how to remove screen printing from polyester

How To Remove Screen Printing From Polyester: A Complete Guide

Have you ever had a screen-printed t-shirt that you loved at one time but now want to get rid of? Maybe the band is no longer your favorite, or you want to recycle the shirt into something new. Whatever the reason, you quickly realize that removing screen printing ink is much more complicated than it looks.

Screen-printed designs are durable and long-lasting. This makes removing them a challenge, especially from synthetic fabrics like polyester. Removing the screen print from your polyester shirt is possible, provided you have patience and use the proper techniques.

Overview of Screen Printing

What is Screen Printing?

Screen printing, sometimes called silkscreening, is a popular technique for fabric designs like t-shirts, sweaters, posters, and more. The process uses a mesh screen stenciled with the desired image. Ink is pushed through the open areas of the screen, transferring the design to the garment underneath.

This technique allows for a thick layer of ink that dries quickly and bonds well to fabric. The most common ink used for screen printing on t-shirts is plastisol. Plastisol ink sets through heat so it won’t wash out of the fabric. This durability is excellent when you want a design to last but could be better when you want to remove it!

Screen Printed Fabrics

Screen printing works well on cotton, polyester, blends, and other natural and synthetic fabrics. The ink bonds best with cotton but also adheres almost permanently to polyester.

The heat and pressure of the printing process cause the plastisol ink to penetrate the fabric rather than just laying on the surface. Removing the prints is much more complex than washing out a simple iron-on design.

Removing Screen Printing from Polyester

Getting screen print ink out of polyester fabric can be a real challenge. However, you can successfully remove the stubborn ink stains with the proper methods and supplies. Here are some techniques to try:

Supplies Needed

Before you begin, gather a few supplies to get the job done:

  • Nail polish remover with acetone
  • A high percentage of isopropyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol
  • Soft, clean rags or cotton balls
  • Laundry detergent or dish soap
  • Heat press or iron (optional)
  • Plastic bowl for mixing solutions

You’ll also need a small brush or toothbrush for more minor stains. Bleach or other harsh chemicals that can damage the fabric are not recommended.

Techniques to Try

Rubbing Alcohol

One of the most effective methods is rubbing alcohol. The high alcohol content helps break down and dissolve the screen print ink.

Dip a cotton ball in 91% isopropyl alcohol and gently rub the printed areas. Check often and re-dip the cotton as needed. Rinse with water and repeat if necessary. This works best on fresh stains.

Nail Polish Remover

Nail Polish Remover
Photo credit: freepik

For older, set-in stains, try nail polish remover containing acetone. Acetone breaks down and dissolves certain types of ink, including plastisol.

Directly apply the cotton ball soaked in nail polish remover onto the screen print. Allow it to sit for one minute before rubbing it. Rinse with water and repeat the process if necessary. Warm Water and Dish Soap.

Try a warm water and dish soap mixture for a less harsh option. The soap helps break down the ink while the water softens it.

Add a small amount of dish soap drops for every gallon of warm water. Gently scrub the printed areas with a soft brush or rag dipped in the mixture. Rinse and repeat if needed.

Acetone (for minor stains)

If you’re dealing with a tiny screen print you want to remove, acetone alone can also work. Dip a cotton swab or toothbrush in pure acetone and gently scrub the stain. Rinse immediately under running water.

Heat Press (for heat-activated inks)

Apply heat and pressure to the stain using a heat press or iron if the ink is activated by heat. Place the fabric print-side on the media and apply med-high heat for 10-20 seconds. Remove and check if the ink can be peeled or rubbed away. Repeat as needed.

Tips and Tricks

  • Always test products and techniques on a small, hidden area first to check for fabric damage.
  • Use light pressure when scrubbing, and don’t oversaturate the fabric.
  • It may take several attempts and applications to remove heavy screen printing entirely.
  • Turn the garment inside-out so ink residue doesn’t transfer to other areas.
  • Let the remover or solvent soak in for a few minutes before rubbing for heavy ink deposits.

Screen Printing on Other Fabrics

While removing screen prints from polyester can be tricky, other fabrics may yield different removal methods.

Natural Fabrics like Cotton

Cotton and other natural fabrics are more absorbent than synthetic polyester. The fibers hold onto the plastisol ink, but soap and water can help release the bond.

Heat is also effective for softening and removing plastisol prints from cotton. Try ironing the fabric before scrubbing it with dish soap and warm water. For heavy stains, use rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover containing acetone, testing first.

Polyester Blends and Synthetics

Fabric blends with polyester will likely resist removal like pure polyester does. Still, cotton blended into the fabric may allow for some water and soap techniques.

Other synthetics like nylon may allow screen print removal with alcohol or acetone. Always spot-test first and check care labels. Use light pressure and minimal liquid to avoid damaging the fabric.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use bleach to remove screen printing from a polyester shirt?

No, bleach can damage and discolor polyester fabrics. Stick to gentler products like alcohol, acetone, and dish soap. Always spot-test first.

How can I get rid of white ink printed on a black polyester shirt?

White ink on dark fabrics can be very stubborn. Try repeatedly applying rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover with acetone to the stain. Gently scrub with a toothbrush.

Is there an easier way to remove screen printing from poly-cotton blend shirts?

Blends with cotton may yield better to warm water, dish soap, and gentle scrubbing since cotton is more absorbent. Heat from an iron may also help before scrubbing.

What is the best way to eliminate ink stains from my fabric after a failed attempt at removing a screen print?

Rinse immediately under cold running water. Then wash in warm, soapy water. For stubborn stains, apply stain remover and wash again. Wait to dry until the stain is fully removed.

Can I use the same technique to remove screen printing from nylon or other synthetics?

You may successfully use alcohol or acetone on small-screen printed areas of nylon or other synthetics. Always spot test on an inconspicuous area first.

How can I avoid damaging the fabric when removing screen printing?

Work slowly with light pressure and minimal liquid. Test products first. Rinse immediately after scrubbing. Don’t oversaturate the fabric. Repeat applications as needed.


Removing screen printing from polyester and other fabrics takes patience and persistence. With repeated applications and gentle scrubbing, you can break down that stubborn ink and reclaim your shirt. Just take care not to damage the fabric in the process.

Armed with the right supplies and techniques, you can remove a screen print design you’re ready to part with. Are you tired of plain polyester shirts? Try custom screen printing your designs that you’ll love forever!

What tricks have worked for you in removing screen-printed designs? Feel free to contribute to the discussion by sharing your advice and personal experiences in the comments section.


Main image: freepik

Priti Nandy
Priti Nandy
Articles: 168

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