How to Wash Sublimation Shirts? Read Washing Instructions

Sublimation shirts—those vibrant, ink-infused wonders are more than mere clothing. They are wearable art, and like any masterpiece, they deserve a little tender loving care rather than just tossing them into the laundry. That’s why I’m going to share the best way to wash sublimation shirts at home for their long-lasting life that I personally use.

Imagine a world where your favorite sublimated apparel maintains its bright colors through countless wears and washes. Improper washing techniques or chemical detergents can lead to faded prints and a shortened lifespan. So, before grabbing your laundry basket, learn how to wash sublimation shirts along with care instructions.

Read a guide to remove sublimation ink from shirts, mugs, and other substrates.

how to wash sublimation shirts in washing machine


Polyester Fabric and the Magic of Sublimation

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of washing, let’s talk about the star of the show: polyester fabric. Sublimation printing works its magic on polyester because of its unique properties.

Unlike traditional screen printing, where ink sits on top of the fabric, sublimation ink becomes one with the polyester fibers. It’s like a colorful hug that won’t fade or crack. So, when you are dealing with sublimation shirts, remember: polyester is your best friend.

Learn the difference between sublimation vs screen printing.

can you wash sublimation shirts right away

Now, let’s roll up our sleeves and explore the dos and don’ts of sublimation shirt washing.


Washing Guidelines for Sublimation Shirts

As someone who’s obsessed with sublimated art, I’ve learned a thing or two about maintaining their brilliance. Let’s find them out:

 Use Cold Water Washing:  Always use cold water to wash sublimation shirts whether in a washing machine or hand wash. Hot water causes the pores of the polyester fabric to open, allowing the ink molecules to escape and leading to fading.

 Use Mild Detergent:  Avoid using harsh chemicals, bleach, fabric softeners, and any detergent that contains phosphates or optical brighteners. Instead, choose a mild, phosphate-free detergent specifically designed for delicate fabrics.

 Turn Your Shirts Inside Out:  The friction and abrasion can cause the ink to rub off and damage the design. To shield your shirts from this skirmish, turn them inside out before washing.

 Separate Washing:  Wash sublimated apparel separately from other garments. Avoid putting them in washing machine with other printed fabric as it can cause color bleeding.

 How Soon?:  Wash your sublimation shirts promptly after wearing them. Don’t let stains settle in or dirt linger. The sooner, the better!


How to Wash Sublimation Shirts

Things Required

  • A washing machine or a sink
  • Cold water
  • Mild detergent (phosphate-free)
  • Clean clothe
  • White vinegar (optional)
  • Baking soda (optional)

Here are the steps to wash your sublimation shirts:

sublimation shirt washing instructions

1. Pre-Treat Stains

Check for any stains or dirt and spot treat them. Make a cleaning solution using mild detergent and cold water and gently rub on the stains in blotting motion. You can also use a mixture of water and baking soda (a great peroxide cleaning solution for stains). Do not rub or scrub hard the stains, as this can damage the image.


2. Wash Your Sublimation Shirts

As you prepare your sublimation shirt for its cleansing journey, gently turn it inside out. Set your washing machine to a cold water cycle and a delicate setting. Sublimation is done over polyester fabric or polyester coated fabric, and hot water can cause the pores of the polyester fabric to open, allowing the ink molecules to escape and leading to fading (obviously we don’t want that).

Add a mild detergent that is suitable for delicate fabrics and does not contain any additives or fragrances. I prefer adding a small amount of white vinegar to help preserve the colors and remove any odors. Now, run a delicate cycle, ensuring a gentle bath that keeps the colors vivid and the prints crisp.

If you are hand washing your sublimation shirts, fill a sink with cold water and add a mild detergent. Gently swirl your sublimated shirt in the water and avoid twisting or wringing them. Rinse thoroughly with cold water until all traces of detergent are gone and squeeze out the excess water.


3. Air-Drying Technique

Do not use any tumble dryer to dry your sublimated apparel, as it can generate too much heat and ruin the image quality. Instead, hang your sublimation shirts using a wooden hanger to air-dry in a shaded area. Avoid direct sunlight, as this can also cause the colors to fade over time.

And if you do not want your shirt to stretch out or lose its shape, lay it flat on a towel to dry, but make sure to flip them over occasionally to prevent any wrinkles.


4. Ironing and Steaming

For the finishing touch, approach wrinkles with care. If ironing, use low heat settings, and place a cloth between the iron and the print. Alternatively, consider the gentle touch of steaming to maintain the integrity of the sublimation design.


Can You Wash Sublimated Shirts Right Away?

Yes, you can wash sublimated shirts right away after drying. After the sublimation heat transfer process, the ink becomes one with the fabric. It’s like a cosmic handshake between polyester and color. So, once the ink is dried up, you are good to go, there’s no need to wait for the first wash after sublimation.

However, make sure not to wash them until the dyes are not completely dried out. Although the heat press process helps drying the dyes, but still it takes some time for the dyes to completely settle and parched completely.


Should I Wash a Shirt Before Sublimation?

Some believe that washing a shirt before sublimation is essential. They argue that it removes sizing, dirt, and any invisible gremlins that might interfere with the ink bonding process. The logic seems sound—clean canvas, better art. But is it gospel truth?

The truth is, you should not prewash shirts before sublimation process because customers adore brand-new and crisp clothes. A washed tee loses its virgin charm.


Final Take Away: Washing Sublimation Shirts

Sublimation shirts deserve your utmost care. Treat them like cherished canvases—they’re wearable art, and each wash adds a chapter to their story. In this guide, we have explained the tested method to wash sublimation shirts at home to keep their colors as bright as new.

Remember, cold water and mild detergents are their allies and it keeps colors vivid and ink bonded. Avoid harsh chemicals, hot water, and tumble dryer in any case – air drying away from direct sunlight is ideal.

Accidents happen—a coffee spill or a salsa dance. Spot treat stains before giving them a proper wash. And let your sublimation shirts have solo dances in the washing machine. No mingling with heavy denims or abrasive fabrics.


Frequently Asked Questions

Does sublimation fade after washing?

It’s a tricky question – sublimation is a very durable printing process, and the ink will not fade after washing if you follow the proper care instructions, such as wash with cold water and use mild detergents. However, if you wash your sublimated shirts with harsh chemicals, hot water, or use bleach, the ink may start to fade.


Is sublimation washable?

Yes, sublimation is washable, but you need to be careful and gentle when washing. The ink is embedded into the fabric, so it will not wash off. However, it is important to follow the proper care instructions mentioned in this post to prevent the ink from fading.


How many washes does sublimation last?

Sublimation prints can withstand dozens of washes. With proper care, they’ll outlast many regular tees. If you wash your shirts on a gentle cycle with cold water and a mild detergent, they should last for many years.


Will sublimation wash out of cotton?

Sublimation ink will wash out of cotton if the fabric is not treated first with sublimation primer or coating. The quality of the sublimation ink for cotton must be good so that it doesn’t smudge and destroy the fabric.

While sublimation works beautifully on polyester fabrics, natural fibers like cotton do not hold the ink as well. If you try to sublimate on a 100% cotton shirt, the ink will wash out almost immediately, leaving a dull print behind.


Can you dry sublimation shirts?

Yes, you can dry sublimation shirts, but it’s essential to follow the right method. The recommended drying method is air drying or hanging them up with a wooden cloth hanger. Avoid using a tumble dryer, as the heat can ruin the sublimation ink.

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