How To Remove Screen Printing From an Old Shirt (Tips and Tricks)

how to remove screen print

Removing screen print is undoubtedly possible, and there are many methods of accomplishing the feat. Before you begin, you’ll need to consider several relevant points.

First of all, don’t get your hopes up that all of the printing will be gone with the first attempt. No matter what method you use, it often must be repeated several times, or a combination of techniques will need to be used for a successful outcome. Your chances are good for completely removing screen ink, but there’s no absolute guarantee. If you think the garment is worth the effort, then soldier on.

You will also need to know what kind of material you are working with. If the fabric is 50% or more polyester, your choices will be more limited. Synthetic materials often don’t respond well to chemicals or heat used in several methods to remove screen ink. 

Take steps to protect yourself from irritating chemicals. Use gloves and safety glasses, and ensure ample airflow in the area where you’ll be working. Place a buffer between layers of fabric–cardboard or a large plastic cutting board–with an old towel to keep the ink from being transferred to the other side.

Instead of removing the old screen print, it may be possible to cover it with another Heat Transfer Design. This is a much quicker fix for a design that’s undesirable or offensive.

Related: How to Soften Stiff Jeans Without Shrinking Them

Methods of Screen Print Removal

Acetone or Nail Polish Remover

This is one of the most popular methods of removing screen print. It works well on cotton T-shirt jersey and hoodies. However, do not use acetone on synthetic fibers. Try the dish soap method if your T-shirt is 50% or more polyester.

If you are removing a small logo or design, a small bottle of nail polish remover will probably be enough. You’ll need to purchase a larger container of acetone for larger areas. You will also need enough cotton balls for the design you’re removing. Buying a large bag will ensure you don’t run out.

  1. Place the garment on a flat surface. Place a buffer inside the garment to limit the area affected.
  2. Soak a cotton ball in acetone and dab a small test area first. If you see any discoloration, rinse immediately with cold water and try a non-chemical procedure.
  3. Dab the printed area with acetone and let it sit only a few moments before trying to peel off the design. Tweezers would also be helpful at this stage. 
  4. Dab and peel until the whole design has been removed. If there is any residue, try removing it with a sugar scrub. 
  5. Wash in a cold wash to remove chemicals and small ink crumbs. Re-treat if necessary.

Heat and Peel

Some designs will adhere to paper and peel off when heat is applied. Heat and peal is recommended for cotton or cotton blend fabrics that may be damaged by heavy rubbing or brushing.

  1. Use a paper bag that’s torn open or brown packing paper from the office department of your local retail store. If one side of the paper is shinier than the other, place the shiny side down on the fabric.
  2. Set the iron to low heat with no steam. Pass the iron over the design area several times until it seems evenly heated.
  3. Slowly pull the paper away. Hopefully, the design will come with it. Try again or use a different removal method if the design fails to come loose and begin peeling off.
  4. If only part of the design peels off, repeat the process on the remaining print.

Plastisol

Plastisol is a strong chemical used for removing screen print inks. It’s more expensive but may be worth it for removing large screen designs. If you decide to try it, wear gloves and choose a well-ventilated location. Outside would be an even better choice.

  1. Dab a little plastisol in a small, relatively unnoticeable spot to ensure it does not damage the fabric. Let the chemical sit for around 30 minutes for accurate testing.
  2. Soak a cloth large enough to cover the design. Lay the cloth flat over the design and let it soak for around half an hour. The chemicals should cause the design to begin to disintegrate.
  3. Remove the cloth and use a soft brush to remove the flakes of loosened printing. Use another cloth to wipe away any remnants.
  4. Machine wash with regular laundry soap to remove chemical residue.

Goo Gone

Goo Gone consists of an ingredient similar to acetone. If you’ve ever used it, you know it’s wonderful for removing the sticky residue left behind after removing labels or old tape. Goo Gone is also not nearly so irritating to the skin, though gloves are still recommended for extended exposure.

  1. Dip a cloth in a dish of Goo Gon and begin applying it to the print with a circular motion. The design should start to separate from the fabric. 
  2. After wiping away as much of the design as possible, use a sugar scrub to remove any residue.
  3. Lay out or hang up the garment to dry overnight. If any residue remains the next day, repeat the process.
  4. Machine wash to remove Goo Gone.

Spot Removal Guns

If you need to remove more than one print design, a spot removal gun can help cut down on elbow grease and minimize the solvent’s contact with bare skin.  The gun also adds pressure along with the power of the solvent to forcefully remove ink prints.

  1. Place a barrier with a towel beneath the design. The removal gun acts as a pressure washer and will propel the ink through the fabric to be soaked up by the towel.
  2. Read the gun instructions for acceptable solvents. Fill the gun and use as directed. Wear appropriate eye protection and clothing in case of splashing.
  3. Machine wash to remove solvent.

Garden Hose or Pressure Washer

It may be possible to pressure wash old, cracked printing from an old shirt. You can lay the shirt on the grass, gravel, or on the sidewalk. Place an old towel beneath the design to protect it from damage. Spay the ink with the strongest, most direct setting of your garden or yard nozzle. If it doesn’t do the job or only partially removes the design, go to one of the methods explained above, or try a sugar scrub to remove residue.

For a stubborn print design, you could try spraying it with a spot fluid remover, such as SR-97, then do a water pressure wash to remove the ink.

Baking Soda Paste

If you haven’t figured out that baking soda is good for a whole lot more than cooking, check it out. There are plenty of websites and books to teach you about this wonder substance. The finely-ground chemical salt solution has just enough abrasive qualities to remove old print ink. 

Baking soda is very gentle for thinner or more fragile fabrics. Be patient and repeat the process if needed to remove all the print residue.

  1. Mix baking soda with just enough warm water to form a paste. 
  2. Scrub the printed area with a cloth or soft brush.
  3. Machine wash, then check for residue. 

Sugar Scrub

A sugar scrub can be used alone or in conjunction with other methods to remove screen printing. The abrasiveness of sugar makes it ideal for removing ink residue from almost any type of fabric. Smaller areas are more suitable for this removal method, as larger areas can become quite labor-intensive.

  1. Sprinkle a thin layer of sugar over the design.
  2. Rub the sugar gently into the design with either your fingers or a cloth. Old, cracked designs should respond quickly to a sugar scrub.
  3. Use a brush, cloth, or fingernails to remove the print fragments.
  4. Wash the garment to remove any stickiness from the sugar.

Dish Soap

Dish soap is one method used for synthetic fabrics. 

  1. Wash the garment in warm water.
  2. Apply and work in dish soap while the fabric is still damp.
  3. Scrub with as stiff a brush as the fabric can handle or a kitchen scrubby until the design comes loose and starts to flake off. Keep scrubbing until the whole design is removed.
  4. Wash, then repeat the process if necessary.

WD-40

To remove screen printing from nylon material, try WD-40. Spray the design, let sit for just a few moments, then rub the design away with a cloth. The WD-40 should dissolve the ink, making it easy to remove. Try a test area first to ensure there’s no damage.

The iron and peel method can also be tried on nylon. Don’t let the material get too hot, or it may melt. The iron should loosen the design so it can be peeled off.

A baking soda paste or sugar scrub can help remove any residue that remains after machine washing the garment.

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