5 Easy Ways To Remove A Vinyl Decal From A Shirt

A vinyl decal is an easy way to add your own creativity to your favorite shirt. But what if you make a mistake or simply don’t like the decal anymore? Can you simply remove the offending decal, or do you have to live with a daily reminder of the mistake?

There are 5 main ways to remove unwanted vinyl decals from your favorite shirts. They can be removed with a hot iron, chemical solvents (acetone), petroleum jelly, copy paper and heat, or heat and steam. The best method will depend on the fabric of your shirt.

Thankfully these methods can be used to remove decals and designs from shirts without causing damage. Whether you are removing it because you no longer like the decal, made a mistake or the heat transfer vinyl was damaged during the application you can try any of these methods.

man working on a heat press using heat transfer vinyl that says dream big
ID 214982559 © Andrey Popov | Dreamstime.com

All of these methods will remove freshly ironed-on vinyl decals from new shirts or store-bought shirts with the vinyl decals already on them. These methods will also work on old decals which have been on the shirt for a long time. You might need to try the process a few times to remove all the sticky residue, but the decal will be removed!

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How To Remove A Vinyl Decal Using An Iron

Before using a hot iron on any fabric, check the care label first to see what the material is made from and what the maximum recommended heat is for the fabric. You don’t want to damage the fabric while removing the decal. Remember to be careful when using a hot iron, as it can burn you!

Tools needed to remove the vinyl decal:

  • An iron
  • A sharp-edged knife, scissors or tweezers
  • Rubbing alcohol

Method:

  1. Plug in your iron and heat to the maximum heat allowed for the material type.
  2. Open up the shirt and lay the decal area over the hot plate of the iron, decal side facing you.
  3. Pull the shirt tightly around the iron, optionally you can secure it with a rubber band.
  4. Using the knife or scissors, slowly start to peel off the decal. It will peel off in small sections at a time, so keep going until it’s all off. If the vinyl sticks to the knife, use rubbing alcohol to clean it off. A pair of tweezers can be used instead of a knife.
  5. If there is any sticky adhesive residue left on the shirt, simply wash it off by hand using a handwashing detergent.
  6. Place the shirt in your washing machine and wash as usual.

This method is perfect to use if you missed weeding part of your design. You can just heat that section and peel off the unwanted vinyl with tweezers. It’s a good idea to reapply heat to the same area just like when you originally applied it to make sure the rest of the design has been well adhered.

Just be cautious using this method, if the iron is set too high or the fabric is on the iron for too long the shirt could get burnt.

How To Remove A Vinyl Decal Using Acetone

For some, using acetone or nail polish remover is the easiest and quickest method to remove a decal, especially if the fabric is delicate and cannot stand heat removal methods. You will need 100% acetone for this method.

You can also use other chemical solvents instead of acetone. Household products such as rubbing alcohol or Goo Gone can be used. There are also products made specifically for removing vinyl such as AlbaChem Heat Transfer Vinyl Letter Remover – No 1020.

Tools needed to remove the vinyl decal:

  • 100% Acetone
  • A sharp-edged knife or tweezers

Method:

  1. Turn the shirt inside out. The vinyl decal should be on the inside of the shirt, with the back of the decal facing up through the material.
  2. Spray the acetone over the shirt material on the back of the decal. The acetone will soak right through the fabric and loosen the adhesive on the decal.
  3. Stretch and wiggle the fabric to loosen the adhesive on the decal.
  4. Turn the shirt right side up and slowly start to peel away the decal from the fabric using the knife or tweezers.
  5. If there is any sticky adhesive residue left on the shirt, rub it off with a little bit of the acetone.
  6. Place the shirt in your washing machine and wash as usual.

Before using any of these products on your shirt you should do a test patch. This is to check if the product you use will stain or damage your shirt before applying it to the decal.

How To Remove A Vinyl Decal Using Petroleum Jelly

Many households already have petroleum jelly i.e. vaseline, stashed away in a cupboard somewhere, so why not make use of it without having to spend money on additional vinyl decal removal products.

Tools needed to remove the vinyl decal:

  • Petroleum Jelly
  • Hand washing laundry detergent

Method:

  1. Turn the shirt inside out and tightly stretch it over a hard surface with the adhesive side facing you.
  2. Rub the petroleum jelly in circular motions over the shirt on top of the adhesive.
  3. Rub the liquid detergent over the jelly in circular motions.
  4. The adhesive will start to clump.
  5. Rinse the area with hot water to remove the clumps of adhesive.
  6. Repeat until all the adhesive comes off the shirt.
  7. The vinyl decal should peel right off with no adhesive to hold it onto the shirt.

This method does run the risk of leaving a stain on your fabric. If you do notice a stain dish soap, like Dawn, is great at getting out oily residue.

How to Remove A Vinyl Decal Using Paper and Heat

This method uses heat and regular printer paper. It’s actually quite good at removing HTV.

Tools needed to remove the vinyl decal:

  • plain white copy paper
  • Iron or heat press

Method:

  1. Heat iron or heatpress as hot as allowed for material settings
  2. Place the towel inside the shirt underneath the vinyl decal and lay the shirt on top of the hard surface, decal side up. If using a heat press place shirt decal side up on the heat press pad.
  3. Place copy paper over vinyl decal so it is fully covered
  4. Apply heat and pressure to decal for 30-40 seconds
  5. Immediately pull back the copy paper. Most of the decal should stick to the paper and be removed from shirt.
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 until decal is fully removed.
  7. If there is any glue residue left use rubbing alcohol or acetone to remove it

This method may require a little trial and error to get the heat settings and timing right. Larger decals may need to be done in several parts if your iron cannot get the entire image. Make sure your decal is fully covered prior to heating, otherwise the decal may stick to your iron or heat press.

How To Remove A Vinyl Decal Using Heat And Steam

For this method, you need a hard surface that is not sensitive to heat, like an ironing board or a countertop covered with a towel. Check the garment care label for heat instructions, and be careful not to burn yourself!

Tools needed to remove the vinyl decal:

  • A hairdryer or an iron
  • A small towel
  • A sharp-edged knife or tweezers
  • Rubbing alcohol

Method:

  1. Place the towel inside the shirt underneath the vinyl decal and lay the shirt on top of the hard surface, decal side up.
  2. Using a hairdryer, set the heat to the hottest setting for the fabric and hold close enough to the decal for the adhesive to melt. If you are using an iron, place a wet towel over the decal and iron over the decal using a very hot iron. The steam should release the adhesive on the decal.
  3. Peel the decal off the shirt using the knife. This process could take a while and may need to be repeated.
  4. Rub off any leftover adhesive using a solvent or rubbing alcohol and wash the shirt in the washing machine.

Final Thoughts

Removing vinyl is actually much simpler than most crafters expect. It can save a project from being ruined if you miss weeding a part of your design or if the placement is off.

While I’ve shown you several ways to get rid of unwanted vinyl decals, great care should always be taken when using any of the suggested removal methods. Always follow the care instructions on the label of the shirt and make sure that you protect yourself from the solvents, sharp knife edges, and heat!