There is no pain quite like watching the graphic on your favorite t-shirt slowly fade away. The truth is, the graphics on your clothing are doomed to the entropic forces of the universe, especially on already worn-down vintage clothing. This means dull graphics and sad t-shirt owners. Clothing does need to be washed, but it can be done in a way to help preserve the garment. Here are some steps you can take on how to wash graphic tees without cracking or fading the art.
Friction often causes the ink to loosen and flake during the wash cycle. To prevent this, turn your graphic t-shirt inside out before loading it into the machine. Not only will this minimize the amount of friction between your tee and the rest of your laundry, but it will prevent the colors from fading as well. On top of that, it makes it easier to wash away the dirt and sweat that is embedded in the inner layer (since it’s exposed to the surface). Considering all that, it’s a win-win situation.
Hot water is great for stains, but it’s not so great for washing graphic tees. As it is, the heat can be quite harsh on the fabric, whether it’s polyester or cotton. To make matters worse, cracking commonly occurs when the ink dries up—something that typically happens when you wash with hot water. For these reasons, you always want to wash your graphic t-shirt with cold water. Even warm water is better than hot water.
This should be a given but you always want to use the gentlest setting. In doing so, you’ll be able to reduce the amount of friction, which will minimize the amount of battering that your graphic t-shirt will receive.
If possible, use a washing machine that does not have an agitator (a spindle that is responsible for moving garments through the water and detergent—it is often found in top-load washers). While they’re effective for cleaning, they’re also known for being quite rough on clothes. So skip that if you can!
As mentioned earlier, graphic t-shirts do not do well with heat. For this reason, you do not want to put them in the dryer—even the tumble low setting will cause the ink to crack. Instead, hang them up on a clothesline to dry; a drying rack also works great.
Skipping the dryer comes with another benefit—you’ll save yourself money on your electricity bill. After all, the machine is quite a power hog. By line drying your t-shirts, you’ll also be minimizing the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted into the atmosphere.
Line drying is great but you want to avoid putting your graphic tees under direct sunlight (i.e. do not hang it outside). While it’s true that the UV rays will help to kill any bacteria on the fabric, the heat will also distort and damage the ink on your shirt, which will lead to premature cracking.
The washer is a lifesaver when it comes to cleaning dirty clothes. While effective, however, it might not be the best choice for your graphic tees. Even if you wash them on the gentlest setting, they will still get tossed around in the machine—just to a lesser degree. Over time, this can cause your t-shirts to crack.
The best way to bypass this problem is to wash your graphic tees by hand. Don’t worry—it’s not as tedious as it sounds. If anything, you can easily wash a few of them in less than 30 minutes. All you have to do is fill the sink with cold water. Add half a scoop of ACTIVE detergent (or more, depending on how many t-shirts you’re washing) and mix to create a soapy solution.
Turn your graphic t-shirt inside out and place it in the sink. Let it soak in the mixture for at least 15 to 30 minutes. Afterwards, gently wash the fabric by massaging it with your fingers. Rinse away the detergent when you’re done and allow it to air dry on a clothesline or drying rack. Do not wring the t-shirt—that will likely damage the ink and fabric!
This method is easily the gentlest option not just for graphic tees, but for all types of clothing.
Limit the amount of detergent that you add when you’re washing your graphic tees—only add the necessary amount (follow the instructions on the packaging). If you add too much, the detergent will get embedded in the clothing fibers. To get all of it out, you’ll likely have to repeat the rinse and wash cycles, which will add to the amount of friction experienced by your t-shirt.
Note: It’s important to rinse out all of the detergent from your clothes—leftovers in the fabric can easily cause skin irritation.
Want to prevent your favorite t-shirt from cracking? If so, you might want to consider investing in a laundry bag. Don’t worry, they’re cheap!
If you remember what we said earlier, the friction between your t-shirt and the rest of your clothes can easily cause the ink to peel and crack in the wash. By putting them in a mesh laundry bag, you’ll be reducing the amount of contact that they will have with other items. As always, remember to turn then inside out before putting them in the bag!
In a pinch, you can also put your graphic t-shirts in a clean pillowcase. Just tie the end off with a rubber band and you’re good to go—it will protect your tees just like a mesh laundry bag.