How to Properly Iron a Shirt | Shirt Laundering Taught by The Best

Deterioration in Laundry Care Rips the Fabric of Affluent America!

by Alexander S. Kabbaz, Master Bespoke Shirtmaker

From the caustic chemical concoctions currently called "Professional Laundry Detergent" to the super-heated steam-spewing slave-labor operated pressing machines, the entire thrust of modern laundry is productivity. Long gone are the days when someone actually looked at each shirt before handing it to the customer. As long as it's been through the washer and must be done!

Why bother to scrub the collar and cuffs by hand when boiling water, lye, hydroflouric acid and sodium hypochlorite will achieve something near the same degree of cleanliness? Why hand iron for 27 minutes per shirt that which a pressing machine can make flat and stiff as a board in 27 seconds? The simple answer is Profit. Long gone are the days when the key word in a laundry was Pride. Economics of scale says it all. If your shirt spends 30 minutes in a 300 shirt washer/extractor, then the cost is for 6 seconds of machine work. Another 30 seconds of labor on the pressing machine and the total comes to 36 seconds. And all that suffers is...your shirt!

Want twice the life out of your shirts and blouses? Read on ...

I've had a few years of practice with fine garments!All this is just wonderful for the bottom line of a custom shirtmaker, especially one who uses the finer Swiss and Italian shirt fabrics. These fine fabrics naturally deteriorate more rapidly when improperly cared for...but then you wouldn't take a Rolls Royce to a Yugo mechanic, would you? During the past twenty years, the number of shirts we receive to refurbish with new collars, new cuffs, new buttons and various other maltreated parts has more than tripled. Whereas we used to receive ten-year old shirts and make them virtually new again....the bodies will last for two hundred washings if done correctly...we now see ruined shirts we lovingly crafted as recently as just six months previously.

The problem is worldwide. Sadly enough, with a few rare exceptions, I'd find it impossible to send you to quality laundry. What can you do?

A few solutions exist. You could find, train for years, and then struggle to keep your own laundress at home. Should that not be in the cards, a solution which has worked for some is a bit involved. Many Chinese laundries do a good job at the ironing part. That's the upside. The downside is that they send the shirts to a central launderer for (improper) washing. An ideal solution therefore is to wash your shirts and blouses at home as I describe below and then negotiate with your local Chinese laundry to press them for you. By the way, our advice is that you get them on hangers if you have the closet space. Should you have them folded, they won't be as well pressed. The presser knows that folding them is going to wrinkle them and thereby disguise any lapses on his part.

As you can see from the photo, I've had a few years of practice with ultrafine garments.

Want to know how your laundry should really be done? Read on MacDuff!

Following just these few simple procedures will greatly extend the life of your fine cotton shirts as well as insuring cleanliness and a neat appearance. Proper technique requires a two-day cycle.


Scrubbing Collar & Cuffs to remove soil

On the first day, you'll need a bar of Octagon Bar Soap, available from your local grocer, and a fingernail brush. Wet the Collar (Step 1), Collar Band, Cuffs, and underarm area. Rub with the bar soap on the underarm area and inside Cuffs until a bit of lather develops. Rub also on the Inside Collar Band and the seam where it joins with the Collar (Step 2). Then, on the Collar Band and inside Cuffs, scrub the dirt ring gently with the fingernail brush (Step 3a) until you begin to see the ring leaving. Alternatively, you can use the collar itself as a brush by briskly rubbing (Step 3b) the collar band against itself.

Check the remainder of the shirt for spots or soil. If any are found, rub with the brown soap as above. If any stain is found which does not remove with the Octagon Soap, see the Stain Removal Guide at the end of this page.

Finally, roll up the wet, soapy shirt and leave overnight in a plastic bag in order that it will remain moist.


Scrubbing Collar & Cuffs to remove soil

Note: Octagon has been discontinued. Single bars are now selling on Ebay for north of $30 each. Find a good, scent-free hand-washing soap bar and try it. Wish I could offer a better solution other than beating your clothes on a rock down by the river.

Scrubbing Collar & Cuffs to remove soil

The next day, machine wash as follows:

Warm Water in Summer if Very Soiled

Cold Water the rest of the time

Gentle Cycle
 Light Colors

Warm Water Only if Very Soiled

Cold water the rest of the time

Gentle Cycle
Dark Colors

Cold water all of the time

Gentle Cycle 
After testing many detergents, Tide Unscented Original Powder has been found to offer the best results for fine cotton shirts. After cycle is complete, tumble dry on 'No Heat' setting until shirts are just damp. Or, if you have the facilities, line dry outside until just damp. Hang on a white plastic hanger.
Laundering Hints

  • Do not use bleach! Do not use starch! Do not use fabric softeners!
  • Allowing the shirt to soak overnight reduces the amount of scrubbing needed to remove soil, therefore reducing wear. The longer it is permitted to soak, the better the results
  • Sleeves tend to tangle in the washer, reducing the ability of the soak cycles to remove detergent. Adding a couple of white towels to small loads will help to reduce this problem. If soap remains in the shirt, it will brown when pressed. Wash again without detergent if you suspect this to be the case

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Proper Ironing Process


The Shirt should be damp all over. Use either Steam or Dry Iron. Use the 'Cotton' temperature setting. The 'Burst of Steam' button is not recommended. Best is a water mister spray bottle(plant mister).
  1. Press cuffs open flat, first on the inside, then lightly on the outside. S-t-r-e-t-c-h tightly while pressing. Be gentle with the corners of the cuffs. Try not to catch them in the steam holes on the iron as this is a major cause of premature fraying.
  2. Press the sleeves' plackets. Button their button. Then: Button Cuffs Button the button of the previously pressed cuff. Using your hands, shape the cuffs into a circle. Do not crease button cuffs. French Cuffs Fold and, if desired, press in the fold, carefully matching the link holes. Shape with your hand to a circular shape. Secure circle with a plastic stud or white plastic twist-tie.
  3. Holding the sleeve at the seam side(under the arm) grasp seam at underarm and cuff ends. Shake the sleeve out and lay flat on the pressing table with the seam near you. Place the point of the iron on the seam at the cuff end. Holding the seam at the underarm, stretch very tightly and press the seam flat with no puckers. Holding the seam with one hand, smooth the sleeve away from you, removing all wrinkles from both top and bottom layers. Repeat this smoothing motion using the iron. Continue right off the sleeve, pressing in the crease at the top of the sleeve. Press in the pleats, if any, at the cuff end. One should match the top-of-sleeve crease.
  4. Place left hand just inside the left armhole and use the right to grasp the shirt at the hem where the left front and back join. Shake out and lay flat on the table. Press this side seam flat while stretching. On the inside of the rear armhole, press flat the seam which joins the sleeve to the shirt body. Do not stretch this seam too tightly. Repeat for the other side, reversing your hands.
  5. Lay the top center front (buttonhole side) face down on the table. Holding the top with your hand and the hem with the iron, stretch very tightly and press heavily twice. Repeat for the button side, pressing around the buttons. Turn each side face up and repress. Do not press the buttons as they can break.
  6. Hold the button side of the front at hem and collar. Shake out and lay face down. Press on the inside, paying particular attention to the top area where the collar, yoke, and front join together. Repeat for the buttonhole side.
  7. Press the shirt yokes on the inside. Then, using the point of the ironing board or corner of the table, press flat on the outside.
  8. Lay the shirt on its back, wrong side up. Press the back with steam. If there are darts, press them towards the side seams.
  9. Lay the collar band, inside up, flat on the table. Stretching very, very tightly, press from buttonhole to button. Turn over and repeat. Then press the underside of the collar, again stretching tightly. Do not have the iron on the band and collar at the same time.
  10. Turn over and press lightly on the top side of the collar. Do not catch the collar points in the steam holes, again a major cause of fraying. Now fold down the collar over the band on the stitchline and press in the crease as heavily as you can.
  11. Press the fronts again, this time lightly on the outside. Put in the collar stays and hang the shirt on a hanger. Button all of the buttons on the front of the shirt.
Helpful Hints
  • For best results, you should have available either a firmly mounted ironing board or a flat pressing table with a separate sleeve board. In all cases, pressing surfaces should be covered with white cotton fabric and maintained lint-free.
  • A small pair of sharp scissors for removing loose threads is helpful. Additionally, a small, damp piece of white fabric will assist in removing small dirt spots.
  • Should you press in a wrinkle, allow the area to cool. Then dampen and re-press. When hanging shirts in the closet, make sure there is sufficient room to keep them from crushing each other's carefully pressed collar. Store two shirts back-to-back, then a space , then two more back-to-back shirts, etc.

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Stain Removal Tips


  • Stain Removal Supplies: Store Safely Away From Children!
  • Drycleaning Solvent: Available in grocery or drug stores; can be poisonous and/or flammable. Do Not Breathe fumes. Never dry in dryer!
  • Dry Spotter: Mix 1 part Coconut Oil with 8 parts Drycleaning Solvent
  • Wet Spotter: Mix 1 part Glycerine (available in drug stores), 1 part Liquid Dishwashing Detergent, 8 parts water...Shake well before use
  • White Vinegar, Clorox Bleach, Ammonia, Hydrogen Peroxide, Tide
  • Crayon, Make-Up, Grease, Mascara, Oil, Paint, Shoe Polish: Sponge with drycleaning solvent. Apply dry spotter and cover with absorbent pad soaked in dry spotter. Remove pad. Flush with drycleaning solvent. Repeat until pad comes away clean. Allow to dry. Sponge with water. Apply wet spotter & a few drops of ammonia and cover with pad soaked in wet spotter. Remove pad. Repeat until pad comes up clean. Flush with water, wash with Octagon Soap. Wash normally in machine.
  • Catsup, Cheese, Chocolate, Gravy, Dairy & Food Products: Same as above procedure Except substitute liquid dishwashing detergent for wet spotter. Before washing, soak 30 minutes in solution of Tide and water. For chocolate, bleach with Hydrogen Peroxide for 5 minutes.
  • Blood, Body Fluids, Vomit, Organic Stains: Soak in solution of 1 quart warm water, 1/2 tsp. liq. dish detergent, and 1 tbsp. ammonia for 15 minutes. Repeat. Soak in 1 quart warm water with 1 tbsp tide for 30 minutes. Rub with Octagon soap and keep moist. For blood, use hydrogen peroxide. Then wash normally in machine.
  • Rust, Ballpoint Ink, Grass, Scorch - Call Your Shirtmaker!
  • For all final machine washes of stains, all one capful of white vinegar.