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Treating Color Printed T-Shirts

By Dr. Laundry August 12, 2013

Will bleach ruin a white t-shirt with colorful graphics?

This is such a great question. I always bleach white 100% cotton screen or transfer printed t-shirts, and have never had a problem with bleach negatively affecting the color of the print. While there is always a chance that the color could fade, it is very small given that most transfer prints are made from pigment dyes and are attached with a resin that is not water soluble. Even so, it’s important to recognize the risk (however small) before proceeding.

For me, I always decide it’s worth it to risk a little color loss if it means keeping the shirt white. My most recent success was a long sleeved t-shirt with the flags of every high school rowing club in the US printed on it. With so many colors on it, there was a slightly higher chance one color would fade, but my daughter wears it a lot, and eventually I had to choose between getting it clean and taking a chance on the color. Fortunately it turned out just fine. 

First, check the care label to be sure the shirt doesn’t also contain any spandex—if it does (even a small percentage), you can’t wash it with our Regular-Bleach, or any other sodium hypochlorite based bleaches. If there is no spandex, go ahead and bleach it—wash it in hot water using your favorite detergent and ½ cup Concentrated Clorox® Regular-Bleach. I also recommend air drying anything with a screen or transfer print on it. Dryer heat can fade any kind of printed-on color—air drying really helps prolong the life of the shirt.