We’ve all had it happen: we forget to add a cover sheet to a sublimation project or heat transfer before we press it, and then open the heat press to find that the top plate now has ink or residue on it.
How can you remove it without scratching the surface of the press? Is the press ruined?
There are a couple of ways to clean sublimation ink or residue from a heat press. Luckily, the easiest solution comes in a tube: EZ-Off Iron cleaner (not the oven cleaner) is a paste used to clean clothing irons. It also works well for cleaning press plates, and does so without damaging the surface.
So don’t panic. Try to resist scraping the surface of your press. This post will walk you through how we cleaned up one of our own mistakes, and some tips on keeping your press clean, so you can get back to pressing!
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Realizing There Is Ink, Dye, or Residue on Your Heat Press
Usually, when you press a design onto a shirt or other sublimation blank, you will add a protective layer of “blow-out” or butcher paper. You might even use a Teflon sheet, depending on the project.
You probably always remember to add this layer, right? Right? (We were sure we had.)
Maybe you were making some last-minute adjustments, lining up the design, and forgot to replace the cover sheet before you began to press.
When you re-opened the press to take out your latest masterpiece, reality hit.
Now you have sublimation ink or other residue on the top platen of your press. What can you do?
Ultimately, we used EZ-Off, a home iron cleaner, so feel free to jump ahead to how to use it – but since you may have to order it online and wait for it to be delivered, here are a few things you can try in the meantime.
Cool Down, and Try Dish Soap
Strike while the iron is hot! Well, while it's warm, actually.
It's best to act early, before the dye or residue has had much time to set. But right now your press is too hot to touch.
Start by turning off the heat press, and letting it cool down a bit. In the meantime, you can get some gentle dish soap (nothing abrasive), warm water, and a clean cloth that you don't mind getting ink-stained.
Try wiping the surface of the warm press, while the ink is still fresh, and you may be able to remove some of it.
(If you already have EZ-Off or another commercial iron cleaner, this would be where you used it, as well.)
Ask the Internet
In our case, we were lining up a ready-to-press, screen-print transfer, but failed to notice that we had left it transfer-side up. And then also didn’t add a cover sheet. Oops.
Plastisol screen-print transfers are only pressed for a few seconds, but it was already too late: the transfer had firmly attached itself to the top plate of the heat press.
This was a BRAND NEW press. Agh. A panicked search for advice on the internet resulted in a few suggestions:
- One person was able to remove quite a bit of residue by pressing the design onto throwaway fabric or paper. This did help a bit, but after two or three presses, nothing else was coming off.
While this wasn’t sublimation ink we were trying to remove, it might still be worth a try. Still, avoid scratching or scrubbing with anything rough.
- In case you’re dealing with residue, like we were: Another person had heated their press and was able to carefully peel off the transfer. We tried this, but the only results for us were fumes. Had to open more windows for that. Let us know if it works for you, though!
- One post in a forum suggested trying Dawn (because there’s a Dawn cleaning recipe for everything, right?). But we were in another room, by then, letting the fumes air out, so we kept searching for other solutions.
- A couple of people discussed gently scraping off the transfer with a plastic edge, but this would have to be done carefully to avoid scratches. And if you’re dealing with sublimation ink on the top press plate, there’s nothing to scrape.
Turns out, the easiest solution (and again, thank you, internet) has an appropriate name: EZ-Off.
EZ-Off is a paste that comes in a tube. It is meant to be used on a clothes iron, for cleaning everything from starch build up to scorch marks on the metal surface. It naturally works great for cleaning a heat press, and if applied and used according to instructions, you can remove residue without scratching the platen’s surface.
You can also use it for regular cleaning and maintenance of heat presses, including Cricut heat presses.
Where to Find EZ-Off and Other Hot Iron Cleaners
We were able to find EZ-Off on Amazon.com, and you might be able to find it in stores, if you need it faster than Amazon can deliver it.
No one local to us had it listed online, but you could try calling a sewing or quilting shop, appliance parts and repair, or even a craft supply store.
How to Use EZ-Off
EZ-off is meant to be used while the shirt press or iron is hot – heat your press to between 200-250 degrees Fahrenheit. You can play with this temperature: try setting it to 200 and see how well the paste seems to be working. If you’re having to really put in some elbow grease, increase the temperature a bit.
For the “screen print” transfer that was stuck to the top plate of our press, we applied quite a bit of paste to a thick (old) towel, and started rubbing and scrubbing at design. Nothing seemed to be changing, at first, and we spent a while trying different things, based on what we’d read online.
Increasing the temperature to around 225 degrees (the infrared thermometer read 250) definitely helped. We started to see progress.
Wrapping a Cricut scraping tool in the towel and using it to add more pressure while rubbing also made a difference. As the transfer color appears on the towel, you can move the tool underneath, to a clean section of the towel.
Keep adding paste to the towel as you go, and you should see real progress. For our screen print transfer, once the residue started flaking and peeling away, the job became much easier.
Maintenance (And An Ounce of Prevention)
Now the press looks new again. You can keep EZ-off around for future emergencies, but you can also maintain a clean press with it. It’s meant to be used regularly on clothing irons, to keep your press surface smooth and clean.
Once you have EZ-Off on hand, of course, it will also be easier to clean the press right away, while it is still warm, if (when) future mishaps occur.
But after all that scrubbing, you’d better believe that we will remember our cover sheet from now on!
Heat Press Plate Covers and Butcher Paper
You can also protect the upper and lower platens of your press with plate covers. These wrap over the platen and protect the surface from stains or scratches.
We still like to add a layer of butcher paper between the cover and a project, for a couple of reasons:
- One, if dye transfers to the cover during pressing, then it can transfer to the next item you place in the press.
- And two, this color transfer can go both ways, especially if the cover has a cloth layer. We once had some white shirts pick up black dye from the fabric of a polyester-over-foam cover and cushion that we had added to the bottom of the press.
Whether you use plate covers or not, a fresh sheet of butcher paper above, below, and even between the layers of your project is almost always a good idea, and for the cost of a restaurant-supply size roll, you can save yourself time, frustration, and the cost of ruined items.