How to Wash Dress Shirts: The Ultimate Guide

If you want to look your best, you need to show your dress shirts some T.L.C.

Whether you’re sporting a $25 or $250 button-up, learning how to wash dress shirts properly will preserve their lifespan, save money and help you put your best foot forward.

This guide covers everything you need to know about taking care of your dress shirts. We’ll also share dress shirt care tips for ironing, hanging, removing stains and more to extend the lifespan of your dress shirts and keep them looking good as new. 

How to Wash and Dry Dress Shirts

When it comes to washing your dress shirts, you have a few options. Always read the care label before you proceed.

Option #1: Machine Wash and Dry Dress Shirts 

You can wash most dress shirts in a washing machine — as long as they’re made of cotton.

  • Unbutton all closures and pre-treat or spot clean any stubborn stains before machine-washing. Pro-tip: If you often deal with underarm sweat stains, consider wearing a sweat proof undershirt with your dress shirts.
  • Run the delicate cycle with hot water for light-colored shirts.
  • Use cold water for dark-colored shirts.
  • If possible, use a high-quality detergent like Woolite to prevent fading and discoloration. Lower-quality detergents may contain chlorine, which can cause fading.
  • Don’t stop the wash cycle early. Allow the spin cycle to wring out as much excess water as possible before drying the shirts.

If you plan on drying your dress shirts in the dryer, proceed carefully.

Dryers can damage your dress shirts, especially on high heat. If you must use a dryer, set it at low to medium heat to reduce the risk of shrinking your dress shirts.

It’s okay to put your shirt in the dryer for a few minutes to get rid of the initial moisture, then air dry to remove the remaining moisture and reduce wrinkles. 

Option #2: Dry-Clean Dress Shirts 

The number-one rule of dress shirt care is that all delicate, non-cotton materials like silk, wool, rayon and viscose should be dry-cleaned.

We recommend getting the most wear out of these shirts before you head to the dry cleaners since dry-cleaning can be upwards of $5 per shirt. However, note that dry-cleaning solvents contain very little to no water. That means dry-cleaning is less effective at removing water-soluble stains like perspiration or dirt. A high-quality sweat proof undershirt is the best way to get multiple wears out of your dress shirt, save money and avoid stains.

FYI: Cotton dress shirts aren’t actually dry-cleaned at the dry cleaners. Instead, they’re machine washed with water and detergent, then pressed and dried using an industrial presser. This method, known as a “wash and press,” is relatively inexpensive, so it’s a good alternative if you’re not comfortable washing your shirts at home or don’t have time. But consistent trips to the cleaners can add up and become costly over time.

Constant dry-cleaning and pressing can damage shirts. Ask for your shirts to be hand-pressed, if possible. On rare occasions, buttons can break or the material can stretch out, so make sure to find a dry cleaner you trust.

Option #3: Hand Wash Dress Shirts

Hand-washing dress shirts can be time-consuming. Unless your shirt explicitly states “hand-wash only,” you’ll likely get the same results with the delicate cycle of your washing machine.

If you decide to hand wash your dress shirt, you’ll also want to hang it dry. Air-drying prevents shrinkage and wrinkles — it’s imperative to the care process.

Use durable hangers to air-dry your shirts in a well-ventilated space and eliminate any excess water before hanging.

Read more: Dress Shirts That Don’t Show Sweat

8 Tips for Dress Shirt Care

Now that you know how to wash button up shirts, what else can you do to make your shirts last longer? Below are 8 tips for proper dress shirt care to help you get the most wear possible.

1. Iron Wrinkles on Damp Shirts

Put the shirt in the dryer to get most of the moisture out before ironing. Your shirts should be damp (but not wet) prior to ironing, which makes them easier to iron perfectly. Use the lowest setting possible.

Don’t skimp on your iron. Cheaply-made irons often have uneven soleplates, which can damage your shirts. Make sure your iron has a water reservoir. If it doesn’t, a water mister also works well.

Here’s how to iron a button-up shirt the right way:

  1. Start with the sleeves: Sleeves tend to be the trickiest. Ironing them first helps to get them out of the way to prevent creases once you start moving the shirt around the ironing board.
  2. Iron the back: Pay extra attention to the pleats.
  3. Iron the front: If there’s a pocket, iron from the sides toward the center.
  4. Save the collar for last: Again, work from the sides toward the center. 

2. Hang and Store Dress Shirts Properly

Dress shirts should be hung as soon as you’re done drying and ironing them. (Trust us, you won’t want to iron the same shirt twice.) Allow room for ventilation and hang dress shirts one to two inches apart in your closet.

You should also invest in quality hangers. Wood hangers are best for dress shirts, but thick plastic hangers or sturdy velvet hangers also do the job. Avoid flimsy wire hangers as they’re less durable and bend easily, which can alter the shape and fit of your shirt, and look for hangers with rounded corners to avoid sharp hanger marks once dry.

3. Remove Stains as Soon as Possible

Stains are a pain. Removing sweat stains, deodorant marks or other types of stains zaps your time, energy and money — and sometimes you still end up throwing the shirt away after all that effort.

Here are some of our favorite formulas for pre-treating sweat stains from dress shirts:

  • Dish soap and hydrogen peroxide
  • Oxi-Clean
  • Aspirin and hot water
  • White vinegar and warm water
  • Lemon and table salt

Learn more: How to Prevent Sweating Through Shirts

4. Launder Less 

If your shirts aren’t noticeably dirty or stained, consider skipping a wash. Washers, dryers and dry-cleaning presses can do a number on your shirts. With each cycle, the fibers and colors in your clothing deteriorate, which is why they look less new and more faded each time you launder them.

Try not to leave shirts in the hamper too long — body oils and sweat have more time to set in, which can lead to yellowing of the fabric. Again, a sweat proof undershirt can help you reduce the need for laundry.

5. Keep These Items Handy 

Stock up on these basics and leave a set in the office, in your car or bag, and at home:

  • A lint roller
  • A simple sewing kit
  • A stain remover pen, like Tide To Go

These essentials can go a long way, especially when you’re traveling and don’t have time to go to a dry cleaners. Knowing how to patch up a tiny hole or replace a button will save you a trip to the tailor. And a stain remover pen can be a savior for food and drink mishaps on clothing. 

6. Remove Plastic Bags from Dry-Cleaned Items 

Take off those plastic bags as soon as you get home from the dry cleaners. Leaving them on too long traps humidity and causes your shirts to mildew or turn yellow. Your dress shirts need to breathe, too!

7. Wear Deodorant, Not Antiperspirant

Try ditching the antiperspirant and opt for deodorant instead. Antiperspirants are aluminum-based and can leave yellow stains that are hard to remove. These stains are caused by the aluminum in antiperspirant mixing with the proteins in your sweat.

8. Invest in a Sweat Proof Undershirt 

If you want to get the most wear out of every dress shirt you own, you need to properly care for them and protect them by wearing a sweat proof undershirt.

Thompson Tee’s sweat proof undershirts offer ultimate protection from sweat stains and odor while providing a reliable barrier between your dress shirts and your skin.

Thompson Tees are patented with Hydro-Shield sweat proof technology designed to prevent perspiration from reaching outer layers of clothing. You’ll never again have to throw away another dress shirt that’s been ruined by sweat stains.

Try a Thompson Tee risk-free today!