wholeheartedly endorse. It’s easy, low-stakes (provided you’re not working with high-value antique heirlooms, which I do not advise), and low-cost. While there isn’t a lot of active work involved, know that it will take the better part of your day to go from start to finish on bleaching your baskets. The most important part: Make sure to protect your eyes and skin and bleach in a well-ventilated area.

If you end up not liking the sun-bleached look (hello, bright yellow wicker) you can always stain your baskets a darker color. So next time you’re at the thrift store, pick up a few baskets and give this hack a try — then let us know how it went.