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To keep your sublimation shirts vibrant and long-lasting, washing them correctly is of vital importance. But how to was your sublimation shirts, you ask? If you’re seeking the best way to do this, you have certainly arrived at the right place. You need not look any further! We’ll provide concrete, no-nonsense guidance on how to wash sublimation shirts, ensuring your prints stay sharp and colors bright after countless washes.

Key Takeaways

  • Sublimation shirts require specific washing methods such as using cold water, a mild detergent, and avoiding harsh chemicals to preserve the quality and vibrancy of prints. Machine wash on gentle cycle or hand wash, and wait at least 24 hours before the first wash after printing for best results.
  • Proper drying techniques are crucial, with air drying being the recommended method for sublimation shirts to prevent heat damage and maintain print quality. Avoid using dryers, but if necessary, use a no-heat or low heat setting.[1]
  • Post-wash care includes ironing sublimation shirts inside-out on a cool setting with a protective cloth between the iron and the print to prevent damage. Avoid direct sunlight and extreme temperatures while storing to prevent fading and prolong the life of the sublimation print.

Best Practices for Washing Your Sublimation Shirts

A sublimation shirt and a washing tub

Sublimation shirts, also known as dye sublimated shirts, with their embedded dye and intricate fabric structure, require a specific washing method to retain their print quality over time. The manner in which these shirts are washed critically determines the lifespan of the sublimation design. With the right care, sublimation shirts can look new for the lifetime of the garment.

Preserving the print during washing necessitates the following steps:

  1. Hand washing or machine washing on a gentle cycle.
  2. Ensuring they are thoroughly air-dried to prevent print damage.
  3. A waiting period of at least 24 hours for the first wash post-sublimation.
  4. Washing the shirt inside-out in cold water using a mild detergent.
  5. Machine washing on a gentle cycle with cold water and a mild detergent.

Following these washing instructions could help extend the lifespan of your sublimation shirts to at least 100 washes without losing their appearance.

Keep in mind, the aim of washing sublimation shirts extends beyond cleanliness. It includes:

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  • Preservation of their vibrant colors
  • Preservation of the pristine appearance of the prints
  • Avoiding harsh chemical detergents
  • Choosing the right material for the garment

These are critical considerations for a sublimation wash when dealing with sublimation shirts.[2]

Preparing Your Sublimation Shirt for the Wash

A sublimation shirt inside a washing tub

Before you throw your sublimation shirt in the washing machine, there are a few preparatory steps to follow. First, turn the sublimation shirt inside out before washing. This simple step minimizes the risk of damage to the design and protects the print during the washing process.

Second, wash sublimation shirts separately from other colored clothes. This precaution helps avoid color transfer and maintain the integrity of the design. Lastly, before washing, check the sublimation shirt for any stains. If you spot any, treat them by spraying a mix of peroxide and water onto the stained area and rubbing with a clean towel. This gentle, organic treatment can help remove stains without causing any damage to the print.

Choosing the Right Detergent and Water Temperature

Selecting an appropriate detergent and water temperature plays a crucial role in maintaining the quality of sublimation shirts. A mild detergent should be used to prevent damage to the prints. Detergents with phosphorus or those used in excessive quantities can lead to uneven results and potentially clog the sublimation print.

Utilizing cold water is integral to the washing process of sublimation shirts, while hot water should be avoided. It helps to set the dye and prevent the opening of polyester fabric pores, reducing the risk of print damage. Combining the use of mild, non-phosphorus detergent with cold water washing provides the best care to maintain the quality and longevity of sublimation shirts.

Gentle Cycle or Hand Wash?

In the context of washing sublimation shirts, adopting a minimalist approach is beneficial. Here are some tips for washing sublimation shirts:

  • Use a gentle cycle to avoid harsh treatment that can damage the fabric and design.
  • If you have the time and patience, hand washing with cold water and a mild detergent is the most recommended method.
  • Avoid using bleach or harsh chemicals, as they can fade the colors.
  • Hang the shirts to dry instead of using a dryer, as high heat can also fade the colors.

This gentle approach extends the life and vibrancy of both sublimation shirt and sublimated shirt colors.

Regardless of the washing method used, sublimation shirts should be left out to air dry completely before wearing. When machine washing, it’s crucial to use the gentle cycle, especially for shirts with delicate parts like rhinestones or trims, to prevent damage.[3]

Drying Techniques for Sublimated Shirts

Rows of shirts hanging out for air-drying

Drying sublimation shirts holds equal importance as the washing process. Proper drying techniques can significantly extend the life of your shirts and preserve the vibrancy of their prints. Here are some tips for drying sublimated shirts:

  • Air drying is the preferred method for drying sublimated shirts.
  • Lay the shirts flat away from direct sunlight.
  • Alternatively, you can hang the shirts on plastic hangers.

Following these tips will help ensure that your sublimation shirts stay in great condition for a long time.

Post-washing, it’s important to promptly remove sublimated shirts from the machine, which helps prevent soaking and minimize fading. They can then be hang dry right after washing. When hang drying sublimated shirts, it is advisable to use wooden or plastic hangers to prevent rust marks that metal hangers could leave on the fabric.

Despite their quick and convenient appeal, dryers are not recommended for sublimated shirts. The heat and agitation from dryers could cause damage to the image on the shirt.

Air Dry – The Safest Option

Air drying stands as the safest and most effective method for drying sublimation shirts. It prevents damage from heat and agitation that can occur in a clothes dryer, ensuring that your shirts stay vibrant for longer. When air drying sublimation shirts, it’s essential to keep them out of direct sunlight to prevent fading and hang them on plastic hangers.

While metal hangers may seem like a sturdy option, they can pose risks such as potential rust damage or imprint marks on the sublimation shirts. Plastic hangers, on the other hand, are rust-free and gentle on your shirts, making them the perfect choice for hang drying.

Low Heat Setting When Using a Dryer

In the event a dryer must be used, certain precautions are necessary. Sublimation prints are sensitive to high temperatures and can be damaged by excessive heat. Polyester, a common material for sublimated shirts, is particularly prone to dye migration and print distortion at high temperatures.

When using a dryer for sublimated shirts, ensure the heat setting is on AIR or at a low temperature to prevent heat damage. For additional safety, consider using a no heat or air-only cycle when drying sublimation shirts. Once the drying cycle is complete, remove the sublimated shirts promptly to avoid potential heat-related damage.

Ironing and Post-Wash Care for Sublimation Clothing

An iron close to hanging shirts

Maintaining the quality and vibrancy of your sublimation shirts hinges on ironing and post-wash care practices. When it comes to ironing, here are some recommended practices:

  1. Use a cool iron setting.
  2. Iron the garment inside out to protect the sublimation print.
  3. Iron while the shirt is still slightly damp.
  4. Use a protective cloth between the iron and the print to prevent damage and maintain the shirt’s quality.

Exposure to direct heat from an iron can trigger reactions in the sublimation ink, leading to problems such as color bleeding or fading; as such, extra precautions are required. It’s also important to avoid fabric softeners for cotton-sublimated shirts as they can prevent complete drying and increase the chances of ink fading, which is crucial in post-wash care. Using a fabric softener instead of these softeners might also cause similar issues.

To Iron or Not to Iron?

The question of whether to iron sublimated shirts is one many of us have pondered. While ironing can help smooth out wrinkles and give your shirt a crisp look, it should be done with care to avoid damaging the prints. It’s optimal to iron sublimation shirts while they are still slightly damp. This helps set the design and smooth out wrinkles.

When ironing is necessary, the shirt should be ironed inside-out at a medium temperature for print protection. Using a pressing cloth or ironing inside out provides a safeguard for the sublimation print against the heat of the iron. Read my article to learn whether you can actually use an iron for sublimation!

Proper Storage to Prevent Sublimation Fading

Storing sublimation shirts properly is fundamental for the longevity of their vibrant appearance. Here are some tips for storing sublimation shirts:

  • Store them away from direct sunlight and extreme temperatures to prevent fading and discoloration of the design.
  • Avoid drying sublimated shirts in direct sunlight to reduce the risk of fading.
  • Take a precautionary approach to storage to ensure the longevity of the shirts.

Folding sublimation shirts can create creases that are difficult to remove; hanging on a hanger or rolling the shirts before storage is preferred. For long-term storage, sublimation shirts can be placed in an airtight plastic bag or container to protect from dust and moisture, which helps in maintaining their vibrant appearance.

Addressing Common Stains and Issues

Process of handwashing sublimation shirt

Even with utmost care, stains and spills can occur. The good news is, there are ways to remove common stains from sublimation shirts without damaging the print. Organic methods can be an effective way to treat common stains on sublimation shirts without risking damage to their delicate prints.

A homemade stain removal solution can be made of:

  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Dish soap
  • Hydrogen peroxide

These ingredients are known for their effectiveness on sublimation shirt stains. Another natural alternative is lemon juice, which can be applied directly onto the stain and allowed to sit in order to lift the stain. These organic stain removal methods using items like baking soda and lemon juice are preferred options due to their gentleness on sublimation prints.

Treating Tough Stains Without Damaging the Print

Addressing tough stains on sublimation shirts need not be an intimidating task. To pre-treat stains, using an oxygen cleaner or spraying the stained area with stain remover before washing can be effective. A homemade mixture of lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda, and dish soap can gently yet effectively remove stains from sublimation shirts without harming the print.

For mild to moderate stains, dish soap mixed with water can be applied without damaging the sublimation print. A solution of hydrogen peroxide mixed with water can be sprayed on the stain and then rubbed with a clean towel to treat the stain on a sublimation shirt. It’s essential to avoid using bleach or chlorine-based chemicals for stain removal, as these substances can fade the sublimation prints.

Avoiding Color Bleeding and Other Stains

Sublimation shirts are often prone to color bleeding. To avoid this, you can utilize pre-treatment solutions on sublimation shirts to set the ink and prevent it from migrating during washing. Choose low-temperature application transfers that activate at 300°F or below to reduce dye migration risks.

To prevent dye migration problems when applying heat transfers, you can:

  • Use dye-blockers to add a protective layer against color bleeding
  • Select apparel with technologies such as True Hue Technology® to mitigate the risk of color bleeding
  • Keep detailed records of past experiences with various apparel and transfer types to use as a reference and prevent future dye migration problems.

Special Considerations for Polyester Shirts

A sublimation shirt inside a tub of water

Due to their capacity to uphold vibrant colors and enduring prints, polyester shirts are highly valued in the realm of sublimation printing. However, they require special care. To ensure the durability of the print on a polyester shirt, it’s recommended to wait at least 24 hours before washing it for the first time, with up to 72 hours being optimal for ink bonding with the fabric.

During the dye sublimation process, ink vapor penetrates the expanded pores of the heated polyester fabric and becomes permanently trapped once the fabric cools. White or light-colored polyester fabric is preferred for sublimation printing as the fabric must be lighter than the sublimation ink to achieve the best effect.

Why Polyester Requires Extra Attention

When heated, the sublimation ink integrates into the polyester fabric structure and remains entrapped as the fabric cools. This necessitates mindful washing to uphold the print’s quality. Sublimating on 100% polyester, ideally white or light-colored garments, is vital for achieving the most vibrant colors and longest-lasting prints.

Using high-resolution images, quality sublimation printers and inks, and performing regular printer maintenance are crucial for achieving and maintaining bright and clear prints on polyester shirts. To prevent issues like ghosting and to maintain print brightness, it is important to adhere to the recommended heat press settings and use sublimation paper designed for quick drying and high transfer rates.

Tips for Maintaining Brightness and Clarity of Prints on Polyester

Some special considerations are needed to preserve the brightness and clarity of prints on polyester shirts. Use a mild detergent free of optical brighteners when washing sublimation shirts to maintain the brightness of prints. Wash with cool water to prevent the fibers of the polyester from opening up, which can result in fading of the print.

To maintain the quality of sublimation prints on polyester fabrics, follow these tips:

  1. Select a gentle wash cycle to prevent premature fading and maintain the clarity of the prints.
  2. Air dry sublimation shirts to avoid the high heat of a dryer that can cause prints to fade or blur.
  3. If using a dryer, set it to a low heat to maintain the quality of the sublimation prints on polyester shirts.


A sublimation shirt separated from other clothes for washing

In conclusion, washing and caring for your sublimation shirts properly can significantly extend their lifespan and maintain their vibrant prints. From washing to drying, ironing, and storage, every step is crucial in preserving the quality of your sublimation shirts. Remember, it’s not just about keeping them clean, but preserving the vibrant colors and pristine appearance of the prints.

So next time you’re about to throw your sublimation shirts in the wash, take a moment to consider these steps. Your shirts deserve the extra love and care, and the vibrant, long-lasting prints make it all worth it!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you put sublimation shirts in the dryer?

Yes, you can put sublimation shirts in the dryer with a tumble dry setting on low temperature, but it’s best to hang them up to dry if possible.

Does sublimation wash out?

Yes, sublimation does wash out over time, especially when exposed to hot water frequently.

How do you keep sublimation from fading after washing?

To keep sublimation from fading after washing, wash your printed item at a temperature lower than your washing machine’s recommended maximum setting for maximum ink longevity.

Can I use any detergent to wash my sublimation shirts?

No, it’s best to use a mild, non-phosphorus detergent to avoid damaging the prints on your sublimation shirts.

Can I iron my sublimation shirts?

Yes, you can iron your sublimation shirts, but make sure to use a cool iron setting and iron the garment inside out to protect the sublimation print.


  1. Research guides: All about Images: Color modes. (n.d.).
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