Learn How to Properly Set Fabric Paint With an Iron

Patience ensures your fabric painting doesn't get ruined in the wash

Yellow and green paint on fabric, full frame
Frederic Cirou / Getty Images

Artists, crafters, and hobbyists find painting on fabric to be a fun way to transform clothing into wearable works of art. Products like Golden GAC900 Medium allow you to turn any acrylic paint into a fabric paint, so you're not limited by the existing color palettes of premixed fabric paints.

The question that often comes up, however, is whether you need to iron the painted fabric to make the design permanent and the best method for doing so. Fabric paints do need to be set with heat, so here are a few tips that will enable you to do it properly.

The First Step Is Waiting

Fabric paints need to be heat-set if they're painted on something that's going to be washed. The process is the same as ironing a garment, except you'll iron an area for longer than you would just to remove creases.

Though you may be ready to finish the piece as soon as you're done painting, it's best to hold off on ironing for a bit. At a minimum, wait 24 hours just to be sure the paint is dry. After you've set the paint in, give it at least four days (according to Golden Paints) before washing the fabric.

How to Set Fabric Paint

When ironing, don't use any steam settings. You want dry heat for setting fabric paint. Turn off any steam settings that would come on automatically, and empty the water container. 

If feasible, iron on the "wrong" side of the fabric and not the painted side. As an alternative, you can place a scrap piece of fabric over the top of the painting. Both of these options protect your iron from any transfer of color and prevent accidentally scorching the painted side of the fabric. You might also want to put a piece of fabric down on your ironing board to protect the cover if you are ironing on the "wrong" side.

  1. Set the iron on a medium to hot setting, determined by the type of fabric.
  2. Run the iron across the painted area for a few minutes, moving it around constantly so you don't scorch the fabric.

If it's a delicate fabric, set the iron to a lower, more suitable temperature and iron for longer.

How Long Should You Iron?

The next question is often how long you need to iron to ensure the paint is truly set into the fabric. A good rule of thumb is to iron for not less than two minutes but ideally more. Golden Paints recommends ironing "for 3-5 minutes with a medium-hot iron on the reverse side."

Be careful because the fabric will get quite hot to touch. You might find it best to iron relatively small sections at a time. This makes it easier to move the iron around fast enough so no one part either cools down too much or gets so hot that it scorches.

Ironing is definitely not the exciting part of the fabric-painting process, and it can be hard to hold out for the full five minutes. If you need a little motivation, just think about how disastrous it would be if the fabric paint washed out or ran! If you're ever in doubt, iron a little longer.

Will It Damage Your Iron?

If the paint is completely dry, there shouldn't be any risk to your iron. If there's still some wet paint somewhere, it will dry with a ffsssst noise when the iron runs over it and will probably stick to your iron.

Though you should be able to clean it off, prevention is easier than a cure. Either wait to get out the iron until you're absolutely sure the paint is dry (longer than 24 hours if you've painted it on thickly), or use a thin cloth between the painted surface and the iron. Some artists keep an older iron just for projects like this and use a good one for their clothes. It's not a bad idea, especially if you have a really nice iron that you prize.