It may be "just" a tee shirt, but often that same tee shirt is your go-to apparel of choice for comfort or displaying your personal style. Your favorite tee shirts deserve to be treated with respect and gentleness, and they will continue to provide faithful service year after year if you do so. Below are some tips for maintaining the life and looks of a tee shirt:

Wash properly

Before you toss your brand-new tee shirt in the washing machine, you will need to consider the settings on your washer as well as what you put into the washing machine. In fact, it is ideal if you don't even wash your shirt in the washer the first time or two after purchase. Instead, hand wash the shirt in a sink or other clean container using a gentle detergent. Just be sure to wash the shirt in a sink that does not contain bleach or the residue from harsh cleaners. Handwashing will give the fibers a chance to adapt to water without a sudden shock and also prevent drastic bleeding of the dye. For extra protection against color bleeding, add a teaspoon of salt to the water and let it dissolve before washing.

Once you decide your tee shirt is ready to take the plunge into the washer, use only cold water, mild detergent and the gentlest cycle available on your machine. Turn the shirt inside-out to protect the artwork from being scraped by other clothing or the machine's interior. In addition, avoid washing the shirt with other dissimilar fabrics, as they can rub against the shirt and cause fraying. Always wash similar colors together and immediately remove shirts from the machine once the cycle is finished; this will prevent dye transfer from one shirt to another.

Dry properly

One of the worst enemies of your tee shirt is a hot clothes dryer. Dryers can cause color fading, shrinking and damage to artwork, if the temperature and duration of drying is not closely watched. When you place your wet tee shirt in the dryer, keep it turned inside-out for protection; adjust the temperature to a low setting and also be sure to place it with other similar smooth-textured fabrics to avoid abrasion.

Regularly check the dryness of the tee shirt to avoid over-drying it and causing shrinking. Remove the shirt when it has just a slight hint of dampness and either hang it or lay it flat to dry. Be careful not to hang excessively wet shirts, as they will stretch under the weight of the water and leave visible hanger marks on the shoulders.

If you decide to iron your tee shirt, then you will need to exercise extra caution. The artwork on a tee shirt can be discolored or even melted depending on the material used to form the image. For example, vinyl can melt and scorch if it is exposed to excessive heat. That is why you should iron a tee shirt inside-out and avoid using high heat. If the shirt's artwork is particularly delicate or elaborate, then you will need to place a plain, white cotton cloth beneath the iron to add an extra layer of protection from the heat.

Store properly

Once you have spent time and effort to properly wash, dry and iron your tee shirt, it doesn't make sense to just toss it into a drawer. That is why it is also important to properly store your tee shirt to protect it. Here are a couple of storage hints:

  • Fold the tee shirt flat and store it in a drawer neatly stacked with other shirts - However, be careful not to fold the shirt so that creases run through the middle of artwork, especially for heat-pressed vinyl shirts. This will help you avoid making creases that detract from the appearance of the design as well as prevent pulling the edges of the vinyl away from the shirt.

  • Keep tee shirts out of sunlight - If you decide to hang your tee shirt or keep it in an open location, do not allow it to remain in sunlight for lengthy periods of time. The sun can bleach the shirt and cause variations in the colors.

Contact a company that screen prints tee shirts, such as Absolute Screen Printing, for more tips on how to care for screen printed tee shirts.