How to Wash Dress Shirts

Wash Dress Shirt

Have you ever wondered how to wash a dress shirt? Many people think the only option is to take their dirty shirts to the dry cleaner, but you might be suprised to learn that it's actually not difficult to wash them yourself. You'll not only save money, but you'll also extend the life of your shirts.

When you need to look your best you wear your best clothes . . . and looking your best means buying quality clothes and keeping them in peak condition. When it comes to washing your dress shirts you have 3 options. We'll cover each option and give you the pro's and con's to help you make the best decision for your lifestyle.

Dress Shirt Washing Options

Option 1: Wash at Home

Washing your dress shirt at home is not only the least expensive option, but you'll also have more control over the entire process. However, expect to spend more time and effort. For best results, follow these steps:

Prepare

  • Don't Delay: Always wash dress shirts as soon as possible, especially white ones. If a dirty shirt is left too long before it's washed, sweat and oils will have time to set into the fabric, which can create a yellow tint.
  • ​​​​Buttons: Unbutton all buttons, including the front, cuff and collar buttons.
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    Pre-Treat: Use a quality stain remover spray. Pay particular attention to cuffs and collars because stains are common in these areas due to sweat and body oils.
  • Collar Stays: If your shirt's collar stays are not sewn in, they should be removed before washing and returned after ironing. Collar stays that are sewn in are usually designed to be washed. 
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Wash

  • Delicate Cycle: Use the delicate cycle to minimize wear-and-tear. If the shirt is especially dirty or made of heavy fabric you can use the normal cycle. 
  • Cold Water: Although, you might be tempted to wash light-colored or white shirts in hot water, we recommend using cold. Cold water prevents shrinking in the placket stitching preventing a "puckered look". The placket is the area where the buttons and buttonholes are located. 
  • Detergent: A quality detergent should be used. Never use a chlorine based cleaner or detergent. 
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    Spin Cycle: Allow the spin cycle to remove the majority of the water from the dress shirt. Remove the garment once the spin cycle finishes to prevent unnecessary wrinkling. Grasp the shirt by the shoulders and "snap it" in a downward motion to help remove the crumpled wrinkles and return it to it's "shirt shape". Never allow the shirt to sit. Immediately begin drying when the spin cycle finishes.  

Dry

  • Spin Cycle: Once the spin cycle finishes and you've "snapped" your shirt back to life, either immediately press it or transfer it to a hanger. Although, you can technically dry a dress shirt in a dryer, it's best not to. Your shirt will not only look better when you skip the dryer, it will also last longer. 
  • Air Dry:  If you opt to air dry your shirt, hang it on a wooden hanger. Never use a wire hanger, as they can rust and stain the garment's fabric; plus, they're simply too thin for a damp shirt. In a pinch, plastic hangers can be used, but wood is always your best choice.  Ironing isn't always necessary if the shirt was air dried, many shirts are designed not to be ironed and look fine. However, if you're seeking a crisp, sharp look, begin ironing before your shirt is completely dry.
  • Iron: Ironing your dress shirt can be done immediately after the spin cycle or after air drying. However, you'll generally have the best results when you iron directly from the washer. When a hot iron is pressed against damp fabric, the shirt is steam dried and it'll look like you just picked it up from the cleaners!
  • Starch: Using starch is a personal choice and there's trade-offs each way. On one hand, using starch will create pre-mature wear on your dress shirt because the starch will embed into the fibers of the fabric. On the other, the sharp look of a freshly starched shirt is hard to beat. Some shirts, such as oxford and broadcloth, have a crisper look when starch is used. 

Pro's

Con's

  • Inexpensive 
  • More control over stains
  • More control over pressing
  • Takes more time and effort
  • Timing is important to prevent wrinkling. 

Pressed Dress Shirts

Option 2: Wash & Press at the Dry Cleaners

This may sound confusing, but unless you specifically ask to have your dress shirts "dry cleaned" they'll be automatically cleaned much like what you would do at home. This service is called "wash and press" and it's a completely different process than dry cleaning. 

Even though you can replicate the wash and press process at home, it's extremely convenient to send your dirty shirts out and have them returned crisp, clean and pressed. Many people prefer this method because it's relatively inexpensive (usually only a couple of dollars per shirt), and the only work you'll need to do is take a trip to the dry cleaners!

What happens when you drop off your dress shirt:

  • Your shirt is washed in a washing machine with water and detergent.
  • The shirt is then placed directly from the washer onto an industrial shirt press. Since the fabric is still damp, it'll be steam dried while it's being pressed. 

Best bets to get your shirts looking great at the cleaners:

  • Point​ out stains to your dry cleaner when you drop off the garment. As a general rule, you're more likely to catch a spot than they are. 
  • If your dress shirt has removable collar stays, we highly recommend removing them before sending it to the dry cleaner, as they can easily be lost.

Pro's

Con's

  • Reasonable pricing
  • No work on your part other than dropping and picking up
  • Buttons can chip or shatter
  • If not correctly done, the shirt can stretch out of shape

Dry Clean a Dress Shirt

Option 3: Dry Clean

Having your dress shirts dry cleaned is by far the most expensive method, and in most cases, it's unnecessary. It's also not as effective at removing water-soluble stains, because the cleaning solvents used are not water-based. So sweat stains and other water-soluble stains are not flushed out. However, if you have an oil-based stain, dry cleaning will likely give you the best chance at removing the stain. 

What happens when you leave your shirt at the dry cleaner:

  • The shirt its tagged to be dry cleaned. Don't be surprised if it's sent to another location, as actual dry cleaning is frequently contracted out. If this is the case, same day service is nearly impossible and if they lose your shirt, well let's just say finding it may be a challenge.
  • Stains are pre-treated.
  • Your shirt will be placed into a basket which will rotate in perchlorethylene or DF2000 within a large machine.
  • The "perc", as it's known in the industry, attaches to dirt and oils, and centrifugal force is used to "pull it" from the fabric. As "perc" is extracted, the dirt and oil stains are also removed. 
  • The garment will then be inspected. Any remaining stains will be treated if necessary.
  • Your dress shirt is then pressed and prepared for pick-up. 

Did You Know?

  • Many garments labeled as "dry clean only" can be either hand washed or machine washed at home. However, if the fabric is made from rayon, silk, or viscose you should send it to the cleaner. 
  • lightbulb-o
    Excessive dry cleaning will cause your shirts to deteriorate.
  • lightbulb-o
    Perchlorethylene can be harmful after repeated and prolonged exposure, yet 85% of dry cleaners use this chemical.

Pro's

Con's

  • Convenience
  • Best for oil-based stains
  • Expensive
  • Less effective with water-soluble stains

How to Handle Tough Stains

Many stains, such as red wine or tomato sauce, can easily ruin your clothing, and the faster you react, the better chance you'll have of saving your quality shirt. Although all stains should be pre-treated prior to washing, these tougher stubborn stains should be acted on as soon as possible. Here's what to do:

  • If you've dropped pizza or spaghetti sauce on your shirt, try to remove as much as possible without rubbing the sauce further into the fabric. An effective method is to curl a piece of paper and scoop it off.
  • Begin flushing the stain in water as soon as possible. 
  • Then work a stain remover solvent onto the stain. Take care not to force the stain further into the fabric.  Lemon juice, vinegar or even dishwashing detergent can also help in a pinch.
  • Next rinse with water and repeat.
  • Remember, time is NOT your friend. The faster you react, the better chance you'll have at removing the stain. 

How Often Should I Wash my Dress Shirt?

This can be a bit of a balancing act as clothes have a limited number of washings before they lose the snappy-new look that we crave . . . especially in our dress shirts. As a general rule, shirts tend to show more dirt and stains around the cuff and collar since these areas are in direct contact with body oils and other foreign stains. Underarm stains are also common, especially in white shirts.

As a general rule of thumb, you should wash your dress shirt after every wear if you don't wear an undershirt. With an undershirt, you may be able to stretch it to two wears, and in some cases, especially if you only wear your dress shirts for short periods of time, (and with proper in-between care), you may be able to stretch the wash times to the "only when dirty" philosophy.

Why Wear an Undershirt?

  • Wearing an undershirt helps protect your more expensive dress shirt.
  • Can extend the dress shirt's duration between washings.
  • Prevents sweat stains to your dress shirt as the sweat is absorbed in the undershirt material.
  • White shirts in particular are prone to yellow underarm stains.
  • Deodorant, and any staining from deodorant, will be absorbed in the undershirt. 

Although any undershirt will help protect your dress shirt, we particularly like The Thompson Tee as it provides additional sweat protection and comes in many different styles. In addition, they offer a 30-day guarantee . . . . even if you wear and wash the shirts!

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Last update on 2018-07-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API