Screen prints are a great way of adding designs onto fabrics, such as t-shirts, sweatshirts, and totes. You can apply a nice graphic print in bold colors for branding or just fun personalization of clothes. But what do you do when you have a print that goes wrong, or an old piece of faded clothing in need of new life? Is it possible to remove the screen print and start over or are you stuck with the image forever?
In this guide, you will learn more about how to remove print from shirts and other clothing. There are 9 different methods here and I want to point out straight away that they aren’t all 100% effective in all situations. You do need to match the method to the garment, and even then, you aren’t guaranteed to remove the whole thing. Still, the best methods are worth a try if you can be sure, you won’t cause any damage. By the end of this, hopefully, you will have a better idea of which chemical, heat treatment, or scrub is best for you. There are also some tips on choosing the best method for screen print removal and what you can do if it won’t come off. If you want to learn how to remove embroidery instead, check out this page.
Why Would You Want to Remove a Screen Print?
Some people may wonder why you would go to the trouble of removing an old screen print from a piece of clothing if it is going to be hard work. But there are lots of times where old screen prints just don’t work on a piece of clothing and you may as well try and remove it. For example, there will be plenty of times where you make mistakes when creating your own t-shirts at home. Screen printing is a tricky process to perfect but some of the methods below, like the iron and paper bag, could help you start over. You may also need to learn how to remove a logo from shirts because you are adapting an old item of clothing from a thrift store or an old sweatshirt that’s past its best and needs a second life.
Important Considerations Before You Choose Your Screen Print Removal Method
You can’t use any method on any piece of clothing and expect an instant and perfect result. You also need to be careful whatever option you choose. So, remember the following tips before getting started.
1) Chemical processes are a bad idea on some fabrics. There are many synthetic materials that don’t respond well to some of the solvents mentioned.
2) Heat-based processes can also be a problem on synthetic fabrics. Shock treatments to lift designs with dryers or irons could lead to melting and shrinkage.
3) Always do a spot test with any solution to see how the material reacts. Don’t pour any new solution onto a garment and hope for the best. See how it respond in a discreet test spot first.
4) Always protect yourself when dealing with heat and chemicals. There is nothing to gain from getting chemical or heat burns or respiratory issues just to figure out how to remove screen print from shirts.
5) Don’t expect the print to peel off with ease. You may need to settle in with some tweezers and be patient.
6) Don’t expect to be finished on the first attempt. Again, these processes can take time and may require a combination of efforts.
9 Methods in How to Remove Print from Shirts and Jackets
1) Apply a dedicated plastisol remover
This is one of the more obvious choices when dealing with printed materials, especially any screen prints that have gone disastrously wrong. Plastisol is a common material in screen printing so there is a good chance that the ink you use, or the screen print on a second-hand item contains it. Therefore, there is a good chance that you will be able to remove the print by soaking the material in plastisol remover, brushing away the remains, and then washing the item as normal.
The washing part is very important because of one of the downsides of using plastisol remover. This stuff really stinks, and you don’t want any sort of lingering odor on your clothes. The intensity of this chemical also means that it is very important to wear gloves when applying it and to work in a ventilated area. Also be aware that while this solvent is very potent, you do need to let it sit for about a half hour for the best effect.
2) Apply acetone to dissolve the screen print
Acetone can work in a similar way to plastisol remover because it is a very harsh chemical that will soak into plastics and inks and turn them into liquid. There are similar downsides to using full-strength industrial acetone in these projects. It can smell pretty bad and is a health hazard when not wearing safety equipment or ventilating a room.
Thankfully, there is a much safer and more convenient way to add acetone to a screen-printed garment. Acetone is a common ingredient in nail varnish remover. If you think about the way that the substance dissolves hardened varnish, it makes a lot of sense. You can put some standard nail polish remover on a piece of cotton wool and apply this directly to the inks on the screen print. This should help to lift them off, although it may not be quite as effective as the plastisol remover. The upside is that you don’t have the same health risks, and this is more accessible.
3) Invest in a spot removal gun
Spot removal guns are a great tool for working with problem areas of fabrics, especially if you create a lot of screen prints and want to touch up designs or treat old pieces of material. These guns allow you to use some of the same great solvents and solutions to deal with the print, but in a more direct manner. The guns rely on a combination of pressure and the chemicals in the solvents to launch a more vicious attack on the target area. Ideally, you should see the inks dissolve pretty quickly, especially with a fresh print.
Because of this, it is a good idea to get a piece of scrap material or a towel to place underneath the garment or between the layers. This will soak up the ink and stop it from staining the rest of the garment or surfaces beneath. As with all of these approaches, there is no guarantee of a perfect result. But, it can work well enough to be worth a shot.
4) Use heat to lift the print
This method is only going to work if you have the right material and use the tools properly. Otherwise, there is the risk that you will end up damaging the item beyond repair. There are two ways to use heat. The first is with the dryer, where you can shock a piece of material into contracted so that the print on top peels away. You can then work on removing the rest once it is dry.
However, many people prefer to use an iron and a paper bag. This is a great choice for larger prints, such as when you make a mistake with a large t-shirt print and need to start again. Before you start going through your scrap drawer for an old grocery bag, be aware that this process of high heat can be risky. That is because it goes against everything we would normally do when caring for an item with a screen print on it. Normally, we would wash, dry, and iron these items inside out to avoid damaging and melting the design. This is when we tend to see the cracking and peeling, we don’t want on a prized piece of clothing. We would also consider using a pressing cloth as a barrier.
Here, we do the opposite and apply heat directly to the print with a thin paper bag in between. The aim is to melt the print onto the bag and then have an easy way to peel it off. It is best to find a large paper bag where you can cover the whole print in one go. That bag should have one side that is noticeably shinier than the other. You need to put this shinier side against the screen print as this will pick up the design when the heat is applied. Surprisingly, you only need a fairly low setting on your iron to make this work, and you can do so without steam. Run the iron over the bag, covering the print enough times to agitate the material and help the print lift and stick to the bag. Then, all you need to do is peel the bag away and hopefully take a large part of the print away in the process. When it works, it can be very satisfying. But you may find that some elements remain. Here, you can try again or go for one of the alternative methods.
5) Make a paste out of baking soda
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to see baking soda in here as a possible home remedy for removing screen prints. We use baking soda for so much else around the home that of course, it is on this list. That is why this is one of my favorite options for dealing with any kind of problem with cleaning and prepping clothing. You know that you aren’t going to cause any damage to the material because it is such a mild and effective cleaning agent. You also get the added benefit of deodorizing an old thrift store find when putting the item in the machine to wash it. Also, you are sure to have some baking soda on hand somewhere in the cupboard, so it is simple and inexpensive.
This can be a really effective way of getting rid of screen prints because it is a more abrasive process than some of the liquid solutions above, but it isn’t going to be as harsh as some of the chemical options. All you need to do is create a paste with some warm water, scrub away at the area, put the garment in the wash, and try and peel off what remains.
6) Making a sugar scrub
Scrub methods are great because the abrasive process should agitate the print on the material to a point where it lifts off fairly easily. There are different ways of doing this and you could get a better result with a more abrasive material. That is why some people like to make sugar scrubs and rub these into the material rather than use baking soda. The rougher crystals of granulated sugar should have more impact on the surface of the garment and could, therefore, allow for faster results. You also have something that is just as accessible and isn’t going to make the laundry room smell of nasty chemicals. My only issue here is that it seems like a waste of good sugar if it turns out to be ineffective for your garment.
7) Removing screen prints from denim
Of all the materials mentioned in this guide, denim is actually not too difficult to work with. You might think that you will have a tougher time because of the properties of this durable material. Once that screen print is on the back of a nice denim jacket, it isn’t going to come off that easily. However, it is possible to get the print to lift off with a combination of different methods. The first thing to do is to put the item in a cold wash. This will soften the material and let the detergent get to work on the area. Then, you transfer the item into a hot dryer to finish it off. This change in temperature can be a really bad idea for a lot of garments, but you should be OK here. It is all about weighing up the risk of minor shrinkage against the benefit of getting rid of the design. That sudden temperature change should do wonders in shocking the material and getting the print to lift off. You can then work on peeling away the design by hand until enough of it has gone.
When it comes to peeling screen prints away from materials – whatever the initial process – there are options. Some people like to use their fingernails and scratch away at the design, although this can get tiring and does depend on the length of your nails. You could also use a pair of tweezers. Either way, it helps to get comfortable and try and enjoy the experience. Don’t rush it or get frustrating. Enjoy the satisfaction of physically removing the print and think about what you can do with the item when the design has gone.
8) Removing screen prints from polyester
You may wonder how to remove screen prints from polyester when this material is so difficult to work with. The problem with polyester is that it doesn’t respond well to all kinds of treatments, many of which are used above. You can’t start adding a chemical to these synthetic fibers because you may end up damaging them beyond repair. So, it is not a good idea to use some of the harsher treatment options mentioned above, such as acetone and plastisol. If you do decide to try a chemical treatment, even one considered to be pretty low-key, it is best to do a spot test. You also don’t want to use high heat – so the ironing process is out, most likely. With polyester there are a lot of blends out there. So, check your garment label and see how much of a blend it is. The less polyester, the more likely you can try using heat to remove your screen print.
The best thing that you can do here is to keep washing and scrubbing the item as best you can. Scrub the screen print with detergent to try and lift it off, wash it under normal conditions, peel what remains, if possible, when dry, and try again. It is tedious, but it is the only way to undo a bad print without causing too much damage.
9) Removing screen prints from nylon
This one is a little bit odd, but I have been assured that it works. Nylon is another material where you need to be careful what treatments you use to soak the fiber or try and lift the print away. Most chemicals and heat options aren’t going to work too well because of the risk of damage. One solution that I have read is to spray WD40 onto the clothing, let that interact with the print and start to lift it off, and then wash the garment as normal.
On the plus side, you have a method that could get the ball rolling and help you peel off the unwanted design more easily. You also don’t have the same risks of damage from the chemicals and heat. On the negative side, you are spraying a piece of clothing with WD40 and very little about that experience is going to be pleasant. This option all depends on just how badly you want to remove that print.
Are These Methods Worth the Effort?
You might look at your garment and the work needed for some of these fixes and ask if it is worth the effort. For example, you may have a sweatshirt made from synthetic materials with only a small logo that you want to get rid of. Or you may decide that your screen printing mistakes aren’t so bad that you need to remove the image and start over. The old sweatshirt could still be fine as something you wear at home or there could be room for other modifications. The misprinted tee could go in your personal collection, rather than on sale, and simply act as a learning tool.
That is why it is important to evaluate the potential risk and reward with any of these options. If there is a good chance of the design peeling on a paper bag or dissolving in acetone with minimal risk of damage, then go for it. But, if there is a high risk of damage to the material or you will need a lot of a dangerous solvent for a minimal effect, you might be better off with a different approach.
Modifying a Screen Printed Sweatshirt or Bag Instead of Removing the Print
If you can’t completely remove the offending print, or aren’t confident trying the methods because of the material, there are alternatives. First of all, you could use fabric paint to paint your own design where the old image blends in. This may not be a perfect solution as the old print could remain visible to a point. But you will get to alter the garment and add some personality to it. Another option is to get some patches and find a way to attach them to cover up the old print. Check out my other guide on applying patches without sewing for a hassle-free approach.
What Is the Best Method for Removing Screen Prints from Clothing?
In short, there are lots of options out there if you are keen to learn how to remove logo from shirts or other garments. The best options for the majority of fabrics tend to involve safe solvents, especially when you have a good spot gun for added pressure. This is great for dissolving old ink without damaging the material. I like the idea of the iron and paper bag when appropriate as it seems to be the most satisfying, but don’t assume that you will be able to do that with any piece of clothing.
Finally, always remember to match the method to your material and don’t take unnecessary risks. Safety is essential and it is too easy to damage clothing with chemicals and heat. If you have a polyester sweatshirt with a logo you don’t like, you need to be extra careful. Balance risk and reward, try what you are comfortable with, and look into alternative ways to modify your item if you aren’t confident about the results.
I’m a stay at home mom with our two kids. I really enjoy doing crafts with my kids however, that is typically a challenge with how limited their attention span can be and how messy it gets. So, I’m always looking for ways to make crafting an enjoyable experience and creating fond memory for all of us.