The most basic, essential piece in a modern wardrobe? The dress shirt. Versatile enough to wear from the office to a formal occasion, this staple is the mark of a complete closet. When it comes to caring for dress shirts, the process is a little more intuitive than natural fiber-based garments, like silk or wool. Most dress shirts are made from a cotton blend, so they’re strong enough to be pressed, fully laundered, and worn repeatedly without showing much wear. Still, it’s never a bad idea to brush up on expert care tips—and keep them on hand for future use. To keep your dress shirts crisp and vibrant for years to come, read on.
Daily care for your dress shirts
You may come home after a day spent in your dress shirt, tempted to lounge with a few top buttons unfastened. The best practice, however, is removing it right away. Rather than tossing it into a hamper, hang it back up until it’s ready to be washed. This will help it maintain a crisp shape. Collar stays, which come with good dress shirts and can be purchased separately, will help your collar stay crisp, as well. As a general rule, your shirt should either be: on its hanger, being laundered, or actually being worn.
Tip: Know when to dry-clean your dress shirt. Many can be machine-washed (performance work shirts, for example) but not all. Check the tag for rayon, viscose, or silk. If you find any of those, send it to the cleaners rather than tossing it in the wash.
How to remove stains from dress shirts
Let’s face it. Stains are unavoidable when it comes to garments you wear as often as the classic dress shirt. Red wine, chocolate, and sweat stains are the most common, and can be removed with the following steps:
Run cold water over the stain
Rub Marseille soap over the stain, allowing it to penetrate the fibers
Let sit for 10 minutes before rinsing with cold water
Machine-wash as normal
For other stains, dab with cold water to prevent further running and try pressing blemishes out with a cold, damp cloth. If the stain isn’t lifting away, pack it up and bring it to a professional cleaner.
Tip: Stain removal calls for cold water. Hot water can set stains, while cold lifts substances away from fibers. This is a general rule to keep in mind when caring for most items in your wardrobe.
How to wash dress shirts
Some dress shirts can be machine-washed with minimal fuss. Follow care label instructions to prevent mishaps, including temperature and cycle requirements. Before washing, remove collar stays and pre-treat stains—especially in areas where oil and perspiration build, like the neckline and cuffs. Undo the shirt’s buttons and turn it inside out, so the areas exposed are what need cleansing the most (and buttons won’t be damaged). Wash with like colors to prevent accidental mid-wash dye jobs, and remove your dress shirts from the machine immediately upon wash cycle completion. Give it a good snap to help shake out wrinkles.
Tip: Underarm stains are often an unsightly reality of wearing form-fitting pieces. Add a fabric-whitening agent to your wash cycle, along with your normal detergent, for an extra boost of cleaning power.
How to dry dress shirts
While you can use the lowest heat setting on a dryer, air-drying is preferred. Hang up your dress shirts on clean plastic or wooden hangers and let the moisture leave them naturally. You can also begin ironing before the shirt is dry, which will help speed the drying process and give you a more crisp result. Speaking of…
How to iron a button-down shirt
Yikes, you may be ironing your dress shirts wrong! Adopt this expert method and they’ll look fresher than ever in no time.
Grab a spray bottle and a piping-hot iron on its highest setting. Spritz the bottom of the iron so that the water sizzles on its surface.
Lay the front of your shirt flat, spritzing with water until thoroughly damp. Press the shirt and pull the fabric taught so that you smooth away wrinkles completely. Repeat on the opposite side.
Dampen and press the collar with the inside of the shirt facing down. Fold back the collar where it would fold during wear and press for a crisp line.
Dampen and press the inside of the cuffs rather than the outside. If creases persist, pull taught, dampen, and press again. Repeat on the opposite cuff.
How to pack dress shirts for travel
Preparing for takeoff? Make sure your dress shirts are ready to wear when you land by packing them correctly. (Hint: it’s all about the fold.) Mimic the way fine dress shirts come packaged when they’re new by following these steps:
Launder, press, and close up the front buttons. Hold the shirt square by the shoulders to make sure its seams are falling evenly.
Lay the shirt face down and place a magazine at center-back neck. Use this as a guide to fold back the shirt into a neat, easy-to-pack shape. Pull the sleeves tight to avoid folding in wrinkles and fold them back over 2–3 times so they don’t protrude.
Fold the hem up, flip the shirt to its front, and smooth. When you’re happy with the fold, remove the magazine and carefully lay the shirt in your suitcase.
Dress shirt care kit
Need help with the rest of your wardrobe? The Caring for Clothing Guide is here.