If you like your shirts to look and feel crisp, then you probably rely on a dry cleaner or professional laundry service to handle their care. But you can capture the same sharp and professional-looking results at home. By following these tips, you'll save time and money by making fewer trips to the cleaners.
One of the keys to successfully getting a shirt to look and feel crisp is ensuring the item is made of the right type of fabric. The shirt must be made of a woven fabric. You cannot achieve a crisp finish with a knit fabric. Shirts made of natural fibers like cotton or linen will hold the starch and crispness much better than a fabric made from a blend of natural and synthetic fibers (e.g., a cotton-poly blend) or a 100% percent synthetic fabric. If the shirt is labeled dry clean only, it'll be difficult to achieve the desired result at home.
How Often to Starch a Shirt
The fibers of continually, heavily starched shirts may begin to deteriorate or fray. This will especially affect the collars and cuffs. If you want to frequently and heavily starch a shirt, consider soaking and washing it to remove the layers of built-up starch before another round of starching. This may prolong the life of the shirt.
Equipment / Tools
- Large sink or tub
- Ironing board with heat-reflective cover
- Spray bottle
- Clothes hanger
- Spray or liquid starch
- Laundry sizing (optional)
Select a Starch
A commercial aerosol spray-on starch, a liquid starch, a powdered starch, or a homemade starch solution can be used to coat the shirt. For straight-from-the-cleaner crispness, you need to use a liquid starch because the entire shirt needs to be dipped in it and dried.
Starch and laundry sizing are two different products. Starch stiffens, but sizing (found near spray starch in the store) adds a bit of body to the fabric. Sizing, which is lightly sprayed onto portions of the shirt during ironing, works well on synthetic finishes because it adds soil resistance and smooths wrinkles.
Mix the Starch Solution
Fill a large plastic storage container or laundry room sink with 3 gallons water and 2 cups liquid starch.
Dip the Shirt in the Solution
Submerge and saturate the shirt in the water-starch mixture.
Wring and Hang
Once the shirt is completely wet, wring it out, and hang to partially dry. Don't allow the shirt to dry completely. It should be ironed while it's still slightly damp but not damp enough to clog the iron. However, if you can't iron right away, you can lightly mist a dry shirt with water (and/or sizing) before ironing.
Set up the Ironing Board
A sturdy ironing board with a heat-reflective cover is essential to achieving a crisp shirt with starch. The contoured shape of the board will help you prevent unwanted creases. You'll also need the stiffness of the board (as opposed to ironing on a bed) to provide the support the fabric needs.
Select an Ironing Temperature
Since the shirt will be cotton or linen, use the highest heat recommended (400 degrees) for those fibers. Don't use the steam setting. For the best, crispest results, you need an iron with a clean non-stick soleplate and adjustable temperature. It doesn't need to be a steam iron because steam doesn't equal crispness. Thus, using a clothes steamer won't help.
Iron the Collar First
Heavily starched shirts are ironed the same way as any shirt. Start with the collar, and be sure to iron both sides with the collar flat on the ironing board. Next, move to the shoulder area, or yoke, and place it on the narrow end of the ironing board. Iron from one shoulder, across the back of the yoke, to the other shoulder in long, even strokes.
Iron the Sleeves
Move to the sleeves by laying one sleeve flat and extended on the ironing board. Hold the cuff in one hand to make the fabric taut. Iron from the armpit across the bottom seam down to the cuff. Then, iron a straight crease into the top of the sleeve from the shoulder down to the cuff. Next, iron the cuff. Iron the other sleeve the same way.
Iron the Body of the Shirt
Iron the body of the shirt, last taking care not to wrinkle the areas you've already finished. Remember to iron both sides of the button placket (the vertical strip of button holes and buttons).
Address Scorching Immediately
Starch-dipped shirts tend to scorch more quickly if the iron is left in one spot for too long. It's usually easy to remove light scorching, and an attempt should be made to remove even darker marks.
Hang the Shirt to Cool and Dry
When you're finished, hang your crisp shirt on a hanger to dry completely before wearing. A damp shirt will wrinkle more easily.
After putting in all the effort to get a perfectly starched shirt, be sure it's completely dry before hanging in the closet. Give the shirt plenty of room and air circulation to prevent wrinkling so it's ready for your next occasion. If you plan to store shirts away during the off-season, don't starch them first. Starch is food for several types of insects. First, wash the shirts to remove body soil, and then starch and store in plastic bins or hanging fabric bags.
Tips for Starching Shirts Like a Pro
- Always start the process with a freshly washed, stain-free shirt.
- Avoid starching wool, wool blends, silks, and other delicate fabrics.
- Avoid spray starch because it can flake off the shirt.
- Always wash your hands while starching because you don't want to get oils on the shirt.
Professional Wet Cleaning Guidebook. UCLA Sustainable Technology & Policy Program