How To Use A Hot Glue On Fabric Without Damaging It

It sometimes seems that the glue gun can do everything. It’s a must-have tool for any crafter, but is it suitable for every craft?

In theory, hot melt glues work on fabric. They are easy to use when you’re hemming curtains or putting together a last-minute Halloween costume. However, it’s not waterproof, which means that your fabric-based creations either must never go for a wash or have to suffer little to no damage when you decide to revert everything to its original state. 

Today, we’ll talk about how to apply glue to different types of fabric and which sticks to use if you want your project to, uhm, stick. We’ll also cover a few alternatives if you’ve decided that the glue gun may need to sit this one out. 

Do glue sticks matter?

Yes. Though those glue sticks you’ve picked up at the dollar store can do the trick, they are not ideal for gluing fabric. If the reason you’re picking up the glue gun is to fix a hem or apply a patch, you may want to find a formula that will survive the washing machine.

Surebonder has decent fabric glue sticks. Another suitable option comes from Singer, the company that makes sewing machines and equipment.

However, if you’re sitting on several packs of generic glue sticks and don’t know which one to choose, don’t worry. You can close your eyes and pick one at random since they will all behave the same on most fabrics. Maybe pick the ones that melt at lower temperatures if you have them on hand when working with thin synthetic materials.

Wool

Woold handles heat like a champ. It’s the reason why sewing pressing tools are usually made out of this fiber. In this case, it means that you can apply glue directly to the fabric and you don’t have to worry about temperatures. 

The only issue is that the fibers are naturally fuzzy and if the glues item peels off, it may take some of the fibers with it. It’s not a big deal when you’re playing with tweed or felt, but it can be very noticeable if you’re embellishing your favorite chunky knit sweater. Continue playing with that tweed and felt to your heart’s content, but to be on the safe side, use another product on your knitwear.

Cotton

Cotton is another fabric that can handle the heat of the glue gun with very little issue, but the problem here is that everything that shines is not gold. If you’ve picked up a “cotton” T-shirt from a fast fashion store and now you want to embellish it, watch out. Cheaper T-shirts are usually some form of poly-cotton blend and can be up to 50% synthetics. 

To test if it’s really cotton cut a small piece of fabric and set it on fire. Of course, do this outside and every measure of precaution. Put the fabric in a fireproof dish, light it and leave it to burn. Once the fire goes out, take a look at what’s leftover. 

If the fabric is reduced to ash, it’s pure cotton. If there is even a little bit of curling and hardening of plastic, there’s something synthetic mixed through. In that case, you need to move to the synthetic section for further info. 

If it’s real cotton, just like with wool, you can proceed with ease. You may want to take into consideration the thickness of the fabric, though. If it’s very thin (ie T-shirt fabric), you may want to apply the glue to the applique instead of the fabric directly. This is both to ensure there is very little chance of heat damage and to protect your hands as well. 

Linnen

Just like cotton and wool, linen is a natural fiber that handles heat well, so you will not have to worry about this aspect. What to have to worry about is something that linen is famous for. 

Linen wrinkles. A lot. Even jersey, a fabric that is famous for being crease-proof, will end up with wrinkles when made out of linen. This is because the linen fibers are very short, and here is where our potential for damage lies. Depending on the quality of the fabric, if the applique comes off, there could be some fibers that come off with the glue. There’s also a big chance that the applique will come off but the glue will remain on the fabric. 

Okay, the former may sound a bit scary but it shouldn’t be a problem unless you are working with microtextiles, and the latter is something that you can solve easily. Still, to avoid any headaches, make sure you’re using a fabric glue stick (like Surebonder or Singer), or switch to another type of glue altogether.

Silk

The reason silk fabrics are so smooth and shiny is one aspect of the fibers: they are very long. They are also incredibly strong and durable, but they don’t particularly like heat. When ironing silk, it’s usually recommended to do it on the wrong side and with another cloth as a barrier. 

Silk is animal protein, just like human hair. And you can imagine what would happen if you were to take the glue gun to your hair, right? So, we will need to take a few precautions or find an alternative type of glue.

If you’re still sticking to your glue gun, make sure that you pick either a glue stick that melts at lower temperatures or one of those meant for use on fabric. Apply the glue to the applique first, and not directly to the fabric. 

But, remember how smoothness is one of the qualities of silk fabrics? Yes, that means that there are higher chances the applique will slip. At the very least, it will shift until the glue cools and sets. So, you will need something to fix the fabric into place without pinching it and/or leaving permanent marks. 

If the area is small enough, you can use an embroidery hoop. That way you can easily turn the work right side down and apply weights from the wrong side. But if you’re gluing a silk decoration to something else (ie a silk bow), make sure to create a barrier between the clip or the weight. For a clip, a plain cotton pad will work, but in the case of weights, lay another fabric on top.

Viscose/rayon

Everything we covered when talking about silk works with viscose as well. Viscose is an artificial fiber made from plant cellulose that is supposed to mimic all of the properties of silk. But, it also often feels like cotton and wrinkles like linen. 

However, the biggest problem with this fiber is that it can weaken when wet. This means that removing glue stains from it can lead to further damage. So, if you need a temporary hold, it’s better to go with something like washable wonder tape or ensure that what you glue on stays on by using fabric glue sticks.

Polyester, poly-blends, nylon, etc.

All of these fibers may end up with a mark if you use a hot glue gun on them. In essence, they are plastic and will melt when you apply heat to them.

It’s very unlikely that you will burn a hole, but there may be some discoloration or change in texture. Thinner and lighter fabrics have a higher chance of leaving a mark than the heavier ones, no matter if it’s 100% polyester or a poly-cotton blend. Even when there is no mark, there could be some permanent invisible changes. For example, elastin might lose its elasticity and ability to snap back.

As mentioned in the beginning, it’s best to pick glue sticks that melt at lower temperatures. And certainly, you will have to do a test run, especially on light fabrics (ie polyester chiffon). 

When you’re ready to work, never apply the glue to the fabric directly. Apply glue on the thing you want to attach first. Maybe give it a few seconds to cool down by a few degrees to be on the safe side. 

Alternatives

There are many better alternatives if you find yourself gluing stuff to fabric all the time. Starting with fabric glue.

Fabric glue is specially formulated for gluing both embellishments and other pieces of fabric and often washes well. If you love to add rhinestones and appliques to your clothes, you should consider picking up a tube at your local fabric or craft store.

Hemming tape is designed to glue hems together, but it can also be used for patches and appliques. All you have to do is apply it to the desired area, and press it with iron. It usually provides great hold and washes well. There’s also a stretchy version if you need it.

Of course, there’s washable tape as well. Use it the same way, but it washes out if you don’t want the hold to be permanent. Quilters use them all the time, and all these tapes will be easy to find at your local fabric store or online.

And in the end, there’s always super glue. Its biggest advantage over hot glue is that it’s usually waterproof. If you plan on wearing your masterpiece outside and if you plan on washing it ever, it’s definitely a better choice.