Share this White Paper:
The definitive guide to laundering your fine cotton shirts at home
By: Stu Bloom
When it comes to shirt laundry, you generally have 2 choices:
- Take care of your fine shirts yourself, or
- Entrust your fine cotton shirts to a “professional shirt laundry”.
If you have decided, for any reason, to take care of your fine shirts yourself – including the soaking, hand or machine washing, drying and hand ironing – this white paper is designed to provide you with some guidance.
So where to begin?
Shirts get dirty, smelly and wrinkled
Let’s start with the fact that shirts get dirty, smelly and wrinkled just by virtue of the fact that they have been worn. Even if you’ve worn the shirt for only a few hours or a day.
There are bodily secretions – the sweat and body oils, bodily sheddings – skin cells and skin flakes, and topical applications – creams and lotions that are so common today.
Fact is, the body is pretty gross. That’s just a fact of life. Each one of us has our own threshold for tolerating bad smells aka funk. You can either try to control it or you can ignore it (at your peril).
And, yes, I know, everyone else on the planet sweats – except for you.
Besides, you live in Barrow, Alaska, and we all know that no one sweats in Barrow, Alaska!
Truth is, everyone sweats. And that includes you. If you didn’t sweat, you couldn’t cool your body and that could be fatal.
The amount of sweat you release depends on the temperature and humidity of your environment, but even, under normal circumstances, the average person secretes up to 34 fluid ounces or 1 liter of sweat per day (some sources say up to 200 fluid ounces or 6 liters per day). While women have more sweat glands than men, men typically have more active sweat glands.
On it’s own, sweat isn’t smelly. It’s only when the millions of bacteria that live on the skin begin to break down the amino acids in sweat that you begin to smell that familiar b.o.
So, for argument sake, let’s just accept the fact that you do sweat.
So what accumulates in the fibers of your fine cotton shirts?
Oil-based stains such as:
- body oils, lotions and creams
- steak sauce, butter, salad dressing, and similar oil-based food products.
Water-based stains such as:
- acids and salts from perspiration
- deodorants (designed to mask b.o.) and anti-perspirants (designed to plug up sweat glands)
- coffee, juice, wine, beer, and similar water-based products.
And environmental soil and smells such as:
- dust and soot particles
- cigarette and cigar smoke smells (first and second hand)
- cooking smells
- pet odors.
With proper care, your fine cotton dress shirts can look, feel and smell great and last for years.
If you accept that premise, the two big questions are these:
- Will you care for your fine cotton shirts at home?
If so, what washing and dryingprocedures and what ironing techniques will you use?
- Will you entrust your fine cotton shirts to a professional shirt laundry?
If so, what type of shirt laundry will you choose – an ordinary shirt laundry or atrue quality shirt laundry?
And what oil- and water- and environmentally-based soil and stain removal procedures and what pressing techniques do they use?
Distrust of ordinary shirt laundries
Almost everyone who has entrusted their fine cotton shirts to a professional shirt laundry has a cautionary tale to tell about some shirt laundry that “destroyed” or “ruined” their shirts (whether the fault lay with the shirt laundry’s procedures or with the shirt’s fabric, dyes and/or construction is often debatable).
Alternatively, you’ve heard or read anecdotes about professional shirt laundries that produce poor to mediocre work.
- wrinkles and ripples on both sides of the collars and cuffs
- wrinkles and ripples in the pockets, pocket flaps and epaulets
- wrinkles and ripples in the front and sleeve plackets
- collars that are not correctly broken at the lower rear (i.e., there’s a gap between the lower rear edge of the collar and the collar/back joining seam)
- frayed collar points
- collar stay impressions
- missing and/or bent collar stays
- a triangular-shaped collar (instead of a perfectly rounded collar).
- frayed collars, cuffs and front plackets
- puckered side, sleeve and yolk seams
- puckered joins between the body and sleeves of the shirt
- puckered joins between the sleeves and cuffs of the shirt
- wrinkled underarms
- small pinch marks in the area where the body meets the sleeves and where the sleeves meet the cuffs
- creased sleeves (often automatically done without a client’s prior approval and without the client being offered the option of a rolled sleeve).
As a result, many elect to take care of their shirts themselves – including the soaking, hand or machine washing, drying and hand ironing.
This requires an investment of time, the development of a standardized cleaning and drying process, and the crafting of a hand ironing technique.
Many tell me that they find the entire process – particularly the hand ironing – therapeutic. They put on some great music and uncork a good bottle of wine. Others have told me that they do their best thinking when hand ironing their shirts.
On the other hand, if your time is limited and all you’re looking for is a basic “cleaned and pressed shirt” – irrespective of the quality of the cleaning and the pressing and the resultant impact on the look, feel and longevity of the shirt – an ordinary shirt laundry operated by your local dry cleaner might be a reasonable alternative.
Most dry cleaners offer shirt laundry. Many do the work in-house; others subcontract their shirt laundry to third parties.
I’d guess that the overwhelming majority of individuals use a shirt laundry because it saves precious leisure time, it’s convenient (close to home or work) and it’s relatively cheap. I’d further guess that very few would claim that they use a particular shirt laundry because the quality of their product is outstanding.
In other words, when it comes to choosing a shirt laundry, time saving, convenience and price typically trumps quality of product for the vast majority of consumers.
The choice of a shirt laundry operated by your local dry cleaner might be a reasonable choice provided the investment in your shirts is relatively modest.
At these shirt laundries, you get what you pay for.
In the words of Alexander Kabbaz, world-renowned bespoke shirt maker, “As long as it’s been through the washer and presser…it must be done.”
Why does he say that?
Because the name of the game at ordinary shirt laundries is maximizing productivity and minimizing unit production costs.
That means pushing as many shirts through their “production system” as fast as possible and at the lowest possible cost.
And, typically, that means scrubbing your collars and cuffs with hard-bristled brushes and collar/ cuff solution/detergent, jamming them into a washer, injecting hot water and harsh, caustic, industrial grade detergents and bleach, starching them with synthetic glue, banging them out on a series of shirt pressing machines, creasing the sleeves, and stuffing them in a poly bag or machine folding them. At ordinary shirt laundries, a shirt is a shirt is a shirt.
It makes no difference whether your shirt was $25 or $250, $50 or $500. Whether it was made was made in China using the cheapest cotton fabric and cheapest labor available or whether crafted in Italy using the best Egyptian cotton woven in Switzerland. Whether it was off the rack, made to measure or bespoke. Whether it was acquired on sale or at full retail price. Whether it was purchased new or gently used.
If you have decided, for any reason, not use the services of a professional shirt laundry and and to take care of your fine shirts yourself – including the soaking, hand or machine washing, drying and hand ironing – this white paper is designed to provide you with some guidance.
There are, essentially, 3 schools of thought when it comes to shirt laundry at home:
This approach is based on the assumption that a wash is a wash is a wash.
The basic approach tells you to sort your shirts (and any other garments that require “washing”) into lights and darks. Load your garments into washer – top loading or front loading. Add some generic detergent. The more the merrier. Because more detergent will get clothes cleaner, right? Choose a wash cycle that’s warm to hot (lights) and cold (darks). Press the start button. Wait for completion of the wash cycle.
Upon completion, remove the shirts (and other garments) from the washer, untangle them and load into a dryer. Select a dry cycle that produces warm to hot air and press the start button. Wait for completion of the dry cycle. Remove, button the top button, and hang in the closet.
It’s uncomplicated. It’s fast. And it’s relatively cheap in terms of time and cost.
The rationale behind this approach is that your shirts may not look presentable when worn but, at least, you won’t be ostracized because your clothes smell.
This approach is based on the assumption that the basic approach is overly simplistic and destructive of garments.
The intermediate approach tells you to sort your shirts into lights and darks. Ignore all other garments that require washing (at least at this time) as those garments require a separate wash cycle. Spray your collars, collar bands, cuffs, underarms and any other stains with a liquid detergent and/or dishwashing liquid. Let the detergent and/or dishwashing liquid penetrate the fibers for about 10 minutes.
Next, load your shirts into your front loading washer (because top loading washing machines with agitators are way too aggressive). Choose a wash cycle that is warm (lights) and cold (darks). Press the start button. Wait for the washer to reach it’s required water level (if the washer does not have a detergent hopper and the washer does not automatically flush the detergent into the washer when the water level is reached). Add some branded detergent – not too much. Wait for completion of the wash cycle.
Upon completion of the wash cycle, remove the shirts from the washer, untangle them and either (a) hang dry to completion or (b) dry in a dryer on low heat until most of the dampness has dissipated and then hang dry to completion. Touch up with a hand iron, if and where necessary. Button the top button and hang in the closet.
Again, it’s uncomplicated. It’s fast. And it’s relatively cheap in terms of time and cost.
The rationale behind this approach is that you won’t win any “best dressed” awards but, at least, your shirts will be cleaner and will probably last longer. And your shirts will look a little more presentable when worn.
This approach is based on the assumption that
- your fine cotton shirts represent an investment,
- you want to extend the life of your shirts,
- you actually care about the process used to clean and dry them and the techniques used to press them, and
- you want to present a polished appearance in both your personal and professional life. The rest of this white paper will prescribe an advanced approach to cleaning, drying and hand ironing your fine, 100% cotton shirts at home.
The rest of this white paper will prescribe an advanced approach to cleaning, drying and hand ironing your fine, 100% cotton shirts at home.
DON’T WIPE OR RUB
Picture yourself in a restaurant, in the office, on a flight, or at a social event. And oh no! Something just spilt, splashed or splattered on your favorite shirt. Before you can say “Where’s the club soda,” everyone around you is volunteering an opinion on a quick-fix miracle cure.
Here’s a word of caution: Ignore the “advice” of those around you.
Family members, friends, business associates, restaurant and airline personnel probably know far less about stain removal than you do.
Although their “advice” may sound plausible because it often involves “stuff” you’ve heard about (ammonia, baby wipes, baking soda, club soda, coca cola, dishwashing liquid, hairspray, hand soap, hydrogen peroxide, hot or cold water, laundry detergent, lemon juice, lighter fluid, meat tenderizer, salt, sun, vinegar, WD-40, water or white wine), their “advice” is, in all probability, nothing more than a mixture of folklore, old wives tales, home remedies, and hazy memories about something they’d heard from someone a few years back.
So what do you do?
Gently blot the spill, splash or splatter with a white cotton napkin or towel. Never wipe. Never rub. Never scrub.
Let me repeat that: In the event of a stain mishap, never wipe. Never rub. Never scrub. Just gently blot the fabric with a clean towel to absorb as much of the spill, splash or splatter as possible. Then leave it alone until you’re back home.
And, even when you get home, you don’t have to immediately pre-treat and then launder the shirt. The notion that the stain will “set” unless you launder the shirt immediately or rush it to the dry cleaner is pure myth.
If you’re laundering your shirts on a twice weekly or weekly basis, you can wait. When it comes to time to launder the shirt, just follow the procedure identified in this White Paper.
ASSESS THE NEED FOR LAUNDERING
I’m frequently asked how often someone should wash their shirts. There is no “right” answer. The correct answer is that it all depends….. on the environment, the known stains, the individual’s biology, the individual’s personal hygiene practices, etc.
On the other hand, if you follow the guidelines prescribed in this White Paper, you should should be confident enough to launder your shirts after each wearing – with little or no impact on the longevity of your shirts. Then the question will be moot.
READ THE CARE LABELS
Every garment manufactured and/or sold in the USA is required by FTC regulation to have a care label. That label may state something like “wash only,” “dry clean only,” “machine wash, for best results dry clean,” “hand iron with cool iron”, etc. As a general rule, you should follow the care label instructions.
A word of caution is in order.
Just because a shirt has a care label identifying the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning instructions doesn’t mean that the care label is technically accurate and/or complete. Were I to examine 20 garments selected at random, I’d estimate that 20% of those garments will have a care label that’s technically inaccurate and/or incomplete to some degree or the other.
Nothing beats informed judgement.
And, yes, I know. You’ve been told or you’ve read that the recommendations on care labels can be ignored. That they are not there to protect your garments but to protect the manufacturer (i.e., we are not responsible for any manufacturing defects because the care label said “dry clean only” and you washed it).
And, besides, you’ve ignored the care labels in the past and none of your “dry clean only” garments have, in your professional opinion, suffered any adverse consequences. You’ve even taken dry clean only wool suits to self-styled “environmentally friendly” cleaners to be “wet cleaned.”
Continue to ignore the care labels on your garments. Clearly, there’s nothing I could say to convince you to to take a more informed approach. So I won’t even try.
UNBUTTON ALL THE BUTTONS
Unbutton all the buttons – collar, cuffs, front placket and sleeve placket.
If any buttons are loose or cracked, make a mental note to reinforce or replace them prior to hand ironing. Reinforcing or replacing a button prior to hand ironing will remove the necessity for subsequently touching up the shirt with a hand iron because you wrinkled the shirt while reinforcing or replacing buttons.
REMOVE ALL COLLAR STAYS
Washing your shirts with collar stays in place can accelerate the fraying of collar points.
Furthermore, they can dislodge from the collar stay pockets during the wash and, when you do find them, they’ll probably be bent or warped. Besides, you’ll have to remove them anyhow to avoid collar stay impressions when you hand iron the collars
TURN DOWN ALL FRENCH CUFFS
Turn down the french cuffs so that they are flat. Never wash a shirt with french cuffs with the cuff turned up as you will most definitely fray the two edges of the french cuff at the point where the french cuff turns up
BRUSH DEBRIS FROM BOTTOM OF POCKETS
“Stuff” accumulates in the breast pockets of your shirts.
Stuff such as lint; fragments of candy and gum; vitamin and other tablets that you forgot to take; loose tobacco particles; pieces of dried paper pulp that were previously post-it notes, to do lists, business cards and airline boarding passes; pens; hotel room access cards; medicinals such as lip balm; cosmetics such as lipstick; etc.
These items can create a nasty mess and permanently stain your shirts if they are not removed or brushed out prior to laundering.
So, remove the larger items. Then turn the pockets inside out and brush out all the debris that has accumulated in the seams along the bottom of your shirt pockets.
Practice safe pockets.
TURN YOUR SHIRTS INSIDE OUT
Turn all your shirts inside out. Coupled with washing your shirts in mesh bags (see below), turning your shirts inside out will protect your mother-of-pearl and other shell buttons from chipping and cracking.
PRE-TREAT COLLAR, COLLAR BAND, CUFFS AND UNDERARMS
Wet the collar, collar band, cuffs and underarms as thoroughly as possible using a spray bottle or water in a small plastic tub.
Scrub the collar, collar band, cuffs and underarms – gently – with a detergent or soap of your choice (note: throughout this White Paper I will use the term “detergent” to cover both detergents and soaps – powdered, liquids, solids, pods and pouches).
Use a nylon-bristled tooth brush or nail brush (or, better still, a softer horsehair brush) and gently work the detergent into the fabric in a circular motion until the detergent starts sudsing.
Take your time. Don’t compensate for a lack of time by applying greater pressure, particularly if your’e using a nylon-bristled toothbrush or nail brush. This can lead to unnecessary wear and tear.
There are many detergents available on the market. I don’t endorse any specific product. Were I to do so, there will always be someone who’ll say “Yeh, I tried that product a few years back and it doesn’t work as well as product X.”
Here’s the point: Everyone has their own favorite detergent that they believe works better than other similar products they’ve tried. And everyone has an opinion on the effectiveness of powders, liquids, solids, pods and pouches.
Unfortunately, the only way to actually prove these hypotheses is to conduct laboratory tests where all the variables (type of fabric, type of weave, type of soiling or staining, amount of soiling or staining, type of washer used, wash cycle used, water temperature, etc.) are strictly controlled.
That having been said, I do recommend the following:
- Use an unscented/unfragranced detergent
This is not to say that there are no fragrance-inducing ingredients in unscented/unfragranced detergents. It’s just that the fragrance has been masked by other chemicals designed to eliminate any smell.
- Use a branded detergent
Unknown or generic brand detergents are like Cracker Jack boxes. You really don’t know what you’re getting – detergent, phosphates, fragrance, optical brighteners, bleach, NPEs (nonylphenol ethoxylates), ETDAs (ethylene diamine tetraacetic acids), fillers, etc.
When it comes to branded detergents, by contrast, Consumer Reports has completed a number of tests on different detergents. So you can rest assured that branded products – even though they might contain a cauldron of identified and unidentified chemicals – actually work. Some better, some worse.
PRE-TREAT OTHER WATER- AND OIL-BASED STAINS
Check the rest of the shirts for oil- and water-based stains. Apply some detergent and gently work it into the area of the stain in a circular motion using a small brush.
RINSE COLLAR, COLLAR BAND, CUFFS, UNDERARMS & OTHER STAINED AREAS
Rinse the collar, cuffs, underarms and stained areas under running water.
If you still notice any soiling on the collar, collar band, cuffs, underarms and stained areas, repeat the procedure (wet, scrub, rinse) once or twice.
If the issue is oil-based stains on the collar, collar band, cuffs or the seam between the collar and the collar band, add a little dishwashing liquid to the detergent you use prior to working it in with a brush. Dishwashing liquid is, in essence, an emulsifier of oil.
Fill a plastic tub with cool to luke warm water, add a little detergent and stir. Once the detergent has fully dissolved, add your shirts to the solution.
You might want to consider 3 small tubs: one for light, one for intermediates (those that are too dark to go into the light tub and too light to go in the dark tub) and one for darks.
Irrespective of the color classification you use, make sure you don’t overload the tub(s). Those shirts should be able to freely move about the tub when you stir the water very gently with your hand. This will ensure that the detergent circulates easily and can penetrate the fibers.
You always want to make sure that the shirts are fully submerged in the water. Press the shirts into the water to eliminate any air pockets that might develop under your shirts. Unless you fully submerge the shirts, “detergent tide lines” could develop at the point where the shirt fabric protrudes above the water level.
Leave soaking for 6 to 8 hours.
So why soak?
Because soaking relaxes/opens up the fibers and releases soils and water-based stains, without resorting to any tumbling in a washer. Excessive tumbling is a major contributor to wear and tear.
To further reinforce this point, let’s revisit the principle behind the washing machine.
You put garments into a washer, add some detergent, and turn it on. You come back a half hour later and the job’s done. What happened while you were watching TV?
If you have a front loading washer, the drum rotated, lifted your clothes up and dropped them into the water below. Your garments get clean because that lift and drop action (called mechanical action) is knocking the dirt out of the fibers of your garments.
At the same time, the detergent’s suds are suspending the dirt released from your garments on the surface of the water so that your garments are not being continuously cleaned in it’s own dirt. The subsequent rinses remove the suspended dirt from the washer so that each subsequent rinse is cleaner and cleaner.
If you have a top loading washer, the central agitator rotates knocking the dirt out of the fibers of your garments. The agitator on some top loading washers rotate in one direction only; others rotate clockwise and then counterclockwise. Irrespective of the type of agitator, a top loading washer will produce greater wear and tear on your shirts than a front loading washer.
There are no prizes for any reader deducing that I’m a BIG proponent of soaking.
CLEAR THE WASHER
Make sure that you’ve removed all items that were in the washer during the previous load.
You don’t want to end up with white shirts that turned pink because you forgot to remove a red T-shirt from the washer after completing the previous load.
SORT AND BAG THE SHIRTS
Sort your shirts into light and darks. Depending on the quantity of shirts to be laundered, you might want to create 3 loads: lights, intermediate (those that are too dark to go into the light load and too light to go in the dark load) and darks.
Place 2 or 3 shirts into a large nylon mesh laundry bag (approx. 24” x 36” or 30” x 40”) with a zipper or an open top. If you’re using a mesh bag with an open top, you’ll need to close the bag with a metal laundry pin or rubber closure.
If your washer has a stainless steel or rubber drum, you can use either a nylon mesh bag with a zipper or an open top nylon mesh laundry bag with a metal laundry pin or rubber closure.
If your washer has a porcelain drum, do not use metal laundry pins as those pins can chip the porcelain and cause the underlying metal to rust (top loading washers with chipped porcelain drums can create rust spots on your garments, particularly when you fail to immediately remove your laundry from the washer upon completion of the wash).
So why use nylon mesh bags?
Because you want to minimize abrasion of the fabric, collar, collar bands and cuffs. And prevent tangling of the sleeves during the wash. Tangling of the sleeves is a far greater potential problem if you have a number of french cuff shirts in a load.
SELECT THE WASH CYCLE
Make a decision as to which wash cycle you’re going to use for each batch of shirts.
Here’s my recommendation:
- Intermediate Colors
- Dark colors
Notice that I do not recommend hot water….no matter how dirty your shirts might be.
Because hot water can cause the interfacing inside your collars and cuffs to shrink. And shrinking interfacings cause the outer fabric on collars and cuffs to pucker and difficult to iron smoothly.
Interfacing is the material that’s inside your collar and cuffs, sandwiched between the inside and outside fabric.
Most off-the-rack shirt manufacturers and made-to-measure shirt makers do not use pre-shrunk interfacings.
If you use hot water and the interfacing shrinks, your collars and cuffs shrink as the interfacing shrinks.
As a result, many MTM shirt makers “adjust” their actual body measurements to compensate for the expected shrinkage. Typically, they’ll adjust for overall shrinkage in general, and collar size, cuff size and sleeve length in particular.
Please understand that this adjustment is just a guesstimate.
Many MTM shirt makers recommend that you wash your new shirts 2 or 3 times in hot water to ensure that the sleeves, collars and cuffs shrink. The problem is that, after the hot water washes, your MTM shirt may end up too tight or too loose.
This advise is particularly debatable if the collars and cuffs of your MTM shirts are fused (i.e., the inside and outside fabric is permanently bonded to the interfacing).
To eliminate these problems…
- ask your shirt maker to always use interfacings that are pre-shrunk so that you achieve the right post-wash measurements from the outset, and
- stay away from shirts that have fused collars and cuffs.
DECIDE HOW MUCH DETERGENT TO USE
Make a decision how much detergent you’re going to use for each batch.
I’d suggest that you use a third to half the manufacturer’s recommended amount.
For 7 reasons…
- Because much of the stain removal has already been accomplished by gently scrubbing the collars, collar bands, cuffs and other stains and by soaking your shirts for 6 to 8 hours. In effect, you’ve already done much of the work required to clean your shirts. And you did all that with no tumbling in the washer. A real positive.
- When you soaked your shirts, you did so in water to which you added a little detergent. When you remove those shirts from the tub(s) and place them in the nylon mesh bags, some detergent already embedded in the fibers of your shirts will carry over into your wash.
- Adding more detergent to your wash will not necessarily guarantee a cleaner shirt. Adding 50% more detergent than the manufacturer recommended doesn’t translate into a 50% cleaner shirt.
- Using an excessive amount of detergent means that you’re going to have to add more rinses to the wash cycle to remove the excess detergent. And the more times you have to rinse, the more wear and tear on your shirts.
- Using an excessive amount of detergent means that you run the risk that any detergent residue left in your shirts could turn brownish or yellowish when you subsequently hand iron the shirt. And that means that you’re going to have to rewash those shirts to remove the excess detergent, adding to the wear and tear on your shirts.
- Today’s washing machines – particularly the front load washers – are far more efficient and effective than washers of the recent past. You simply don’t need to use as much detergent as your mother or grandmother once used.
- Detergent manufacturers are in the business of selling detergents. The more you use, the better their bottom line. Let the record reflect that that I’m not – in any way – implying that detergent manufacturers purposely recommend that you use more detergent than necessary! Just saying.
AVOID BLEACH, STARCH & FABRIC SOFTENER
I recommend that you avoid adding bleach, starch (liquid or powdered) or fabric softener to your wash.
At RAVE FabriCARE, we do use 3% sodium hypochlorite. But only to disinfect the toilets and wash basins in the restrooms!
They work by bonding to the fibers of your shirts like a “coat of paint.” Every time you wash your shirts, you add another “coat.” The starch builds up over time and, very soon, your shirts become stiff and uncomfortable. Then they start walking by themselves!
Here’s the problem: Unlike natural corn or wheat starch, these liquid synthetic starches do not dissolve easily in water. This means that your shirts do not collapse and become malleable when they come into contact with water in your washer.
Now you have relatively stiff shirts tumbling in your washer.
And the result?
Excessive wear and tear on the fibers of your shirts caused by those stiff shirts rubbing against one another.
When it comes to using starch of any kind – natural or synthetic – please remember that different cottons and cotton blends (if I just mentioned cotton blends, please forgive me!) absorb starches – natural or synthetic – differently. A light starch on one type and weave of cotton might might be completely inappropriate on another type and weave of cotton.
As a general rule, a thicker cotton will absorb more starch than a thinner cotton.
A light starch applied to a single ply oxford cloth shirt will feel heavier than a light starch applied to a Italian bespoke shirt constructed of Egyptian cotton loomed at reputable Swiss mill.
Common sense should prevail when one level of starch is applied across the board to all your cotton shirts. Yet another reason, in my mind, to forgo the use of starches.
- Fabric softeners
I must admit that I haven’t got a clue.
Maybe it’s to soften your shirts just a little bit so that they don’t dry too stiff while hang drying?
On the other hand, if you placed them in a dryer on air dry or gentle/delicate for a few minutes immediately after washing, they won’t hang dry too stiff and there’d be no reason to use a softener. And you won’t have to walk around with that I-work-the-night-shift-in-a-perfume-factory-smell that’s associated with most fabric softeners.
By the way, it’s a myth that fabric softener will soften shirts that have been ruthlessly over-starched using synthetic starches. If you’re skeptical about this statement, go ahead and try it. Let me know how many washes it took to return your shirts to that soft, original feel.
RUN THE WASHER
Again, make sure that you’ve removed all items that were in the washer during the previous load. You don’t want to end up with white shirts that turned pink because you forgot to remove a red T-shirt from the washer after completing the previous load.
Never overload your washer. All loose shirts and all net bags containing shirts must be able to tumble freely without rubbing against one another. Overloading has consequences: the wear and tear on your shirts will be excessive, the detergent will not adequately penetrate the fibers, and detergent residue will accumulate in the fibers of your shirts.
If your washer does not automatically flush the detergent when the water reaches level, wait for water level to be reached before adding your detergent.
NO HAND WASH?
You’re probably asking yourself why there’s been no discussion of hand washing. We’ll, that’s not an oversight.
I do think there’s a place for hand washing fine shirts at home but I don’t think it’s a practical idea, even for those of you who are fanatically dedicated to “doing the right thing.”
The home washers available today are quite sophisticated relative to the washers available just 5 years ago. It’s been my experience that most of your shirts can be machine washed on gentle/delicate with no adverse consequences – provided you follow the guidelines identified above.
On the other hand, there might be situations where hand washing is certainly appropriate. For example, if you own a fine ultra-thin cotton shirt, you should probably hand wash the shirt instead of machine washing it.
You also have to recognize that, in some cases, laundering or hand washing alone cannot produce the desired combination of cleanliness and softness.
Take Stefano Ricci, Battaglia and Bijan cotton shirts, for example. Given the texture of these cotton shirts, laundering alone will not and cannot produce a shirt that’s both spectacularly clean and soft as butter.
At RAVE FabriCARE, for example, we soak, hand wash, hang dry, dry clean and then hand iron every one of these shirts that pass through our facility. This process produces a shirt that’s both spectacularly clean and soft as butter.
After almost 30 years in this bussiness and having experimented with countless process and techniques, I’m not aware of anything you can do with laundering alone that could possibly produce this combination of cleanliness and softness. Even on white cotton shirts! If you know the secret to both ultra clean and ultra soft, please let me know.
Which is why internet “advice” such as the following makes my blood boil:
I’d bet that this “advice” is based solely on regurgitating something the authors had read elsewhere on the internet and supplemented by an imagination run wild.
And, even if this information had a shred of truth to it, you shouldn’t have to compromise your standards just because ordinary cleaners compromise theirs.
There are many factors that influence the launder versus dry clean decision.
The more you learn about this topic, the easier it’ll be to make an informed decision.
REMOVE SHIRTS FROM NET BAGS
After the wash cycle is complete, remove your shirts from the net bags and do a quick ex- amination. Hopefully, those shirts look pristine. If not, you might have to consider a “redo.”
HANG DRY OR MACHINE DRY?
You’ve read and heard the warnings: “Avoid the dryer. The dryer is something that’s going to destroy your high-end dress shirts.”
So what’s the basis for statements such as this?
I haven’t got a clue.
When it comes to drying your shirts, you have 4 choices:
- Option 1: Hang dry completely
- Option 2: Machine dry completely
- Option 3: Partially machine dry to about 80% dryness followed by a hang dry to complete dryness
- Option 4: Partially machine dry to about 80% dryness followed by a hand press to complete dryness.
Shirts that are hang dried completely (option 1) tend to dry stiffer. Shirts that are machine dried completely (option 2) and shirt that are partially machine dry followed by a hang dry to complete dryness (option 3) tend to come out of the dryer only slightly softer.
I recommend option 4: machine dry to about 80% dryness followed by a hand press to complete dryness.
Because shirts that are machine dried to about 80% dryness are much softer than shirts that are completely or partially hang dried. When you then hand press those shirts, the steam from the hand iron will soften the fabric even further.
- If you hang dry your shirts completely or partially
- If you dry your shirts in a dryer completely or partially
I’ll go out on a limb here: You need to hand iron your fine cotton shirts. Even if you wear a suit jacket or sport coat all day long (the notion that you don’t need to iron your shirts be- cause you never take off your jacket or coat defies credibility).
Even those formaldehyde-coated monstrosities euphemistically called “non-iron shirts” need to be hand ironed, in most cases.
Because you are judged – at least initially – by your appearance. A well-pressed shirt demonstrates that you have your act together, that you pay attention to details, that you respect those that you come into contact with. Shirts are typically lighter in color than other garments you wear and are in the line of sight. So they tend to be noticed more often and and scrutinized more closely than other garments.
Shirts that aren’t hand ironed reflect poorly on you – in your business life and in your personal life.
Even if you use a shirt laundry to “wash and press” your shirts, you still need to be able to iron a shirt in an emergency situation.
Before we start discussing how to hand press a shirt, let me state, in clear terms, that it’s not possible to press a garment using a steamer. You can steam a garment to remove some wrinkling but the notion that you can “press” a garment with a steamer is utter nonsense.
If you’re lucky enough to own a European or Japanese ironing board with an attached sleeve board and a built in vacuum (around $750 to $3,000 depending on the model), you are indeed fortunate. Your ability to produce a well-ironed shirt in far less time just increased by a factor of at least ten.
If you don’t have a European or Japanese ironing board with an attached sleeve board and a built in vacuum, it’s important to understand the obstacles you face when hand ironing a shirt at home. By understanding these obstacles, you’ll be better able to develop mechanisms to work around those obstacles.
UNDERSTAND THE OBSTACLES
- The 5 elements
- Relaxing with steam and extracting with vacuum
Proper pressing involves relaxing the fibers with steam from a hand iron and, as you gently hand iron, extracting all the moisture from the fabric with a vacuum (suction). This process – simultaneously applying steam and vacuum while hand ironing your shirt – creates that soft, smooth, even look associated with a perfect hand ironed shirt.
Again you’re limited in that you don’t have a vacuum in your ironing board or specialized contoured equipment.
- Shapes and curves
Shirts are not flat. They are comprised of many shapes and curves. Your pressing surface (an ironing board or ironing table) is flat. Trying to press shapes and curves on a flat surface with a professional steam/electric hand iron but without specialized, contoured equipment is difficult.
ASSEMBLE THE RIGHT TOOLS
In order to overcome the obstacles to properly hand ironing your shirts, you need the right tools:
- Padded ironing board (or ironing table)
- Clean, washable, temperature-resistant ironing board cover (fits over the ironing board or table)
- Padded sleeve board
- Clean, washable, temperature-resistant sleeve board cover (fits over the sleeve board)Steam-electric iron with a heavy duty sole plate and adjustable temperature settings
- Teflon grid plate to attach to the metal sole plate
- Mister bottle or other misting device
- Can of spray starch (light, not heavy; unscented, not fragranced)
- Spare set of ironing board and sleeve board covers (in the event you forget to wash your covers on a regular basis).
HAND PRESS YOUR SHIRTS
Now that you have assembled the necessary tools, you’re ready to hand press your shirts.
It’s important to recognize that the following instructions are only intended to be a guide. These are no “gold standard” instructions that must be rigorously followed in order to produce a “perfect” shirt. So use these instructions as a starting point.
Then develop your own technique as you move from practice to perfect.
For the sake of discussion, I’ll assume that you’re starting with a damp shirt. In the event the shirt is fully dry, you need to mist the entire shirt down with your misting device or mist each section of the shirt as you move from section to section.
- Care labels
Double check your care labels.
So adjust your temperature settings accordingly.
It’s best to do this before you start ironing. This way you don’t have to repress or “touch up” the shirt in those areas that were creased by your subsequent handling of the shirt.
Turn the collar onto the reverse side and lay it flat on your ironing board or table.
Spray the collar with a little spray starch (light, not heavy; unscented) if you want to add a little “body.’’
Iron the collar from the two ends towards the center of the collar and from the outer edge towards the seam between the collar and the collar band.
As you will be using a firm, consistent pressure, make sure that you do not “scuff” the collar points with the holes in the sole plate.
Turn the collar over and, again, iron the collar from from the two ends towards the center of the collar and from the outer edge towards the seam between the collar and the collar band.
- Collar band
Turn the shirt over and repeat on the outside of the collar band. When you are ironing the outside of the collar band, use the point of the iron to iron around the top button(s).
Fold the collar down and, using your hand iron, apply some pressure at the seam where the collar band meets the collar. The technical term for turning down the collar is “breaking the collar.
Turn the cuff onto the reverse side.
Spray the cuff with a little spray starch (light, not heavy; unscented) if you want to add a little “body.’’
Iron the cuff from the two ends towards the center of the cuff and from the outer edge towards the seam between the cuff and the sleeve.
As you will be using some firm, consistent pressure, make sure that you do not “scuff” the cuff points with the holes in the sole plate. The same principle applies whether the cuff is a barrel cuff or a french cuff.
Turn the cuff over and, again, iron from from the two ends towards the center of the cuff and from the outer edge towards the seam between the cuff and the sleeve.
Leave all french cuffs flat. Do not iron a crease in the french cuff. French cuffs should be rolled when worn, never creased.
- Yolk (upper rear shoulder area)
Iron the yoke of the shirt, starting from the center and moving towards the sleeves.
Iron any pleats just below the yolk. Make sure the fold under the pleat is carefully “smoothed out” before you hand iron those pleats. Otherwise those pleats will exhibit seam impressions.
Iron any darts that might have been placed in the back of your shirt to achieve a slimmer fit.
Before you hand iron those darts, turn the shirt over to ensure that the “excess fabric” created by those darts fall in one direction only. It’s sometimes best to first hand iron those darts on the inside to ensure that the “excess fabric” caused by the dart is unwrinkled and that the “excess fabric” points outwards toward the side seams.
- Front placket (button strip)
Iron the front placket using a little pressure.
Use a little spray starch (light, not heavy; Unscented, not fragranced) if you want to add a little “body” to the placket.
Again, using some pressure, use the point of the iron to iron around the buttons. At this point, the ironing of the front placket does not have to be perfect as you’ll be coming back to “touch up” the placket after the shirt has been hand ironed.
- Sleeve placket
Iron the sleeve placket.
When you are ironing the sleeve placket, use the point of the iron to iron around the sleeve placket button, if any.
Roll the cuff over the end of the sleeve board and iron the area where the sleeves join the cuffs.
If there are pleats in the area where the sleeve joins the cuffs, carefully iron those pleats.
Iron the sleeve using the sleeve board, rolling the fabric as you iron and moving slowly towards the cuff.
Repeat on the second sleeve.
- Front placket (button strip)
Re-iron the front placket using a little pressure.
Use a little spray starch (light, not heavy; unscented, not fragranced) if you want to add a little “body’’ to the placket. Again, using some pressure, use the point of the iron to iron around the buttons.
Voila, you’re done. You’ve proved, once again, that if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. Now sit back, pour yourself a glass of wine and admire your work.
As I previously mentioned, these hand ironing instructions are not rigid. Adapt them to your needs and develop a hand ironing technique that works for you.
I’d encourage you to explore other detailed presentations of hand ironing procedures.
For an overview, I’d suggest you start by reading a blog post from Put This On entitled Ten Tips For Ironing Shirts.
Then read the more detailed, step-by-step hand ironing procedure advocated by Alexander Kabbaz, a world-renouned bespoke shirt maker.
ENSURE COMPLETE DRYNESS
Hang your shirts for an hour or so outside of your closet (not in a bathroom) to ensure that the shirt is completely dry and that all moisture imparted by your hand iron has completely evaporated. This is particularly important if you’re going to be temporarily storing those shirts in dry cleaner’s poly bags. The poly bags will trap any moisture. Moisture will, in turn, induce unnecessary wrinkling and undo all your hand work
BUTTON 3 TOP & ! LOWER BUTTON
Button the top three buttons of each shirt and one more button half way down between the third button and the hem.
LEAVE FRENCH CUFFS FLAT
Store the french cuffs flat.
USE PROPER HANGERS
Use a hanger that has a contoured neck and some build up in the shoulder area. This will maintain the drape of the shirt and the roundness of the collar.
Form some tissue paper into a round, 1” to 2” thick, frisbee-like disk and insert the tissue disk into the collar opening.
This will further maintain the drape of the shirt and the roundness of the collar. Retain your disks for future use.
Avoid straight/thin metal and wood hangers and wishbone-shaped/thin metal and wood hangers.
Store two shirts back-to-back, followed by another two shirts back-to-back.
This will protect the collars from being crushed. Think about that. You’ve spent so much time hand ironing your shirts and forming the perfect rounded collar only to stuff them into an already-overcrowded closet.
I understand that hangers with a contoured neck and some build up in the shoulder area will occupy more space than you might have available. If so, empty your closet of those garments you haven’t worn in the past year and probably never will. You know, the green and yellow plaid suit you purchased on sale 20 years ago and that gaudy, floral Hawaiian shirts passed down to you by your brother-in-law 5 years ago. You’ll be amazed how much “new” space you’ll create.
As regards wire hangers, I like Put This On’s take on storing shirts on wire hangers: “Don’t use wire. You’re not an animal.”
If you prefer to fold your shirts because of space limitations or because you travel frequently, you should read RAVE FabriCARE’s Position Paper titled “Why your folded shirts look like a rumpled mess when returned by your dry cleaner”.
USE SHIRT PROTECTORS
Now that you’ve laundered and hand ironed your shirts and hung them on contoured hangers, you might want to consider covering them while they’re stored in your closet.
When it comes to storage, it’s important to differentiate between those shirts you wear on a regular basis and those worn on an irregular basis.
For shirts that you wear regularly, I see no reason to use any type of cover. If you have your shirts “professionally laundered,” you can leave your shirts in those dry cleaner poly bags.
The poly bags will not only protect your shirts from dust but will “cushion” the shirts in your closet and help to preserve the “pressing.”
On the other hand, if your shirt laundry returns multiple shirts in a single bag (pardon me while I throw up), I’d suggest that you remove the poly bag and hang your shirts in individual bags.
For those shirts that you wear on an irregular basis or only a few times a year (e.g., a tuxedo shirt), I’d suggest that you remove the poly bags and replace them with a cotton dust cover or a 42 inch breathable storage bag made of chemically inert, man-made fibers.
Why remove the poly bags?
Because plastics such as poly have a chemically unstable molecular structure that will break down over time and off-gas acids. These acids will, in turn, transfer or migrate onto your shirts and turn your shirts, particularly your white shirts, yellow over time.
ROTATE YOUR SHIRTS
If you care for your shirts at home, I’d recommend that you have at least 14 “current” shirts in your wardrobe – 7 in the closet and 7 in the laundry hamper. I call this the rule of 14.
If you use a “professional shirt laundry,” I’d suggest that you have at least 21 “current” shirts in your wardrobe – 7 in the closet, 7 at the shirt laundry and 7 in the hamper waiting to go to the shirt laundry.
I call this the rule of 21. This gives the shirt laundry the time to treat your shirts with appropriate care. Unfortunately, this may just be wishful thinking: if you give them a week to “do the job right,” they’ll still, in all probability, have your shirts “ready” in one or two days.
Bottom line on shirt rotation: Whether you care for them at home or entrust them to a “professional shirt laundry,” the more shirts you have in rotation, the less the wear and tear on your shirts and the longer they’ll last.
CULL YOUR CLOSET
No matter how well you take care of your shirts, shirts have a finite life. Eventually, you’ll have to replace them.
This would seem to be self evident to most. But it’s not.
Every shirt laundry has clients who believe that shirts are a one time investment: buy 10 shirts, wear them out over a period of a few years and, when they come to the end of their life, take them back to the shirt laundry and demand brand new replacements on the basis that “you guys damaged my shirts.”
And every shirt laundry has clients who set up pick up and delivery service with the shirt laundry when they recognize that their shirts are either worn out or are about to wear out and then demand brand new replacement shirts on the basis that “you picked up my shirts and didn’t return them” (when, in fact, the client didn’t even put them out for pickup!).
Instead, I’d suggest that you periodically examine all your shirts for fraying collars, cuffs and front plackets, thinning elbow fabric, color fading, and the like.
You’ve taken good care of your shirts, you’ve enjoyed wearing them and you’ve received the compliments. At some point, it’s time to cull the herd and treat yourself to some replacement shirts!
You want to project a professional, well-dressed, well-groomed image. So you’ve invested in a well- curated wardrobe. And you pay particular attention to your shirts – because a shirt is the first thing people notice.
Remember that a well laundered, bright, perfectly hand ironed $50 off-the-rack cotton shirt will always look better than a poorly laundered, dingy, steamed out or hung dried $500 made-to- measure or bespoke shirt. In much the same way that a gently dry cleaned, perfectly hand ironed $300 suit will always look better than a $3000 poorly dry cleaned, dull looking, machine pressed or steamed out suit.
On the other hand, if you have elected to entrust your shirts to a professional shirt laundry and are looking for some guidance as to how to choose a shirt laundry that will deliver a true quality laundered shirt, my ebook, Professional Shirt Laundry – An Insider’s Guide To Caring For Your Fine Cotton Shirts, is designed to provide you with some guidance.
It’s available as a free download, without email registration.
- The shocking world of ordinary dry cleaning and shirt laundry.
- Shirts and blouses: Dry clean or launder?
- Stain mishaps: 5 do’s and (mostly) don’ts
- Steaming your fine garments: Steam is evil (when indiscriminately applied)
- Your shirt laundry bill of rights: Exercise those rights!
- Why would you pay $8 to $10 for a $2 to $3 laundered shirt?
- Why your lightly starched shirts feel stiff when returned by your dry cleaner
- Who gave you permission to crease the sleeves of my laundered shirts?
- Why your folded shirts look like a rumpled mess when returned by your dry cleaner
- Are you re-ironing your “professionally laundered and pressed” shirts at home?
Photo credit: unsplash.com/Andy Fitzsimon
Share this White Paper:
Comment on this White Paper:
Sign up to receive our White Papers:
Did you find this White Paper informative? Subscribe today to receive our white papers delivered straight to your inbox. We'll never share your email. No spam. Unsubscribe whenever you want.
Sign up to receive our quarterly newsletter:
Get tips, ideas and information you can use. Subscribe today to receive our quarterly newsletter, the RAVEreview® delivered straight to your inbox. We'll never share your email. No spam. Unsubscribe whenever you want.
Looking for more great resources?
Check out our Resource Library for over 60 expert Ebooks, Position Papers (short discussions) and White Papers (longer in-depth discussions) spanning all aspects of caring for your fine garments, household textiles and accessories.