How to Properly Iron a Dress Shirt

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I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a man who’s wearing what would be a very dapper get-up….except it’s ruined by wrinkly clothes. I see this especially with young, single professional men who probably don’t have mom or a wife to iron their clothes for them and never learned this basic life skill for themselves.

The fact is a lot of grown men don’t know how to iron a shirt. It’s nothing to be ashamed of if you don’t know how. Growing up, dear old mom probably ironed your dress shirts whenever you needed one and now your wife does this chore. But a man needs to be self-sufficient. He shouldn’t have to rely on somebody else to ensure that he looks presentable. He’s in charge of that. If an unexpected interview or date comes up, a man knows how to get ready and out the door looking like a million bucks.

Details matter when it comes to your appearance and making a good first impression. Wrinkles draw the eye of those you meet and make you look sloppy and out-of-sorts. Having well-pressed clothing shows the world that you’re a man of discipline and order, a man who has his stuff together and understands that the details matter. And a crisp shirt really pulls together a handsome outfit. Throw on a well-ironed shirt, and you get a bit of confident pep in your step; it just feels good.

Ironing isn’t hard when you get the hang of it. You can get a shirt done in less than 5 minutes. And boom – you’re ready to take on the world.

Today we’re going to give you the ins and outs of fast, effective ironing. If you don’t really know how to iron a dress shirt, here’s your primer. And if you’re already pretty adept at this chore, you’ll probably find some great tips you never thought of before. So let’s get started by talking about the tools of the trade.

The 6 Tools of Effective Ironing

Tool #1: The Iron

How do you identify a quality iron?

A well built soleplate – To play on words, this is the soul of the iron. You want something that is solid, smooth, and clean if buying used. You’ll find soleplates made from solid steel, titanium coated, and cast iron with aluminum, to name three solid options. Avoid new irons under $20, as this is where low cost manufacturers most often skimp on the product to keeps costs low. A poor quality soleplate will not clean well and may have uneven heat distribution – which leads to shirts being damaged.

High heat capability – Most consumer irons range in power consumption from 420 watts (small travel irons) to 1800 watts (higher end models above $100). The power consumption plays into the amount of heat produced by the iron, although there isn’t always a direct relationship as the size of the soleplate needing to be heated factors in as well. But generally speaking, a 1800 watt iron is going to be hotter than a 1200 watt one, and it will heat up faster.

Why the need for heat? Certain fabrics, cotton and linen being two of them, require high heat to reform their shape. A hotter iron can cut ironing time in half, vs. one that forces you to pass and remain on the same part of the garment for 45 seconds. Also, steam production relies on the soleplate’s temperature and higher temps produce steadier steam.

Steam delivery system – You want steam as it breathes life into fabrics and the hot moisture enables the toughest wrinkles to smooth out with minimal work by more evenly distributing the heat through the garment fibers. Steam irons under $20 often have their steam component built in as an afterthought and sputter and spit out water when you don’t want it. Higher end models have 300+ holes that deliver a clean, uniform mist.

Depending on your needs you’ll want the best steam delivery system you can budget. Why? A good steam iron can be used indirectly on wools and other more delicate fabrics and save you thousands a year in pressing and dry cleaning costs in addition to what I mentioned above.

Size and Weight – Size and weight do become issues for those who deal with arthritis or are sensitive to weight differences of a few pounds. Thus expensive irons made from lightweight space-age materials are not necessarily better because they cost more – they simply are being made for a different customer. So don’t always equate price with quality.

Special Note – Travel Irons

For the sharp dressed road warrior a travel iron is a wise investment. Although hotels normally have an iron and board available for guest use, this isn’t always the case, especially at hotels that are either budget or are trying to encourage use of their expensive in-house cleaning services.

Having your own iron enables you to use a device you’re familiar with and prepare your clothing on your schedule as you see fit. No ironing board? Grab a towel and throw it on a flat surface – it will do the job.

Personally I recommend Steamfast’s compact travel iron. It is incredibly small, lightweight, hot, produces an decent amount of steam, and is value priced. However what impressed me most was the great customer service I recently received from this American business. I was having mechanical problems (or so I thought – turns out I didn’t know how to use it properly) and thought it was going to be a hassle to exchange it as I had waited 8 months to report the problem. Instead, I spoke with a very nice customer service rep who resolved my issue and within minutes shipped me a new one – no questions asked. You have to love that!

Tool # 2: The Ironing Board

You need something that’s sturdy and has a top that you’re comfortable ironing on. I advise you see what’s available for free as many people have an old one lying around – and then spend the money on a nice cover and pad. You can also put a piece of aluminum foil under the ironing board cover – the idea here is to reflect the iron’s heat back on itself so you’re actually ironing from both sides at once. Be careful though as it will increase the speed in which you can burn the clothing.

Tool #3: Spray Bottle

Do not re-use a container that housed a cleaning agent. You’ll use this spray bottle to disperse water evenly over your shirt before ironing in the case your iron is not equipped with a steam function or when you’re ironing in bulk (as I will show you). It’s also handy for when you’re ironing a wrinkle – give the spot a spray and then iron out the wrinkle seconds later.

Tool #4: Water

You want to use water free of small dirt and high concentrations of calcium and magnesium, both common in hard water. Long term use can lead to iron damage and leave marks on dress shirt fabrics that are hard to remove. However, you do not need to use distilled water as some mineral presence is good as it acts as a wetting agent and helps water better vaporize when it contacts the soleplate. Drinking water is perfect for most irons.

Tool #5: A Light-Colored Cotton Towel

A towel can be used as a ironing board pad, rolled and used inside sleeves as a makeshift sleeve-board, or simply to clean up excess water sprayed on the shirt.

Tool #6: Spray Starch (Optional)

I remember in the Marines using cans of spray starch in an effort to get the perfect “crisp” look; however, just as often I would overdue it and be dealing with flakes due to over starching or not letting it set in.

To use starch, understand it is best used in moderation and with a temperature setting of 6 or below (the highest setting can cause flaking). Too much and you can make a normally breathable cotton shirt feel like a synthetic plastic bag and cause more wrinkles when worn!

FYI – a man can make his own starch spray by dissolving one tablespoon of cornstarch in two cups water. Using a spray bottle (preferably not the water one – clearly mark it “spray starch”) you can then LIGHTLY mist the fabric a minute before ironing.

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