Proper Cloth Shirt Care Instructions

This article will explain how best to care for your shirts, with different care instructions for business style dress shirts, casual woven shirts, and knit shirts. 

Business Dress Shirt Care Instructions

There are two popular methods to wash a business or formal style dress shirt and we support both of them.  If you’re taking them to a cleaner, ask for Professional Wash and Press.  If you’re washing them at home, use the Machine Wash, Hang Dry, and Iron method.

A stack of classic business shirts.

Option 1: Professional Wash and Press

Wash and press is the “normal” way to clean dress shirts when you take them to the cleaners. (Don’t be too confused by this.  Even though you take your shirt to the “dry-cleaners”, they are most likely doing wash and press unless you explicitly ask them to dry clean). This is our first choice. At around $2-3/shirt, this cleaning method is relatively cheap and easy and it keeps the shirts looking great.

Here’s what the process involves at most cleaners:

  1. They wash your shirt in a normal washing machine using water and detergent.
  2. They remove most of the water from the shirt with the spin cycle in the washing machine.
  3. They put the damp shirt onto an industrial shirt press that closes over the shirt and simultaneously irons the garment and removes the moisture from it.

Pros: Convenient, relatively inexpensive.
Cons: Some cleaners will be too hard on the shirts.  Pressing machines can cause buttons to chip or shatter. If the shirt torso or sleeves are stretched when the shirt is pressed dry, these parts of the shirt can become wider or longer.  Lastly, shirts often get wrinkled or collars are smashed in the process of bringing the shirts from the cleaners to your closet, requiring additional touch up ironing for optimal appearance.

Option 2: Machine Wash, Hang Dry, and Iron

If you’d like a little more control over how your shirts are cleaned, you may want to wash them at home.  We really like this option, but to do it properly requires a bit of time and effort. Follow these steps for optimal results:

  1. Start by preparing the dress shirt.  Unbutton all of the buttons, including cuff and collar buttons.  Remove any collar stays and put them in a safe place.
  2. Pre-treat any stains by carefully working a little detergent into them or spot-cleaning with a stain remover pen.
  3. Set up your washing machine: To minimize wear on a fine or lightweight dress shirt, use the Delicate cycle.  If the shirt is made from a heavier fabric, or is particularly dirty, you may opt for the Normal cycle.  Whites can use warm or hot water.  Colored shirts that you don’t want to fade should be washed with cold water. Take care not to include other laundry items with bold colors that could bleed onto your shirts.
  4. Use a high quality detergent, like Woolite Complete, that is appropriate for the color of the shirt.  Be sure not to use any detergents or cleaners that are chlorine based as these can discolor some shirt fabrics.
  5. Wash the shirts in the washing machine and let the spin cycle wring most of the water out of them.
  6. The shirts will be tightly crumpled in the washing machine so remove them promptly before wrinkles can dry into the shirt. Lightly shake them out to remove wrinkles and hang the shirts on a hanger so they can air dry.  Button the top-button only on the shirt as it hangs.  Be careful about using tight clothespins as this can distort the fabric or leave a mark on the shirt.
  7. Next you’ll want to iron the shirts.  You don’t need to wait for the shirts to be completely dry to begin this step, but they should be mostly dry.

Pros: Gives you the most control to treat stains, protect buttons, and iron collars carefully.
Cons: Takes time and attention.

Casual Shirt Care Instructions

Many styles of woven casual shirts, such as flannels, oxfords, or linen shirts, are not intended to be ironed perfectly, and will look best with a bit of a natural rumple or worn-in look to them. For that reason, we suggest caring for them differently from your business shirts. We only have one suggested method for washing casual shirts and that is Machine Wash and Hang Dry:

A plaid casual shirt.

Machine Wash and Hang Dry

  1. Start by preparing the casual shirt.  Unbutton all of the buttons, including cuff and collar buttons.  Remove any collar stays and put them in a safe place.
  2. Pre-treat any stains by carefully working a little detergent into them or spot-cleaning with a stain remover pen.
  3. Set up your washing machine: To minimize wear, use the Delicate cycle.  If the shirt is made from a heavier fabric, or is particularly dirty, you may opt for the Normal cycle.  Whites and very light colors can use warm water.  Darker colored shirts that you don’t want to fade should use cold water. Take care not to include other laundry items with bold colors that could bleed onto your shirts.  Similarly, some casual shirts use natural dyes that can bleed into other items, so be sure to wash like colors together. 
  4. Use a high quality detergent, like Woolite Complete, that is appropriate for the color of the shirt.  Be sure not to use any detergents or cleaners that are chlorine based as these can discolor some shirt fabrics.
  5. Wash the shirts in the washing machine, and let the spin cycle wring most of the water out of them.
  6. The shirts will be tightly crumpled in the washing machine so remove them promptly before these wrinkles can dry into the shirt. Lightly shake the shirts out to loosen major wrinkles and hang them on a hanger so they can air dry.  Standard wire hangers are fine, but avoid using tight clothespins as this can distort the fabric or leave a mark on the shirt.
  7. Button the top-button of the shirt as it hangs and remove as many wrinkles or folds as possible.  Shape the damp collar into a nice shape. Make sure the front and back shirt tails are not rolled up.  Make sure the inside of a French front is not twisted or folded back on the inside of the shirt. For a Camp collar, only button the third button down (or whichever button you will button when you wear the shirt), and fold the collar back smoothly.
  8. After the shirt is dry it is ready to wear.  You can touch up iron or steam it if you want, but most small wrinkles will work themselves out after you put the shirt on. 

Knit Shirt Care Instructions

Knit shirts typically do not need to be ironed, and many folks want to care for them with as little maintenance as possible. 

A knit polo shirt.

Machine Wash and Air Dry

  1. Start by preparing the knit shirt.  Unbutton all of the buttons, including cuff and collar buttons.  Remove any collar stays and put them in a safe place.
  2. Pre-treat any stains by carefully working a little detergent into them or spot-cleaning with a stain remover pen.
  3. Set up your washing machine: To minimize wear, use the delicate cycle.  Whites and very light colors can use warm water.  Darker colored knit shirts that you don’t want to fade should use cold water. Take care not to include other laundry items with bold colors that could bleed onto your shirts.   
  4. Use a high quality detergent, like Woolite Complete, that is appropriate for the color of the shirt.  Be sure not to use any detergents or cleaners that are chlorine based as these can discolor some shirt fabrics.
  5. Wash the shirts in the washing machine, and then let the spin cycle wring most of the water out of them.
  6. The knit shirts will be tightly crumpled in the washing machine so remove them promptly before wrinkles can dry into the shirt. Shake the shirts out gently to loosen any major wrinkles. 
  7. Hardier knit shirts can be dried and stored on a hanger.  If drying/storing the shirt on a hanger, button the top button on the shirt and try to position the collar in a good position.  
  8. Particularly stretchy or lightweight knits may stretch or get indentations on the shoulders if they are dried or stored on a thin hanger.  For these shirts, it is better to let them dry laying on a flat surface or drying rack. 
  9. If storing the knit shirts folded, button the top button and leave the collar sticking up straight, or in a position where it can lay flat naturally. 

Pros: Air drying your shirts gives you a better opportunity to position the collar nicely before it dries.  This drying method also causes less shrinkage. 
Cons: Air drying your shirts requires more time and attention.  In some cases the shirts will not shrink as much as expected and thus be too large. 

Professional Dry Clean Care Instructions

We rarely suggest a shirt be professionally dry-cleaned, but occasionally it is necessary.  Typically this care method is reserved for shirts that use particularly fine or rare material that is sensitive to intense heat or that should not be wet.  In the past we have also recommended this care method for some knit shirts that were known to have relatively high shrinkage, but we ended this practice in 2022 when we added Special Shrinkage Allowances for Shirt Lengths.  

To professionally dry clean your shirts, take them to the cleaner of your choice and ask them to be dry-cleaned.  This service will typically cost $6-$7/shirt.  Be sure to clearly specify “dry-clean”—otherwise most cleaners will probably assume you want the shirt washed and pressed.