Shirt Maintenance: How To Properly Clean Your Shirts

As with everything, there are tradeoffs in the amount of time you want to spend on something versus the results you’re getting.

If you want perfect shirts every single time, you have to wash them yourself. If you don’t want to spend that time, you can take them to a dry cleaner, but they are not going to look as good as if you cleaned them yourself.

Below is what we do with our shirts to keep them crisp and clean looking, as well as maintain our beautiful collar roll.

A Brief Word About Stains

Simplifying things, there are two types of stains; water-based stains and oil-based stains. Whether it is oil or water will determine how it is taken care of.

Water-based stains are what most stains are; coffee, sweat, wine, general dirt. Roughly 90% of the things you spill on yourself is a water-based stain and is treated with, yup, water. So with these types of stains, putting it in the laundry with a good detergent should get the job done.

Oil-based stains comprise the remaining 10% of stains. This is butter, pizza sauce, and, the bane of the workmen's existence, body oil which causes the collar & cuff rings.

How to Remove Collar and Cuff Rings

Since we now know that the collar & cuff rings come from our body oil and are not going to be removed by just throwing them in the wash, we can approach this problem with more sophistication and use a solvent to help.

We recommend using OxiClean Max Force. No science here, it just works for us. Spray each collar and cuff with OxiClean before you put it into the washing machine.

Cold Water vs. Hot Water

Even though we have had hot water laundry machines for nearly a century, there is still great debate as to whether hot water is more effective than cold water on your clothes.

The short and simple answer is that hot water makes soap and dirt interact with one another faster. This means you can use hot water on your shirts and wash for a shorter amount of time, or you can use cold water on your shirts and wash them for a longer period of time.

Regardless, water and soap are going to wash the dirt away; it’s just a matter of time.

Personally, I use cold water on my shirts for two reasons: a) it saves energy b) I think it won’t set stains. Hot temperatures will work to set in grease stains into the fibers of a shirt, so I try to avoid heat.

Our collar roll, shown here on our modern cut away collar, stands proud while worn open.

Our collar roll, shown here on our modern cut away collar, stands proud while worn open.

How to Clean A Dress Shirt

For my custom shirts, I use cold water on a regular cycle. Because cold water is slower in dissolving soap, make sure to only fill up the machine half way with your garments, but set the maximum water load.  Then I like to add a scoop of standard OxiClean laundry detergent with my regular detergent, and set the water for cold.

This works for me and keeps my shirts absolutely perfect. But another thing to think about is how often you are washing your shirt.

Personally, I don’t sweat that much and I get can away with wearing a dress shirt twice without the collar & cuff rings becoming out of control. But any more than that, I run the serious risk of creating an oil-based stain that requires serious elbow grease.

Should You Use Starch?

Starch’s purpose is  to keep shirts crisp as well as aid in cleaning. The idea is that starch sticks to the fibers of your shirt, helping to stiffen it, and then collects the grease and dirt of your wear. Then, when it is time to wash, the starch dissolves in water & soap.

Most starches that you find in basements are going to be a synthetic starch that doesn’t necessarily dissolve in the wash. This can lead to layers and layers of this glue-like starch being painted on to your shirts.

These days, the construction methods and materials used on quality shirts, like 1701 shirts, and the quality of detergents have rendered starch functionally useless and it can actually be harmful for your shirts, so all-in-all, starch isn’t really necessary.

Hang Dry and Iron Damp

Dryers are good to use in a pinch, but repeated high-temperature drying and tumbling will break down the fabric and make it susceptible to future damage. Low temperatures cycles significantly reduce damage, but if you really want your shirts to last a long time, your best bet is to hang dry.

I like to use plastic hangers; metal hangers are typically too thin and will leave marks in the shirt if hung up too long and if you use a wooden hanger, you run the risk of the dye in the wood rubbing off on the shirt.

In terms of ironing, a more complete guide to ironing will be posted later, but for now, iron while damp. This gives you a twofold advantage: a) you don’t have to deal with all the water dripping from a leaky iron (no need to fill the tank) and b) the moisture in the shirt combined with the heat will create steam and vastly increase the speed you work.

If you have some strategies that work for you, be sure to tell us in the comments, tweet us or you can send me an email: