While you have plenty of style options for a graphic tee -- from choosing a savvy print to dressing it up with a blazer or a pair of double-buttoned shorts --- it takes a clean, well-preserved shirt to let the print shine. While printing methods range from soft-hand screen printing to puff letters, gentle cleaning methods are your best bet for preserving your tee's graphics. Although machine washing is an option, washing graphic tees by hand helps ensure optimal longevity for the print.
Things You'll Need
Mild or natural laundry detergent
Plug a sink and fill it with cool or lukewarm water. Moderate water temperatures help the tee retain its color and print. As the sink fills, add mild or natural laundry detergent, using just a few drops per shirt.
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Submerge your graphic tee or tees in the soapy water. This cleaning method accommodates one shirt or a few shirts at a time. If you wash multiples, separate whites and colors. Dip your hands in the water and swirl the shirt for about 30 seconds.
Apply an extra dab of detergent to any stained areas, rubbing the shirt's fabric against itself with your fingertips. Dip the shirt into the water to rinse. Repeat the process until you work out the stain.
Allow the tee to soak in the water for about five minutes. If swirling or rubbing the shirt has already visibly dirtied the water, drain the sink and refill it with clean cool or lukewarm water before soaking.
Rinse the shirt under cool running water until the water is clear of soap. Spread out a thick, clean towel and lie the wet shirt flat on the towel. Roll the towel up tightly to gently wring out the shirt -- wringing or knotting the tee by hand is more likely to damage some types of prints. Unroll the towel and hang the shirt in a warm, dry area with plenty of circulation to air-dry completely.
Set your washing machine to a normal wash cycle with a cold or warm water temperature. This temperature prevents color bleeding and preserves the shirt's print. Washing in hot water increases shrinkage and may stress the print. Add a mild or all-natural laundry detergent using the amount recommended by the detergent's manufacturer.
Include the shirt in a load of similarly colored clothing. Newer graphic tees may bleed color. Some shirts are fade-proof while others are actually designed to take on a faded look after a few washes, and fading equals bleeding. Start the wash cycle.
Dry your tee in the dryer set to low heat. Like warm or cool water, low heat offers a gentle laundering option, helping extend the life of printed shirts. For an even gentler drying option, allow the shirt to air dry.
Because graphic tees vary, always consult your shirt's tag for care instructions before washing.
Preshrunk 100-percent cotton shirts -- a typical material for graphic tees -- may shrink about half a shirt size after machine washing.