How to Iron-On Patches on a Shirt

Iron-On Patches on a Shirt
Iron-On Patches on a Shirt (Image: DRW & Associates Inc)

Iron-on patches were the great mending labor-saver of the 1960s for parents of children whose knees kept puncturing their blue jeans. Today, patch material is available in a variety of colors and weights, but the basic physics remain the same. A fabric patch is coated with heat-activated glue on one side. Although lighter-weight patches don't hang on as tightly with hard wear (such as on sleeve elbows), iron-on patches are perfect for quick repairs of everyday snags or tears.

Things You'll Need

  • Clean cotton ironing cloth
  • Iron
  • Sharp sewing scissors

Read the directions on the patch packaging if you have it. Occasionally, special glues are used on patches for specific fabrics. Unless otherwise instructed, set your iron for the hottest setting you can use on the shirt (usually cotton). Use a dry iron. Don't fill or activate the steam setting. Allow the iron to heat for at least 5 minutes.

Lay the patch glue side-up on a heat-proof surface and lay the torn spot over it. Trim the patch to fit the tear. It should overlap by a half-inch or so, depending on the size of the tear. Trim any loose threads or frayed ends in the shirt fabric so they can't unravel. Iron the area thoroughly so the fabric is heated clear through. Move the iron around so you don't scorch the shirt. An iron on the cotton setting registers about 400 degrees F.

Lay the patch back inside the shirt, glue side-up, and arrange the torn section so that the edges of the torn fabric touch or are as close as possible without pulling the surrounding material. If you've heated the fabric thoroughly, the glue will begin to get a bit tacky so the fabric doesn't slide around. Smooth the entire area. Lay a piece of old T-shirt or a clean, light-colored old cotton dish towel lightly over the torn spot on the fabric, smoothing as you work. Take care not to wrinkle the underlying material.

Set the hot iron straight down on top of the ironing cloth over the torn spot and hold it there for about 30 seconds, then move it slowly around in a circle a few times. Remove the ironing cloth and check to be sure the torn spot has "set" correctly. At this point, you can make adjustments if the fabric has wrinkled--but you'll weaken the glue bond. So it's better to be careful as you set up the patch before you iron to set.

Turn the shirt inside out so the patch is showing, its plain fabric side up. Quickly adjust the shirt so the fabric isn't wrinkled or pulled (like a sleeve-board does sometimes). Put the hot iron straight down on the patch for 30 seconds, then move the iron slowly around for another 30 seconds or so until the patch and fabric are completely bonded. When finished, let the patch cool for a minute and make sure the bond has been made. If it hasn't, repeat the process, being careful to keep moving the iron so you don't scorch the shirt. Once you've used an iron-on patch on an item, dry-clean or wash it in cool or warm--never hot--water. Air dry or tumble dry without heat. Iron as usual but take care not to reactivate the glue.

Tips & Warnings

  • Shirts are more delicate than jeans. If the patch (which is usually cotton or some natural blend) and the shirt are very different fabrics, the shirt may begin to scorch. If this happens, use an ironing cloth on both sides. The glue in iron-on patches operates with heat, not force. You don't have to push hard on the iron. The reason it should be moved in a circular motion is to distribute the heat evenly and avoid scorching.
  • Never leave an iron while it's heating. Unplug it and allow it to cool completely before leaving it unattended.

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