How to Iron a Shirt Like the Dry Cleaners

How to Iron a Shirt Like the Dry Cleaners

My mother saw the advent of synthetic fabrics as freedom from tyranny. Give her a nice drip-dry blouse and some wrinkle-free bed sheets, and she's one happy camper.

I, on the other hand, relish the feel (and smell!) of a crisp, white dress shirt or Egyptian cotton linens. I don't mind putting in the work now and then because the payoff in luxury can be worth it. Sometimes, I actually like to iron. Repetitive and relaxing, it puts me in a zenlike state enhanced by the heat of the steam and the aroma of the starch.

Most people hate ironing because they simply don't know how. The good news is you can learn quickly and say good-bye to scorching skirts and ironing wrinkles into pillowcases.

1 Preheat your iron.

Warm the iron using the manufacturer's listed settings. The highest temps are usually for linen and cotton. Start with the collar. Lay the shirt on your ironing board, front facing downward. Spray the collar with water, and with starch, if desired. Next, iron the underside, moving the iron from one point to the other with a pressing motion. Smooth wrinkles to the bottom of the collar as they appear. When finished, flip the shirt and repeat on the top side.

How to Iron a Shirt Like the Dry Cleaners

2 The cuffs.

Start by unbuttoning the cuff. Now, iron the inside of the cuff, moving all wrinkles to the edges. Repeat on the outside. Next, carefully iron around the buttons, even on the back side, where the button is sewn on. Ironing over buttons leaves a mark.

How to Iron a Shirt Like the Dry Cleaners

3 Shirt front.

Start around the buttons, carefully working the iron point around the buttons on the placket. Move back up to the top of the shoulder and work your way down the front of the shirt, pressing the iron in long, smooth strokes. Repeat on the other side. It's worth spending a bit more time on the front placket and areas near the collar to make them perfect, especially if you're not planning on wearing a jacket over the shirt.

How to Iron a Shirt Like the Dry Cleaners

4 Shirt back.

Lay the shirt flat on the ironing board, front facing downward. It works best to position one of the sleeve heads into the square edge of the board. That presents half of the back of the shirt smoothly. After completing the first half, you can neatly slide the shirt over to iron the remaining half. Start at the top by ironing the yoke (back shoulder area), then slowly slide the iron down to the bottom of the shirt with a pressing motion. If your shirt features a center box pleat, iron around it. After the back of the shirt is wrinkle-free, reposition it lengthwise on the board, and take a few seconds to iron the pleat back in so it looks crisp.

How to Iron a Shirt Like the Dry Cleaners

5 Sleeves.

I prefer to iron sleeves last. This is the trickiest part of ironing a shirt. The issue here is that you're ironing a double layer of fabric. If one of the layers is bunched, you'll be ironing wrinkles into your shirt. Take the time needed to make sure your fabric is fully flat and aligned before applying heat. Using your fingertips, pick up one sleeve by the seam and lay the whole sleeve (along with the better part of the shirt) flat on the ironing board. If there are visible creases on the top of the sleeve, left over from previous ironing, match them again. This ensures that you'll have a single crease line. Start ironing at the shoulder and armpit area, where the sleeve is sewn onto the shirt, then smooth down with a pressing motion toward the cuff. Next, turn the sleeve over and repeat the motion. Finally, repeat the process with the other sleeve.

How to Iron a Shirt Like the Dry Cleaners

6 Spot check, and hang.

When you're finished with a shirt, do a quick check of the key areas. If you see wrinkles, touch up the shirt, and then hang it on a hanger immediately. Make sure the shirt has plenty of space: Pressing hot shirts together causes them to form new wrinkles that will set as they cool.

How to Iron a Shirt Like the Dry Cleaners

Completed in 1902, the Flatiron Building in New York City is so named because of its unusual triangular shape that resembles an  early clothing iron.

Why Iron a Dress Shirt?

No-iron and wrinkle-resistant shirts are widely available at reasonable prices. So, why on earth would anyone iron a dress shirt? There are many reasons.

Because you hate no-iron shirts. Many people don't like the feel or smell of no-iron shirts. Manufacturers treat them with a formaldehyde resin bath, which makes the cellulose strands bond to one another at the molecular level. Those chemicals emit an odor when these shirts are new, and the smell can last through several washings. Generally, no-iron shirts are stiff and a bit scratchy instead of being soft and slick. Unlike pure, untreated cotton, these processed fabrics don't breathe well. If you like the feel of cotton, you have to iron because wrinkly cotton shirts are a sartorial no-no.

Details matter. Wearing wrinkled clothes sends a signal that you lack discipline and attention. Even in a casual work environment, wrinkles convey sloppiness.

Customized shirt care. You know your own clothes best. Wine stain on the placket? Unlike some dry cleaners, you'll work to get it out before you apply heat. Prefer stiff collars and cuffs? You'll starch.

Cotton shirts at the ready. Those who use dry cleaners inevitably find themselves stuck without a favorite (or any!) pressed shirt when they need one. Do it at home and take back control.

Your shirts will last longer. Hand-washing combined with hang-drying help prevent wear on the fabric as well as shrinkage. Dry cleaners can stretch and abuse shirts, as evidenced by the small tears and missing and broken buttons on the ones I've received back. Wash and press your own shirts, and you can concentrate on the stained portions and heavily soiled areas, like collars and cuffs, and ease off on the less-abused areas.

It's kind of fun. Seriously, though—it's easier than you think, and when you do it right, the rhythm can lull you into a calm state. Plus, there's a true sense of pride and accomplishment that comes from turning a large wrinkled pile of shirts into a small, orderly stack.

Getting Started: Tools of the Trade

1. A well-built iron. Irons have come a long way since your greatgrandmother had to heat two cast-iron triangles on the woodstove, alternating them to always use the hot one. You don't have to spend a large amount to get a high-quality one, but here are some things to look for:

• A smooth, solid soleplate. This is the flat metal plate that heats up and is pressed onto fabric. Look for aluminum-coated cast iron, solid steel, or titanium-coated metal. Poor-quality irons can heat unevenly or have burrs and nicks, leading to damage.

• High heat. Some natural fabrics, such as cotton and linen, require high heat to loosen and reform the shape of the fibers. A very hot iron helps slash ironing time in half, so that you're not passing the hot iron over the same spots repeatedly, stretching and wearing the fibers. The heat from the soleplate helps the steam heat up and maintain a high temperature.

• A steaming device. Hot moisture attacks the toughest wrinkles, smoothing them with minimal work by helping distribute heat throughout fibers.

2. A good ironing board. Make sure it has a large surface area, is easy to fold without pinching fingers, and is adjustable to a height that is comfortable for your back. Invest in a good pad and cover, and replace these as they wear or become soiled.

3. A spray bottle. Fill this with water, and water only, and dedicate it to your ironing. I advise purchasing a new bottle. When using a spray bottle that previously contained a cleaning product, residues can transfer to garments. Have it at the ready for spot-spraying or in cases when you disable the steam feature.

4. Spray starch. Use starch in moderation, if you like crisp-to-stiff shirts. Overdoing it can stifle cotton's breathability and encourage wrinkling. Spray lightly, too, because excessive application can cause visible flaking of the starch. If you don't like aerosol cans, make your own by dissolving 1 tablespoon of cornstarch in 2 cups of hot water, and spraying it from a pump bottle.