How to Remove Vinyl from Shirts

January 26, 2022
Nicole Rollender
Woman using a hot clothes iron to remove vinyl from a white t-shirt

What is a Vinyl Transfer?

Heat transfer vinyl, often called “vinyl,” “heat transfer,” or “HTV” for short, is a very common method of decorating t-shirts and other clothing. As the name suggests, HTV is heat-activated. During HTV decoration a vinyl tape or transfer paper is pressed directly onto a garment with a hot iron or heat press. The heat activates an adhesive backing, causing the vinyl decoration to be permanently transferred to the garment with adequate time and pressure. Vinyl can be applied in a single layer or it can be layered for more complex designs.

Decorators often choose HTV over other methods, such as sublimation, because vinyl can decorate a variety of fabric colors, unlike sublimation which is reserved for light or white color fabrics. HTV also offers benefits to decorators looking to make a small run of t-shirts, since the set-up and heat transfer process can be easier for a small quantity of garments. 

A major drawback of vinyl transfer can be durability; HTV decoration can fade or peel over time. If you’re ready to remove the vinyl from old clothing, or you need to correct a mistake as you customize new clothes, read on for the best ways to remove that vinyl safely and effectively.

Methods for Removing Vinyl from Your T-Shirts

If you’ve got a vinyl decal you want to remove, whether it’s fraying or you just want to reuse the garment in another way, you can easily do it at home. Removing a vinyl decal or vinyl residue is way easier than you might think, so if you’ve had thoughts of tossing that tee out, don’t do it just yet.

Experts recommend removing vinyl decals or residue with heat or steam from an iron or heat press. You can also grab vaseline or rubbing alcohol from your medicine cabinet to reveal a brand-new shirt. Plus, you can try chemicals like acetone and commercial vinyl removers like Goo Gone to do the job. Finally, you can use an iron or heat press and printer paper to remove the vinyl.

To give you lots of options, we’ll cover four popular ways to remove a vinyl decal or residue from a t-shirt right at home, using supplies you probably already have handy.

T-shirt vinyl decals are often durable, but there are easy ways to remove them at home if you want to change up the look of your favorite tee.

 How to Remove Vinyl from T-Shirts with an Iron

Ready for a DIY decal removal? Let’s get right to it.

1. Gather Your Supplies

Ahead of time, assemble these items that you probably already have at home:

  • Your t-shirt
  • An iron
  • A sharp-edged knife, scissors or tweezer
  • Rubber bands
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Hand-washing detergent

2. Plug in Your Iron

Heat your iron to the maximum heat that your t-shirt fabric can take. Check your t-shirt’s tag for that information.

3. Get Ready to Heat Things Up

Open up your shirt and place the decal area (or where there’s extra vinyl residue) over the iron’s hot plate, with the t-shirt’s decal side facing you.

Then, pull the t-shirt tightly around the iron. You can opt to secure it with a rubber band to hold it in place.

4. It’s Time to Remove the Vinyl

Using your knife, tweezers or scissors, slowly peel off the vinyl. The vinyl residue will peel off in small sections, so go slowly.

If any vinyl sticks to your knife or scissors, you can use the rubbing alcohol to remove it.

5. Still Reeling from Residue?

If your vinyl-removing odyssey still didn’t remove that base-level sticky adhesive residue, wash it by hand in the sink or a basin with your hand-washing detergent.

6. Send That T-shirt Through the Cycle

While your t-shirt is still damp, place it in the washing machine, and then wash and dry as usual.

How to Remove Vinyl with Petroleum Jelly

Since you probably have at least one jar of petroleum jelly or Vaseline in your bathroom cabinet, this is a great method for DIYing it when you don’t want to run out to the store for supplies. The other great thing about this method is that you won’t risk staining your t-shirts with any chemicals.

1. Gather Your Supplies

We recommend that you assemble these items that you probably already have at home:

  • Your t-shirt
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Hand-washing detergent and dish soap
  • A tabletop or other hard surface

2. Get Your T-shirt Ready

Turn your tee inside out and stretch it tightly over a hard surface with the vinyl decal or adhesive side facing you.

3. Apply Your Jelly and Detergent 

Now, rub some of the vaseline over the vinyl decal or adhesive in circular motions. Next, rub the liquid detergent over the jelly in more circular motions.

4. Start Removing the Decal or Adhesive

Amazingly, our vaseline and detergent concoction will cause the vinyl decal or residue to clump. Rinse the t-shirt with hot water to remove the clumps. Repeat these steps until all of the decal or adhesive comes off the shirt.

If you’ve followed this process correctly, you’ll watch the vinyl decal or adhesive peel off easily.

Pro Tip: While this method of removing the decal won’t stain your shirt, if you do notice any sort of residue from the jelly you can use a regular dish soap to remove it.

Removing Vinyl from Clothing with Acetone

This is a quick and dirty DIY method to remove a vinyl decal or residue from a t-shirt. You’ll want to work outside or in a well-ventilated area, because of the acetone’s smell.

1. Gather Your Supplies

Grab these items that you probably already have at home:

  • Your t-shirt
  • A knife or tweezers
  • 100% acetone (or rubbing alcohol)
  • A spray bottle

You can use either acetone or rubbing alcohol, but the acetone will remove the vinyl adhesive faster.

Pro Tip: Before diving in, you can patch-test the acetone or rubbing alcohol to make sure that the chemicals won’t stain or damage your t-shirt.

2. Get Your T-shirt Ready

Turn your tee inside out. You want the vinyl decal or residue on the inside of the shirt, so that the back of the decal faces up through the material.

3. Apply Your Acetone

Now, spray the acetone over the t-shirt material on the back of the decal or residue area. You’ll see that the acetone will soak right through the fabric and loosen the adhesive on the decal or residue area.

Stretch and wiggle the shirt to loosen the decal or adhesive.

4. Remove the Vinyl Decal or Residue

Turn the shirt right side out again, and use your knife or tweezers to slowly remove the decal or residue.

If there’s any residue left, rub the t-shirt fabric with a little more acetone.

5. Get Your T-shirt Ready to Re-decorate or Wear

Wash and dry your shirt in your washer and dryer as usual.

Pro Tip: You can also opt to use a chemical like Goo Gone, but it does contain harmful chemicals. You’ll need to read the instructions carefully and work in a well-ventilated area. Plus, wear eye protection and gloves.

How to Remove Vinyl with an Iron and Paper

This is a quick and dirty DIY method to remove a vinyl decal or residue from a t-shirt. You’ll want to work outside or in a well-ventilated area, because of the acetone’s smell.

1. Gather Your Supplies

Assemble these items that you probably already have at home. If you have a heat press, you can use it as an alternative to an iron.

  • Your t-shirt
  • An iron or heat press
  • Printer paper
  • Towel
  • Tabletop or other hard surface
  • 100% acetone or rubbing alcohol

 2. Get Your Iron or Heat Press Ready

Check your t-shirt care instructions and then heat your iron or heat press to the highest temperature your fabric will take.

3. Get Your T-shirt Ready

Now, place your towel inside the t-shirt underneath the vinyl decal or residue area. Lay the shirt on top of your hard surface, with the vinyl decal side up.

If you’re using a heat press, place the t-shirt decal-side-up on the heat press platen.

4. Get Ready to Press

Put your printer paper over the vinyl decal or residue area so it’s completely covered. 

Apply your heat from the iron or heat press for 30 to 40 seconds. 

5. Remove the Decal

Immediately pull the copy paper back. In the first round, most of the vinyl decal should come off.

Repeat steps four and five until the decal or residue is totally removed.

Use acetone or rubbing alcohol to remove any remaining glue residue, if needed.

6. Get Your T-shirt Ready to Re-decorate or Wear

Wash and dry your shirt in your washer and dryer as usual.

Pro Tip: With this method, it may take a few tries for you to get the heat temperature and timing settings right to remove the decal. You may also need to remove your decal in parts if it’s large and you’re using an iron. Finally, be sure the whole decal is covered prior to heating it; otherwise, the decal vinyl may stick to your iron or heat press.

Grab Your New Favorite Tee at Threadsy

We love an upcycle project as much as the next person, and love to see folks updating and rewearing their favorite t-shirts. When it's time to stock your closet (or your Etsy shop) with new soon-to-be-favorite tees, Threadsy has you covered. We offer a wide variety of t-shirts, tanks, fleece, and more, all at wholesale prices from brands you know and love—including Bella+Canvas, Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, Champion, and Next Level, just to name a few. Plus, we offer fast, free shipping on all orders $50+ and free returns for 30 days! 

Ready to check it out? Here are some of our favorite tees:

  1. Unisex CVC Crewneck T-Shirt
    N6210
    |
    Next Level Apparel
    Unisex CVC Crewneck T-Shirt
    XS-6XL
    $5.19
  2. Ladies' Festival Cali Crop T-Shirt
    N5080
    |
    Next Level Apparel
    Ladies' Festival Cali Crop T-Shirt
    XS-2XL
    $6.70
  3. Unisex 50/50 T-Shirt
    5170
    |
    Hanes
    Unisex 50/50 T-Shirt
    S-4XL
    $3.17
  1. Ladies' Flowy Long-Sleeve T-Shirt with 2x1 Sleeves
    8852
    |
    Bella + Canvas
    Ladies' Flowy Long-Sleeve T-Shirt with 2x1 Sleeves
    S-2XL
    $11.60
  2. Men's  Ringspun Cotton Tank Top
    CP30
    |
    Champion
    Men's Ringspun Cotton Tank Top
    S-3XL
    15% off with code POLO15 at checkout!
    $7.91
  3. Unisex Jersey T-Shirt
    3001C
    |
    Bella + Canvas
    Unisex Jersey T-Shirt
    XS-4XL
    Heather colors available here.
    $5.21
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