How to iron a shirt

Why pay to have your dress shirts pressed when you can DIY? We’ll show you step by step how to iron your dress shirts like a professional. Watch the video or read the instructions below. You’ll be feeling like an ironing pro in no time.

Starch is the key to getting the clean, crisp finish of a professionally pressed shirt. You can use a basic starch like Faultless Premium on the entire shirt, or switch to heavy starch on the collar and sleeve cuffs.

Using starch is easy. Simply shake the can and then tilt it slightly, holding it about 6 – 10 inches from the shirt. A light spray is all you need. If you’re ironing a synthetic fabric, give the starch a minute to set in before ironing. Use a medium-to-low heat setting and make sure your heat setting is compatible with your fabric content as well.

1. Start with the collar

Starch and press across the inside of the collar from tip to tip. Flip the shirt over and do the same thing to the outside of the collar.

2. Shift to the Shoulders

While you’re here, starch and press the yoke of the shirt, the area just below the collar.

3. Move to the cuffs

Next, unbutton one of the cuffs and lay it flat on the ironing board. Starch and press from edge to edge without ironing over the buttons. Flip the cuff over like you did the collar and repeat the process. Do this for both cuffs.

4. Get to work on the sleeves

The sleeves are the trickiest part since you’ll have to iron through two layers of fabric. Make sure both layers are smoothed out before starching and pressing. The seam should run along the bottom of the sleeve, not the middle.

Want a traditional creased sleeve? Press the top edge of the sleeve as you work your way down. To avoid a crease, just avoid ironing the outside edge of the sleeve.

5. Get your back on track

For the back of the shirt, open it up and lay the shoulders over the square edge of the ironing board. Spray with starch and work your way slowly from the top of the shirt down to the bottom.

6. Flip the focus to the front

For the front, start with the side that has buttons. Spray with starch, then carefully press between each set of buttons. Again, never iron directly over a button. Slowly work your way from top to bottom.

7. Polish up the placket

On the other side of the shirt, make sure to iron the front and the back of the button hole placket.

Now that’s a professional finish

That’s it! If you’re not wearing the shirt right away, hang it up to preserve your handy work until you’re ready to wear it. We hope you found this how-to helpful, and don’t forget to check out our other tips and tricks for stepping up your ironing game.

The Steps

And now the real work begins. This is the part where you start thinking you should call your mother and thank her for all that selfless effort she put in over the years. The best way to iron a dress shirt is to break it down into its component parts:

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Step 1 – The Collar

how to iron a shirt

Pop it. Starting with the underside, iron from one point to the other. Press any stubborn wrinkles to the bottom, where they’ll be less visible. Then flip the shirt over and repeat on the outside.

Step 2 – The Cuffshow to iron a shirt

Unbutton the cuffs and lay them flat. Iron the inside first, then the outside, in a motion that moves the wrinkles to the edges of the fabric. Note: never iron over buttons, as it can leave an unsightly mark.

Step 3 – The Fronthow to iron a shirt

Beginning with the button side, manoeuvre the iron around the button area. Then work your way downward from the top of the shoulder and, when finished, repeat on the other side. If you have a placket, press the material under it with the iron point and then press over the top.

Step 4 – The Backhow to iron a shirt

Iron the back inside-out. Your best bet is to apply maximum pressure for a short period of time, starting at the top and moving the iron down to the bottom.

Step 5 – The Sleeveshow to iron a shirt

Save the best hardest for last. Your sleeves must be laying flat and smooth before they’re hit with the heat. A sleeve board ensures you’re not ironing two layers of fabric at once, making the task significantly less tricky. Take the sleeve by the seam and lay it out. Iron at the top of the sleeve and slowly work your way down to the cuff. Then turn the sleeve over and iron the back. Repeat for the second sleeve.

NOTE: Some say you should do the sleeves first. This is a personal preference. 

Step 6 – Hang Ithow to iron a shirt

Now hang the shirt properly – on a hanger, in a closet, not on the back of a chair – before you undo all your hard work, you animal.

EXPERT TIP – Andrew, Cecil Shirtmaker“If your collar is made using the traditional English (non-fused) method, make sure you iron from the outside edge in to avoid the unsightly wrinkles.”

Why Are Cotton Dress Shirts Difficult To Iron?

But here’s the thing: Pure cotton shirts are difficult to iron properly if you don’t know what you’re doing. Unlike polyester-blend shirts that easily release wrinkles, it is not easy to get an all-cotton shirt to look as smooth and wrinkle-free as it did when first purchased. Cotton fabric requires higher heat and more steam to release wrinkles after laundering.

steam iron cotton shirts

The easy solution is to have your cotton shirts professionally cleaned and pressed. The problem is that while they look great, the techniques used by professional cleaners shorten the life of the shirt. A quality cotton shirt is something I want to care well for. They’re not cheap! Plus, I enjoy the process of laundering and ironing my shirts. I dare say that after much trial and error I now have a process for laundering and ironing all-cotton shirts that results in a near-perfect wrinkle-free appearance, without the expense and shortened shirt lifespan of professional cleaning processes.

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Step 1: Laundering Your All Cotton Shirts

wash cotton dress shirts

Here is the first rule for keeping your all-cotton white shirts and bright pastels from fading or yellowing: Avoid using chlorine bleach, it weakens the cotton over time and can cause yellowing with overuse. Instead, add baking soda or hydrogen peroxide to your wash cycle. I add about a half cup or more to each load. Both of these products brighten white and light-colored fabrics without the damage and eventual yellowing of bleach.

Oxygen cleaner to bleach white shirts

Another great product for keeping whites and pastels looking great is oxygen base cleaner. The most popular brand is Oxyclean, but I use the Dollar Tree’s much cheaper $1.00 alternative Awesome Power Oxygen Base Cleaner. It works just as well as Oxyclean. It is a powder and needs to be mixed with warm/hot water and fully dissolved just before adding to your wash. Nevertheless, it is a fantastic bleach alternative that won’t damage your white and light colored shirts in the long term. I’ve received compliments on the brightness of my white shirts after starting to use this product. All oxygen base cleaners are powdered forms of concentrated hydrogen peroxide with an additional ingredient or two.

Always dry your all-cotton shirts on the warm (not hot) setting on your dryer. That will also prevent yellowing due to excess heat. Finally, leave the shirts very slightly damp if you plan to iron them right away. If you plan to iron at a later time it is better to fully dry them to prevent any mildew smell.

Update: Steam Iron Reliability

Truthfully, steam irons do not last forever. No matter the brand, I have found that heavy duty steam irons tend to start having problems after about a year of heavy use. Nearly all of the steam irons I have owned start having problems with calcium deposits from hard water and discolored steam and sputtering after a year of ownership. So don’t expect them to last forever. The good news is that most steam irons have a warranty of two years or more, so hold on to that warranty card! If you spend less than $50.00 (US) for a 1500-1800 watt steam iron that lasts over a year than you’ve done pretty well. Just be sure to hold on to your warranty, you may need to use it!

After 8 months of ownership and many well-pressed shirts, my Black & Decker D3030 steam iron died. It suddenly stopped heating or making steam during a morning of ironing. Because it is still under a two-year warranty, Black & Decker is sending me a replacement unit (nice!). Until it died, I was very happy with the results whenever I used this steam iron, and look forward to my replacement. In the meantime, because I cannot appear unkempt and poorly-pressed for even one day, I purchased a new steam iron, the Shark Ultimate Professional. This is an 1800 watt heavy duty steam iron that I purchased for $48.00 at my local Walmart. Here are my first impressions after a couple of hours of ironing:

Shark Ultimate Professional Steam Iron - Cotton Shirts

The Shark Ultimate Professional Steam Iron reminds me of my vintage Lincoln Town Car. It is big, heavy, and smooths out wrinkles like my old smooth-riding boulevard cruiser. Its weight and large ironing plate combined with 1800 watts of steam power make ironing my all-cotton shirts effortless. It does produce a bit more steam power than my Black & Decker D3030, (1800 watts vs 1600 watts). However, the difference is not drastic. Both steam irons do a great job of smoothing wrinkles in cotton fabric. Frankly, both the Black & Decker D3030 and the Shark Ultimate Professional models are very capable tools for ironing all-cotton dress shirts. I do like the fact that the Black & Decker model has a two-year warranty compared to one year for the Shark Ultimate.

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Step 4: Proper Ironing Technique

For this step, I defer to the masters. The video below provides a masterclass in ironing cotton shirts. Personally, I prefer to iron the sleeves before ironing the placket (front) of the shirt as demonstrated in this video. In this video, the demonstrator uses a professional steam generator iron with a separate water reservoir, the ‘Cadillac’ of steam irons. They are expensive but good for ironing lots of shirts without constantly replenishing water in your reservoir. If you’re just ironing shirts for personal use the steam irons mentioned earlier in this article will do just fine.

Some final tips: The heel or widest part of the iron produces the greatest amount of heat and steam. It does the best job of flattening wrinkles. Also, make sure that you have a smooth, well-padded ironing board cover. If the ironing board cover is worn and wrinkled it will hinder your efforts to get a smooth finish as you iron cotton shirts. Ironing board covers are inexpensive to replace.

That’s it! These easy-to-follow tips will help you to get better results from ironing your cotton dress shirts!

Iron the Back of the Shirt

Now slide the shirt over and iron the back of the shirt.  You’ll probably have to do it in three sections. Iron one portion of the back, right up to the pleat.  Now slide the shirt over your board so you can focus on the pleat.  Smooth it down with your hands so the crease is as you’d like it.  Now iron over the pleat and give it some steam so it will be crisp.  Lastly, slide the shirt over the board and iron the last portion of the back of the shirt.

Iron the Back Pleat

Iron the Left Side of the Body

Now, iron the left side of the body.  Use the same guidelines as when you ironed the right side of the body.  Start with the shoulder, move to the top buttons and then finish up the rest of the body side.

When you are ironing the button holes on this side, make sure you smooth the seaming down with your hands first.  While holding the bottom of the shirt taut, iron slowly up the button holes towards the top of the shirt.  Use a lot of steam so the material is nice and flat.

Iron Button Holes

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