How To Care For And Wash Custom T-Shirts

How To Care For And Wash Custom T-Shirts

We’ve all been there—clinging to the hope that our favorite t-shirt will stay as crisp as the day it was printed. Sometimes that means resorting to some downright strange methods to keep the threads together and the print on point.

Maybe you’ve heard of the “freeze your clothes to kill the bacteria” trick. Sure, nothing says 'fresh' like a t-shirt that’s been hanging out with your frozen peas. Or perhaps you’ve tried the classic “hang it in the bathroom while you shower” routine, because who needs a steamer when you have good old-fashioned humidity? And let’s not forget the ever-popular “just spray it with fabric refresher and hope for the best” approach, a true favorite among procrastinators everywhere. Trust us, we've heard it all.

But while these tactics might seem like a clever way to dodge laundry day, the funk always seems to return. This is a problem if your favorite things to wear are screen tees or vintage graphic tees.

If you want to keep those custom prints looking sharp and your t-shirts in top-notch condition, it’s time to ditch the quick fixes and learn the right way to care for your favorite threads.

In this blog, let Superior Ink, Denver Screen Printing guide you through the best sustainable practices for washing, drying, and maintaining your custom t-shirts—without resorting to freezing, steaming, or spraying them into oblivion.

Let's get started!

How To Care For And Wash Custom T-Shirts To Preserve Their Vibrancy

Know Your Custom T-Shirt Fabric

The first step in washing any garment, especially those printed sustainably, is to understand what makes up the actual garment.

We love printing on 100% organic cotton, recycled cotton, blends of recycled polyester and cotton, and tri-blends, a mix of cotton, recycled polyester, and rayon.

Of course, each of those blends has a unique hand feel, absorbency, and ability to bounce back after washing.

Pro Printer Tip: If you find that your garments are losing their shape after washing, it may be an indicator that you've chosen an inferior weave for your blank, or the company you purchased from did. We have our favorites when it comes to sustainable blanks that don't lose their shape, but suffice it to say that companies like Original Favorites, All-Made, and AS Colour know what they are doing when making a blank that will keep the shape of the original garment.

High-quality fabrics don't have to be washed as frequently as synthetic fabrics simply because they are more breathable and don't absorb body odor as quickly. If you've ever worn a polyester shirt in the humidity you know what we're talking about. Natural fibers on the other hand are more forgiving when it comes to drying quickly and keeping you cooler.

This in itself can make a huge impact on sustainability because those garments don't need to be washed as frequently. Unfortunately, they do reach a point when washing needs to happen. When it does, don't just throw it into a load with your towels, crank it to hot and hope for the best.

A few reasons for this, hot water will :

  • Shrink the natural fiber (hello surprise crop top).
  • Make colors fade fast.
  • Use way more electricity to destroy your shirt than necessary (we will be crying in the shop and we won't know why).
  • Oh yeah and washing with towels (what kind of twisted person does that??).

How To Care For And Wash Custom T-Shirts To Preserve Their Vibrancy

Knowing the fabric of your garment will ensure it gets the proper care that it deserves. Here's a quick checklist for the fabrics we print on the most:

100% Organic Cotton

  • Machine Wash Cold or Hand Wash: Use cold water to prevent shrinking and preserve the fabric’s quality.
  • Gentle Cycle: Select the gentle or delicate cycle to reduce wear and tear.
  • Mild Detergent: Use a mild, eco-friendly detergent. No fabric softeners, please! Vinegar is a great natural alternative.
  • Do Not Bleach: Avoid bleach as it can damage the fibers.
  • Tumble Dry Low or Lay Flat to Dry: Use a low heat setting or lay flat to dry to prevent shrinking.
  • Iron on Low Heat: If needed, iron on a low heat setting while the fabric is still slightly damp.

Recycled Cotton

  • Machine Wash Cold or Hand Wash: Use cold water to protect the fabric.
  • Gentle Cycle: Opt for the gentle cycle to minimize abrasion.
  • Mild Detergent: Use a mild, biodegradable detergent.
  • Do Not Bleach: Bleach can weaken the recycled fibers.
  • Tumble Dry Low or Lay Flat to Dry: Dry on a low heat setting or lay flat to dry.
  • Cool Iron: If ironing is necessary, use a low heat setting.

Blends of Recycled Polyester and Cotton

  • Machine Wash Cold or Hand Wash: Cold water helps maintain the integrity of the fibers.
  • Gentle Cycle: Use the gentle cycle to reduce strain on the fabric.
  • Mild Detergent: A mild detergent is best for these blends.
  • Do Not Bleach: Avoid bleach to prevent fiber damage.
  • Tumble Dry Low or Lay Flat to Dry: Use low heat or lay flat to dry.
  • Iron on Low Heat: Iron on a low setting if needed. (CARE NEEDED! Not too hot!)

Tri-Blends (Cotton, Recycled Polyester, and Rayon)

  • Machine Wash Cold or Hand Wash: Cold water is ideal for tri-blends.
  • Gentle Cycle: Select the gentle or delicate cycle to protect the fabric.
  • Mild Detergent: Use a gentle detergent.
  • Do Not Bleach: Bleach can damage the fabric composition.
  • Tumble Dry Low or Lay Flat to Dry: Dry on a low heat setting or lay flat to dry to avoid shrinkage and maintain shape.
  • Cool Iron: If necessary, iron on a low heat setting. (Again, be careful! Never use a hot iron!)

Tri-Blends

Know The Print Of Your Custom T-Shirts

Now that we know the fabric that makes up your custom t-shirt, let's talk about a few things that will help you protect the print on the garment. Being familiar with the principles of care will aid in the longevity of the print and help the design look fresh for years to come. It's like knowing your grandma's famous sugar cookie recipe AND her special way of making it so that it turns out just right.

Screen-Printed T-Shirts

Screen printing is a general term to describe the method of creating a screen for each color in a design, and then pushing ink through the screen onto the fabric. There are a lot of different types of inks, some more eco-friendly than others. However, when it comes to washing screen-print tees, the same principles are in place no matter the ink used to lay down the print.

  • Turn Inside Out: Always wash screen-printed shirts inside out to protect the print.
  • Cold Water: Use cold water to prevent the design from fading or cracking, this isn't as much an issue with water-based-inks but is very prevalent with plastisol (not a medium we use in our shop).
  • Gentle Cycle: Select a gentle or delicate cycle to minimize abrasion., hand washing is always a great option.
  • Mild Detergent: Avoid harsh detergents; opt for mild, eco-friendly options.
  • Avoid Fabric Softeners: Softeners can degrade the print over time.
  • Air Dry: Air drying is best, but if you must use a dryer, choose a low-heat setting.
  • Ironing: Never iron directly on the print. If needed, place a cotton cloth over the design and use a low-heat setting.

Heat Transfer T-Shirts

Heat press prints are a great screen print alternative,  you'll often find them in small-batch designs. We love working with high-quality heat transfers and use a heat press here in the shop to integrate them with the blank. Because of this, heat press designs can be a bit more fragile to wash because the design isn't inherently part of the fabric. Here are a few tips:

  • Turn Inside Out: Protect the design by turning the shirt inside out before washing.
  • Cold Water: Wash in cold water to maintain the integrity of the transfer.
  • Gentle Cycle: Use the gentle cycle to avoid damaging the transfer.
  • Mild Detergent: Stick with mild detergents and avoid bleach.
  • Tumble Dry Low or Air Dry: If using a dryer, opt for low heat; otherwise, air dry.
  • Avoid Direct Heat: Don’t iron directly on the transfer; cover with a cloth if ironing is necessary.

Direct-to-Garment (DTG) Printed T-Shirts

Direct-to-garment (DTG) printing uses advanced inkjet technology to apply detailed and colorful designs into fabric. It employs eco-friendly, water-based inks that soak into the fibers, creating a soft, breathable finish. Enhanced by water-based discharge printing, DTG can produce vibrant and durable prints on darker fabrics, offering a comfortable and visually striking result, but they need specific care to stay vivid:

  • Turn Inside Out: As with other prints, turn inside out to protect the design.
  • Cold Water: Wash in cold water to prevent fading.
  • Gentle Cycle: Use a gentle cycle or handwash to reduce wear and tear on the design and prevent unnecessary fading.
  • Mild Detergent: Use mild detergents and avoid bleach and fabric softeners.
  • Air Dry: Air drying is ideal, but if you use a dryer, select a low heat setting.
  • Ironing: If ironing is necessary, do it on the reverse side or place a cloth over the design.

Custom Embroidered Shirts

Embroidery involves stitching designs directly onto the fabric, creating a textured, high-quality look. Using durable threads, embroidery provides a long-lasting finish that withstands washing and wear. It's perfect for logos, text, and patches, adding a professional and classic touch to your custom garments. Embroidered patches offer versatility, allowing intricate designs to be applied to various items and require specific care to maintain their appearance:

  • Turn Inside Out: Always turn the shirt inside out to protect the embroidery threads.
  • Cold Water: Use cold water to prevent the threads from shrinking or fraying.
  • Gentle Cycle: Select a gentle or delicate cycle to reduce mechanical stress on the embroidery.
  • Mild Detergent: Opt for mild detergents to avoid weakening the threads.
  • Avoid Fabric Softeners: Fabric softeners can coat the threads and reduce their vibrancy over time.
  • Air Dry: Air drying is best for embroidered shirts to maintain their shape and avoid damage from high heat.
  • Ironing: If ironing is necessary, place a cloth over the embroidery and use a low-heat setting. Avoid direct contact with the iron.

Specialty Prints (Foil, Glitter, Puff, etc.)

Specialty prints like foil, glitter, and puff add unique textures and eye-catching effects to custom t-shirts, offering vibrant and standout designs. However, they often use plastisol or other less than environmentally friendly materials to get the print looking just right. It is harder to recycle and has more chance of microplastics when washing. Specialty prints require extra attention to keep their unique finishes intact:

  • Turn Inside Out: Always wash inside out to protect the special finish, hand wash if possible.
  • Cold Water: Cold water helps maintain the integrity of the print.
  • Gentle Cycle: Use a gentle cycle to avoid excessive friction.
  • Mild Detergent: Mild detergents are essential; harsh chemicals can damage the print.
  • Air Dry: Air drying is preferable. If using a dryer, choose a low-heat setting.
  • Avoid Heat: Never iron directly on specialty prints.

General Tips for All Custom T-Shirts

No matter the fabric or print method, a few general tips can help extend the life of your custom t-shirts:

  • Wash Less Frequently: Only wash your t-shirts when necessary to reduce wear and tear. This also saves resources such as water and electricity making it one more way to show respect for the environment.
  • Avoid Overloading the Washer: Give your t-shirts space to move freely to prevent excessive friction.
  • Separate Colors: Wash light and dark colors separately to avoid color bleeding.
  • Use a Mesh Bag: Place delicate t-shirts in a mesh laundry bag for extra protection, some will even capture micro-plastics coming off of polyester when washed.
  • Hand Wash If Possible: We all love the convenience of the washer, but if you want to make sure no damage is done when washing, opt for handwashing with a gentle, eco-friendly detergent.
  • Read the Care Label: Always follow the specific care instructions on the label.

By following these guidelines, you can keep your custom t-shirts looking fresh and vibrant for years to come. Remember, investing a little extra time in proper care can make a significant difference in the longevity and appearance of your favorite shirts.

At Superior Ink, Denver Screen Printing, we’re passionate about creating high-quality, sustainable custom prints that you’ll love. Treat your t-shirts right, and they’ll stay with you for the long haul. Happy washing!

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