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How to Wash Your Graphic Tee Shirts (Without Ruining Them)

This article explains how to wash and care for your graphic tee shirts without ruining the shirt or the screened design.

Always Repping: The Power of the Graphic Tee Shirt

Whether it’s a treasured vintage tee from a memorable concert, an homage to your favorite team, or just a logo or slogan that speaks to you, chances are pretty good you’ve got at least one graphic tee shirt in your wardrobe. In fact, a recent inventory in our house tallied nearly 100 (!) graphic tees, many of which are in regular rotation. Some are brand-new styles from iconic sportswear brands like LL Bean, JCrew, Gap, Lululemon, and Vineyard Vines. Others are vintage concert tees, mementos from vacation, and leftover favorites from band camp and youth soccer. And that’s not even counting the ones we’ve sent to textile recycling or repurposed into a memory quilt.

The bottom line? Graphic tees tell your story. And if you’re wearing one on a regular basis, that story, memory, or message is personally meaningful. That’s why the Heritage Park team is here with guidelines for washing and taking great care of these tee shirts. Read on for step-by-step instructions on how to wash your graphic tees; with proper care, they will look and feel great for years to come. (Note: these instructions are for “daily wear” graphic tees, not exercise or fitness gear).

Choose the Best Detergent for Washing Your Graphic Tee Shirt

Most tee shirts are cotton or, more likely, a cotton/polyester blend. You’ll also find graphic tee shirts made from modal or a cotton/modal blend (modal is a sustainable rayon made from the cellulose fiber of beach trees). Some may have a bit of spandex or elastane to preserve stretch. In general, graphic tees are screen-printed, a process that involves transferring the ink onto the shirt fabric. When choosing a detergent, you need a formula that will clean your shirts while protecting both the fabric and the screened graphics, which can fade, crack, or flake off. A harsh detergent is not an option.

Heritage Park All-Purpose Detergent is the perfect detergent for washing your graphic tees. It is a gentle, pH-neutral formula made with plant-based ingredients and no harsh chemicals. Although it is a mild detergent, Heritage Park contains a powerful blend of laundry enzymes to naturally dissolve and remove stains. It can be used in any temperature, which is important, because graphic tees should NOT be laundered in hot water. Our fragrance-free formula is lab-certified hypoallergenic, and pediatrician- and dermatologist-tested, ideal for sensitive skin or children’s clothing. If you prefer a subtle scent in your detergent, choose one of our lightly fragranced options: Spring Magnolia, Lavender Mist, or Shore Breeze.


Supplies You’ll Need to Machine Wash Your Graphic Tee Shirt

Get ready to wash your graphic tee shirt with the following supplies.

  • A gentle detergent like Heritage Park All-Purpose Laundry Detergent in Fragrance-Free/Hypoallergenic (or one of our lightly scented formulas)
  • A washing machine with a gentle cycle.
  • Mesh laundry bags.
  • A spray bottle for making your own enzyme solution.
  • A tub or bucket for pre-soaking and handwashing.
  • A drying rack.

Simple Steps for Machine Washing Your Graphic Tee Shirts

Step 1: Read the Care Label

The care label is the authority on washing your graphic t-shirt, so check it out before moving forward.

Step 2: Pretreat and Presoak Stains Immediately

Pre-treat or pre-soak any stains as soon as possible. We recommend using an enzyme stain remover or making a 1:1 ratio of Heritage Park All Purpose Laundry Detergent and water in a spray bottle to pre-treat stains. You can also soak your tee shirt in a concentrated solution of our detergent and water before washing to treat stains and odors, including in the underarm area. 

Step 3: Wash Your Graphic Tees in a Small Load Sorted by Color

This will protect your shirt from fading and damage caused by other, bulkier clothes or laundry in the machine.

Step 4: Turn Tees Inside Out Before Washing

Turn your tee shirt inside out to safeguard the screen printing or design. For maximum protection, place your tee inside out inside a mesh laundry bag. This will safeguard the shirt from snagging on tiny burrs of metal in the machine or twisting around the agitator.

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Step 5: Use A Gentle Cycle and Cool to Warm Water

Never wash a graphic tee in hot water. Hot water is generally not needed to get fabric clean, and heat will definitely damage the screen print.

Step 6: Avoid Bleach, Fabric Softener, and Dryer Sheets

These products are unnecessary and can ruin your graphic tee shirt, particularly the screen design. Bleach will fade color and cause whites to yellow; fabric softeners and dryer sheets will leave a waxy build-up both on fabric and on the inside of your machine. 

Step 7: Lay Flat to Dry/Use a Drying Rack

Ideally, your graphic tees should never go in the dryer, as any heat at all can damage the screen print, causing it to fade, crack, and flake. We recommend laying your tee shirts flat to dry on a drying rack or clean towel to prevent shrinkage and preserve the design. If you’re drying the garment outside, keep it away from direct sunlight to protect it from heat damage. (If you MUST use a dryer, keep your shirt inside out and use low heat until it is dry. Do not overdry).

Step 8: Never Iron Your Graphic Tee.

Heat is bad for a graphic tee! See Step 7 above.

How to Hand Wash Your Graphic Tee

Most graphic tees can be laundered by machine. However, some older or delicate fabrics may do better with hand washing. In this case, fil a tub or basin with cool to lukewarm water; add a small amount of Heritage Park All-Purpose Detergent, and swish to dissolve. Submerge your tee in the soapy water and gently agitate for a minute or two. Allow the shirt to sit for 10 to 15 minutes; gently rub the fabric to remove any residual dirt or stains, paying special attention to the armpit areas. Rinse in cool water, and DO NOT wring out. Press excess water out with your hand or blot with a lint-free towel. Air dry, as noted above.

We hope you’ve learned some great tips on caring for your graphic tees. Following our instructions will help keep your tees clean, beautiful to make your very own style statement. As always, the Heritage Park team is here to answer your questions about our products and laundry care. Feel free to reach out—we are here to help!

Heritage Park Laundry Essentials

At Heritage Park, caring for fine fabric is our passion. As lifelong collectors of luxury sheets, towels, and cloths, we found many commercially available "gentle detergents" either damaged our fabrics or didn't get the job done, leaving stains. We knew we could do better. So we developed a formula with the perfect balance of powerful -- yet safe -- ingredients designed to remove tough, set-in stains while remaining gentle on luxury linens. Please connect with us at (800) 977-1841 or visit our store or email us with any product feedback or cleaning questions.

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