How to Starch Shirts Like the Laundry at Home

Starched Shirt
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If you like crisp shirts, then you probably rely on a professional laundry service to handle their care. But believe it or not, you can capture the sharp and professional look of a "stiff as a board" fabric at home–there are just a few things that you should know. By following these tips, you'll save time and money by making less trips to the cleaners.

Start With the Right Fabric

One of the keys to crisp shirt success is selecting the right type of shirt. The shirt must be made of a woven fabric. You cannot achieve a crisp shirt with a knit fabric.

Shirts made of natural fibers like cotton or linen will hold the starch and their crispness much better than a fabric made from a blend of natural and synthetic (cotton/polyester) fibers or a hundred percent synthetic fabric. If the shirt is labeled dry clean only, you will not be able to successfully apply the amount of starch needed to achieve crispness.

Gather the Best Supplies

  1. Iron: For the best and crispest results, you need an iron with a clean non-stick soleplate and adjustable temperature. It does not need to be a steam iron. Steam does not equal crispness; so, obviously, using a clothes steamer is out.
  2. Ironing Board:A sturdy ironing board with a heat reflective ironing board cover is essential to crisp shirt. The contoured shape of the board will help you prevent unwanted creases. You will also need the stiffness of the board (as opposed to ironing on a bed) to provide the support the fabric needs.
  3. Starch: We have saved the best and most important supply for last, the starch. You must use real starch, no sizing allowed. Sizing does not add the stiffness that you desire. Sizing will simply add a whisper of body to the fabric. (It is good for synthetic finishes because it adds some soil-resistance). Starch can be purchased in aerosol cans, or in liquid, or powdered form. You can even make your own starch at home using corn starch. For the straight-from-the-cleaner crispness, you need to use a liquid starch solution because the entire shirt needs to be dipped.

    Get Ready to Dip

    Yes, I said dipping. A quick spritz of aerosol canned starch or even a spray of diluted liquid starch will not provide enough crispness for the finish you want. You will need to dip the freshly washed shirt in a starch solution. Here are the steps:

    • Fill a large plastic storage container or laundry room sink with three gallons of water and two cups of liquid starch.
    • Submerge the clean shirt(s) in the water/starch mixture. Be sure that the entire shirt is saturated and then wring out and hang to dry.
    • Do not allow the shirt to dry completely. It should be ironed while still damp. However, if you can't iron right away you can very lightly mist the shirt with water before ironing.

    Apply the Heat

    Heavily starched shirts are ironed the same way as any shirt. Since the shirt fabric is cotton or linen, use the highest heat recommended for those fibers. Again, remember to skip the steam.

    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.

    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 and iron from the armpit across the bottom seam and iron a crease into the top of the sleeve. Next, iron the cuff and do the other sleeve.

    Now, iron the body of the shirt taking care not to wrinkle the areas that you have already finished.

    When you are finished, hang your crisp shirt on a hanger so it is ready for your next occasion. Allow to dry completely before storing in a closet or wearing. A damp shirt will wrinkle more easily. 

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    Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018