How To Care For A Dress Shirt

Whether your professional life depends on crisp, clean men’s dress shirts, or you consider being well dressed part and parcel of good deportment in general, this guide is for you. Send them out or do them yourself, but rest assured the path to a refined appearance is as smooth as a freshly pressed Oxford.

How To Wash A Dress Shirt

Laundering is the simplest part of dress shirt care and maintenance:

  1. Wash dark and light colors separately; be sure to remove collar stays first if your shirts have them. Select the highest heat setting the fabric will take, warmer for light colors and cooler for darks. Add measured detergent (usually about a cup per load, but follow the soap manufacturer’s recommendations), toss in your shirts, and start the machine. Note: Using high quality soap is imperative; cheap soap does not clean as well and ultimately provides little or no cost savings.
  2. At the end of the wash cycle remove your dress shirts and gently shake them out; transfer them to the dryer and tumble on medium or high heat. Importantly, dry them for only a few minutes—just long enough to heat the fabric, but not so long that the wrinkles begin to set. Remove each shirt while it is still steaming and warm and place it on a plastic hanger to finish drying. You may be surprised how well the wrinkles release, even in an all-cotton shirt.
  3. Purists insist a tailored men’s dress shirt should only be washed by hand, and only in lukewarm water. Hand washing is a time-consuming undertaking. Most machines have a hand wash cycle nearly as gentle as actual hand washing, a reasonable option if you prefer this method. You can also place each shirt into a zippered mesh bag specially made for delicate laundry to reduce the gradual wear and tear that results from machine agitating.

Should I Wash My Dress Shirts Or Dry Clean Them?

You may opt for professional cleaning if your budget allows. But be advised that dry cleaning is hard on your shirts and your wallet. While any method of cleaning a shirt contributes to its gradual decline, the chemical solvents used in dry cleaning accelerate the process. If you prefer to send them out, ask the cleaners to launder your dress shirts instead.

How Often To Wash A Men's Dress Shirt

Laundering frequency is a matter of personal preference. Some men can wear a dress shirt as many as three times before laundering it, but be aware that others may notice odors before you do. Should you elect to wear your shirt a second or third time you’ll need to touch it up with an iron before you wear it, or risk appearing rumpled.

How To Remove Common Stains From A Dress Shirt

Stains come with normal wear and tend to occur in three places:

  1. The collar. Your skin secretes oil and deposits it on the shirt’s fabric, leaving a dingy film or “ring” around the collar.
  2. The cuffs. Your hands do something similar at the cuffs, which also pick up environmental dirt throughout the day.
  3. The armpits. Stains result from perspiration combined with the aluminum found in most antiperspirants; some detergents react with it and can worsen the stains. There are products on the market to address armpit stains in particular, and wearing an aluminum-free deodorant will help stop them in their tracks.

Once the shirt’s material is stained, pre-treating it with an oxygen-based spot remover (or even a bit of the undiluted detergent itself) may be necessary, as follows:

  1. Apply the treatment directly to the stained area, give it a rub or even a gentle scrub with a brush, and then be patient. The key to success is waiting a few hours or overnight to wash the shirt after treating it.
  2. If you use an oxygen-based cleaner, treat the stains and soak the shirt in a water-filled basin or tub before washing. Be sure to test dark or brightly colored dress shirts first for colorfastness.
  3. White shirts will often stand up to bleach added at the beginning of a warm- or hot-water wash cycle. Be sure to place only whites into the load, and be advised that bleach, while effective for many types of stains, can worsen armpit stains. But it is an efficient cleaner for most sturdy, all-white clothing.
  4. There are also spot-removing pens and wipes made to go with you and treat mishaps the moment they occur. A stain pen is an ideal solution for the blob of soup that landed on your shirt’s breast pocket during your business lunch. But it should serve only as a temporary measure until you can wash the shirt in earnest.

How To Iron A Dress Shirt

Wrinkle-free technology has come a long way in recent years, and it is possible your wrinkle-free dress shirts may need no further attention once they’re dry. Your cotton and linen shirts will ask to be ironed. As is the case with laundering and dry cleaning, ironing deteriorates textiles over time. Starch also eventually weakens and fades fabric; instead use a water-filled squirt bottle to spritz wrinkles before passing over them with the iron. Alternately, press your shirt while it’s still slightly damp.

Set your iron to the lowest heat setting that is effective on your dress shirt’s wrinkles, and press a section at a time in the following order:

  1. Press both sides of the collar,
  2. the yoke (the upper part of the shirt’s back),
  3. both sides of each sleeve,
  4. the cuffs,
  5. and finally the front and back panels of the shirt.
  6. Iron the placket last, taking care not to iron directly over the buttons, but around them—using small strokes, aim the narrow tip of the iron towards each button.

Be advised that ironing over a stain will make it difficult or impossible to remove later.

If you use a professional laundry service, ask to have your shirts hand pressed instead of machine pressed to prolong their life. Then transfer your crisp, fresh dress shirts to wood hangers; wire will stretch the shirt’s fabric over time. A cedar hanger will also act as a moth deterrent, and it has a fresh, pleasant smell.

Wear And Tear: Replace Your Dress Shirts

Eventually your dress shirts will wear out. Recognize when they’re terminal: whites turn to grey, stains dig in their heels, cuffs and collars begin to fray, and threads to separate. Bid them farewell and enjoy shopping for new shirts when it’s time.

Button up your shirts’ care and maintenance: a high-quality men’s dress shirt will enjoy several years of wear on your watch when you practice good shirt stewardship.

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