How To Wash HTV Decorated Garments

How to wash garments decorated with heat transfer vinyl

When it comes to heat transfer vinyl (HTV) there are a lot of options. Because there are so many different vinyls with varying applications (temp, time, pressure), and from various manufacturers, the question comes up: How should you be caring for the garments after the vinyl is applied? What should you tell your customers when they take them home?

This article will discuss some general standards you should follow after the HTV is applied, the care (i.e. washing and drying) instructions you should give to your customers, and what to ask your customer if a garment is brought back because the vinyl is peeling or coming off.

Basic Care Instructions for Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV)

24 hour clock

Wait 24 hours before washing.

When the vinyl adhesive is activated by high heat, it turns more into a liquid form and sinks down into the fibers of the garment. To ensure that the vinyl forms a permanent bond to the garment, the adhesive needs time to cool down and solidify again. Because of this, most manufacturers recommend waiting 24 hours before washing the garment. Washing too soon before the adhesive is set can cause the HTV to peel and fall off.

do not dry clean symbol

Do not Dry Clean.

Most, if not all dry cleaners, use solvent based solutions to clean the fabric. And for those who may not know, solvent liquids are used by many garment decorators to remove HTV (such as this Solvent or VLR Solvent). So unless you want the vinyl removed from your garment, do not send it to be dry-cleaned.

turn shirt inside out

Turn the garment inside out.

While clothes are moving around in a washing machine, they rub against each other, and that means there is friction and possible abrasion (scratching or scraping). That friction and abrasion can be damaging to the HTV, especially if the clothes have zippers, buttons, rivets, or any other hard pieces. Even loose change left in someone’s pocket can do damage if it gets loose. So that is why we always recommend turning an HTV decorated garment inside out before washing and drying.

cool water wash

Use COLD or WARM water for washing.

You may be surprised to know that the water temperature in a washing machine can get hot enough to cause the HTV adhesive to soften, causing the vinyl to peel. So it’s very important to NEVER WASH USING HOT WATER. Cold is the safest temp to wash, though Warm washes are usually ok too. To be sure, check the HTV’s care instructions for specifics on washing temps.

no bleach symbol

Use mild washing detergent, NO Fabric Softeners, NO Bleach.

What is a ‘mild detergent’? Any detergent that promises to ‘Whiten’, ‘Fight Stains’, ‘Brighten Colors’, or that have any other kind of special additives, is not a mild detergent. Those additives can damage the HTV adhesive, the vinyl, or both. Fabric Softeners can do the same thing, although some manufacturers say only to avoid ‘Liquid’ softeners. Bleach will also damage the vinyl and should be avoided.

tumble dry low

Tumble Dry – Low or Normal heat or Hang Dry.

Heat in the dryer is just as bad for HTV as heat in the washer. So assuming your garment’s tag says ‘tumble dry’ is OK, then a low or normal heat will work just fine (be sure to check the care instructions for each vinyl you use as some only suggest low heat). Hang drying is the safest, albeit slowest, way to dry your HTV garment. Hang drying also helps reduce the wrinkles in the HTV. Either drying method you use, make sure the garment is still inside out.

do no iron symbol

Do Not Iron directly on the vinyl

Applying heat to the vinyl after it is applied will weaken the adhesive and could even ruin the vinyl itself (not to mention the vinyl could get stuck to and ruin the iron). This is especially true when using steam. If you must iron the garment, put a cover sheet or a thin cloth over the vinyl first and iron dry (no steam) using a low heat.

What Should I Tell My Customers?

Since your customers likely have little to no experience with HTV decorated garments, they may not think twice before throwing them in a hot wash and dry. So it’s important to at least tell them all the washing and drying instructions discussed above when they pick-up their garments. And since they probably won’t remember all of them, have the washing instructions written down or printed. You can download our generic Decorated Garment Care Instructions.

What If The Garment Comes Back With Vinyl Peeling Up?

This can be some people’s worst nightmare. Especially if the customer is upset, demanding, or was difficult to begin with. But don’t just assume that you did something wrong, or that the material is defective. Get some more info from your customer. Here are some questions you might ask:

  • “How were these washed?” This should be one of the first questions you ask. And many times the customer will claim to have followed your directions perfectly. But have them walk you through the washing and drying steps they used. It may be tempting to ask them specifics like: ‘Did you wash them with cold water, low-heat tumble dry, no ironing, etc…?’, but if you do this, they will likely say yes to every step. Instead have them tell you from memory how they cared for the garment. Then you can listen for and identify any mistakes that were made.
  • ”Are you having this problem with all of the garments?” Ask this if you decorated more than one garment. If only 1 or 2 are having problems, then the issue is likely being caused by improper washing or drying. If all the garments are having the same problem, then you may have an issue with the application or there is a chance the material could be defective. At that point, contact your vinyl dealer.

Of course we cannot cover every scenario in this short article. As discussed at the beginning, there are many different vinyl and garment manufacturers, so specific care instructions will vary a little. But following these basic steps is a safe place to start. Over time and through experience you will find what works best for you and your customers.

If you have any questions about washing/drying/caring for garments decorated with heat transfer vinyl, ask our experts at Wellington House:

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