How to clean a heat press or iron

Oops- did you just accidentally iron a decal upside down on your heat press and now there's a melting mess on your platen? Or did you go to create a project with your heat press or iron and realize there's grime and messy muck caked on to it? In this post we'll show you how to clean a heat press or iron whether you made a mistake or if you're just trying to clean off build up.

how to clean heat press

what you'll need:

  • a rag
  • EZ-off hot iron cleaner
  • a scrap piece of fabric
  • a teflon sheet or protective paper
  • heat protective gloves
  • tweezers
  • ventilated area

Step 1

Whether you just made a mistake and your heat press is still hot or you decided to give your heat press a periodic cleaning, it will be easiest to get the muck off of your heat press if your heat press is still hot and unplugged. Make sure your heat press is at least 300°F and unplugged before you move on to the next step!

Step 2

Fold your rag and squeeze a generous amount of EZ-off hot iron cleaner onto it. Put a teflon sheet or some protective paper onto the bottom foam part of your heat press to protect it from the muck you're about to scrape from the platen. If you see any vinyl hanging off your platen, peel it off with tweezers.

Step 3

Once your machine is nice and hot, rub the rag onto the top platen. You might hear the cream sizzling which is a good sign. You will also notice fumes- don't breath them in! Continue scrubbing the platen with your rag, adding more cream if necessary. You will notice the muck start to fall off your platen. Fold your rag so that a clean side is exposed and continue to clean until your platen looks like new. Be careful not to burn yourself!

Step 4

When your platen looks clean, fold your rag again so a clean, dry side is exposed and wipe any excess cream or htv off of the platen. The last step is to turn your heat press on and do a test press. Use a scrap t-shirt or piece of fabric for this test so if any muck is left behind it won't ruin your next project. By doing this test, you're just making sure that any leftover htv or cream won't stain any future projects because all that mess will end up on your scrap t-shirt. 

Tips for cleaning a heat press:

  • always turn off the heat press before attempting to clean it
  • speed is key- try and clean up the mess before it gets caked on, while the heat press is still hot
  • if you don't have EZ-off, I would recommend any iron cleaner from your local craft store, but make sure to order some for next time!

What you shouldn't try:

  • don't press anything you think could melt in your heat press even if you're using a teflon sheet
  • don't try and clean your heat press with a solvent- heat + solvent = fire!
  • don't clean a teflon coated heat press with anything abrasive like Comet- it could scrape the teflon off
  • don't use a scraper, because again, the teflon could be scraped off

I just looked at the bottom of my iron and it's a mess! How did this happen?

  • t-shirts can be coated in starch and can over time leave a mess on your iron or platen
  • a simple mistake like pressing some htv upside down can leave you with a huge mess on your hands
  • a too-hot heat press can melt fabric onto your platen or iron so be careful! 
craftables glitter htv

Melting points of fabric

it is imperative that you know the fabric content of your project before you even start! Some fabrics are synthetic and have a very low melting point. If you're not using a teflon sheet and you end up melting your project, you could have a huge mess on your hands! Here's some information on common fabrications and their melting points in case you had a project in mind involving any of the following fabrications:

melting point: 320°F
common products: drawstring bags and some clothing
*low melting point, beware when ironing!

melting point: 482°F
common products: t-shirts, jackets, tote bags, home textiles
Ideal fabric for heat transfer vinyl

melting point: 482°F
common products: scarves, knit sweaters, some t-shirts, jackets

melting point: 475°F
common products: hoodies, t-shirts, tote bags
Ideal fabric for heat transfer vinyl

melting point: 302°F
common products: anything that feels silky that isn't silk like scarves, dress shirts, and sweaters
*low melting point, beware when ironing!

melting point:428°F
common products: undergarments, athletic wear, bags and backpacks

*the ideal fabrications for Craftables HTV products are cotton, polyester and cotton/poly blends. You can find HTV application information here.

Tips for cleaning an iron

The same exact steps above can also be used when cleaning an iron but sometimes an iron can be a bit tougher to clean due to the steam holes in the iron. Here are some tips for cleaning your iron with household supplies:

  • Use EZ-off or iron cleaner with a q-tip to clean out the steam holes
  • If you don't have a q-tip, a pipecleaner also works well to de-gunk steam holes
  • Fill your water reservoir with a water/vinegar mix and steam it out to clean out the steam holes
  • If you don't have iron cleaner, acetaminophen (Tylenol) can work to clean the bottom of your iron- simply heat up your iron, unplug and carefully rub the pill on the bottom of your iron and watch the gunk fall off!
  • After you've cleaned your iron, make sure to steam out all cleaning materials on scrap fabric before ironing a final project
  • Going forward, distilled water is the best water to use in your iron. Tap water often is hard water and could clog your steam holes with solidified minerals. Hard water can also stain lighter fabrics, distilled water is your safest choice!

Preventative measures

  • Always use teflon sheet
  • Even t shirts can leave starch so it's better to clean heat press sporadically
  • Wash any fabric projects before pressing to reduce residue
  • Even fabric can melt on heat press so always beware of fabric content
  • Clean heat press sporadically with iron cleaner or ez-off to prevent residue build up
  • Keep tweezers, a rag and iron cleaner near your heat press in case you make a mistake again
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