While it is important to have custom suits and dress shirts that are properly measured and well fabricated, a wardrobe is only as good as the habits of the person maintaining it. We've all seen new hires show up for job interviews in a nice suit but sporting a wrinkled shirt or an uneven collar, and although it is said that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, first impressions still go a very long way. It seems that everyone across the globe has different ideas about how to maintain dress shirts properly to keep them looking clean and wrinkle-free throughout any given workweek. And some of these ideas, of course, tend to fare better than others.
All of us more likely than not have college stories of people making accidental tie-dye garments in the communal coin-operated washing machine, and unfortunately, some of these bad laundering habits stick with more than just a handful of gentlemen into their real bonafide adult years. When they do, it is visually and painfully obvious.
Bad dry cleaning services can ruin clothes. Excessive time in the dryer can shrink shirts or leave too many wrinkles if it is overloaded. Using the hot wash setting with other colors can make them all run together. Flat electric non-steam dry irons—when used improperly or left unattended—can leave horrid brown pizza marks on your dress shirts at best, and at worst start devastating fires. All of these are perhaps the most prominent examples of how not to take care of your wardrobe. So what's the consensus on the right way, without breaking machines or setting city blocks ablaze?
In this article, we'll discuss the best ways to keep your shirts looking sharp without having to fork over a small fortune to the dry cleaners down the street or hiring a housekeeper to do so.
Dry cleaning has the potential to be costly, but it doesn't have to be. It is by far the easiest—and most popular—method in keeping your dress shirts neat and tidy, as well as the most consistent and reassuring, most of the time. Still, there are little things you need to be cautiously aware of when taking your next batch of clothes to the dry cleaners.
Broken down to the most basic definition, dry cleaning refers to a wide variety of cleaning processes that use any solvent other than water. The name is a bit of a misnomer, as dry cleaning is nether dry nor is it particularly clean, in terms of its environmental impact. Still, the process today remains largely necessary for cleaning suits as well as dress shirts made from more delicate fabrics.
Initially developed in the 1820s using turpentine as a solvent, the dry cleaning industry gradually shifted to using tetrachloroethylene—more commonly known as perc, the shortened version of its other chemical name perchloroethylene—due to its more stable and non-flammable properties. This chemical is still the most widely used today, although there are environmental and health concerns surrounding it. While incidental exposure (i.e. getting your suits and shirts dry cleaned on even a regular basis) is unlikely to cause any problems, the chemical is a known irritant and can increase cancer risk when exposed to high amounts. Other chemicals are also in use, and these include hydrocarbons, supercritical carbon dioxide, D5, brominated solvents, and largely phased-out chlorofluorocarbons. All of these other substances have varying degrees of efficacy and environmental impact, but without digressing into a chemistry lesson, perc is still the industry standard and likely will remain so due to its safety profile, albeit an imperfect one. Turpentine and petroleum-based solvents, for example, are highly flammable and less effective as cleaning agents, so their use today is extremely limited.
Dry cleaning has several benefits, but you should still be careful about which business you choose to patron. Sometimes walking or driving a slightly farther distance will do wonders for your wardrobe and your pocketbook. Many dry cleaners these days outsource their clothes to large third-party bulk cleaning services, and from our experience, many—but not all—of these services have the tendency to ruin clothes. In most cases, you are better off going to a dry cleaner that does everything in-house, even if it costs a little extra. The benefit of going to smaller all-in-one cleaners is that they will also launder, fold, and iron your clothes for you at a lower price, if you want to avoid chemicals on your clothes or unnecessary starch on your shirts. This is also a good option if your dress shirts do not require dry cleaning, as many made from cotton and blended fabrics do not.
One of the great benefits of laundering your dress shirts is that it can be done at home, so long as you have a washer and dryer at your disposal. But before you throw your dress shirts into the washing machine along with your other everyday garments, always look at the labels on your dress shirts first. Depending on the material, your dress shirts may require dry cleaning or even handwashing, for the obsessively frugal. While washing machines are wonderful conveniences taken for granted, they still have the ability to do some serious damage to your clothes if you are not careful. But if you feel comfortable laundering your own dress shirts, there are a few tips you should always keep in the back of your mind before you start any laundry cycle.
At the very least, always try to use lower water temperatures on your dress shirts, especially if they are made from delicate fabrics more prone to premature wear. This will prevent excessive fading and ensure any mixed colors don't run together. If your washer is equipped with the following feature, set it to permanent press or delicates/knits. The way in which the washer spins will be less chaotic on this setting, and your shirts will receive a much gentler wash. If your washer has a central agitator, it's always smart to use lighter loads. Overloading a washer, especially one with an agitator, increases the chances of ruining your shirts if any fabric strands somehow get caught on the blades.
When you're done washing your shirts, drying them can be a bit of an art form. If you opt for using a dryer, always use a medium-heat setting at the very most. Higher temperatures during the drying process can cause your dress shirts to shrink and once that happens, it is very difficult to bring them back to their intended size. It is also very important not to overload the dryer. When drying sheets or towels, there is nothing wrong with using your machine's maximum capacity. With dress shirts, however, throwing in too large of a load will make your shirts wrinkle more easily. It is best to only dry a few shirts at a time, and be mindful of how long you leave them in your dryer. Using fabric softener sheets will also never hurt, and we recommend using at least two at a time. If you opt to air dry your shirts, whether outside or indoors, use caution with this method, as shirts tend to sag and wrinkle without any consistent airflow.
One life hack that does work when you're in a hurry is the 10-minute quick-dry trick to get wrinkles out of that shirt you may have neglected on top of a pile on the floor. Using a medium heat setting, toss your shirt into the dryer with a fabric softener sheet for about 10 minutes. Taking the shirt out and hanging it up or folding it rapidly should leave your shirt mostly wrinkle-free. It won't be as good of a job as a steam iron, but it should leave your previously wrinkled shirt presentable enough when you need something for the office at the last minute.
Other than alphabetizing your bookshelf or counting the number of treads on your tires, ironing is usually the last thing you'll want to do with your free time. It's tedious, mundane, and occasionally requires focused attention. But it is one of the most effective ways to remove wrinkles from your dress shirts, and in most cases will surpass a dryer in doing the job. So if you feel like taking a weekend to binge-watch TV shows on streaming services that seem to run together like a carelessly non-separated load of laundry, go ahead and dust off the ironing board and flip your mind's autopilot switch.
There are two main types of irons that are generally available: dry irons and steam irons. Dry irons, as its name implies, uses only a heating element while steam irons use heated water. The latter type is much more effective at removing wrinkles from dress shirts and does so more quickly. Using a dry iron to press your clothes can take some time, and because it uses older technology—dry irons are increasingly becoming uncommon—it has the potential to damage your clothes or even start fires if left unattended. The water in a steam iron acts as an effective buffer zone between the heating element and your clothing, so if a steam iron is left on one of your shirts for too long the worst that will happen is that you may have to wash or dry it again as it becomes saturated once the steam cools. A dry iron, on the other hand, can leave unsightly and indelible burn marks on your clothes. They also malfunction more easily and fires started by unattended dry irons are not unheard of. Coming into contact with the plate on the bottom, even briefly and inadvertently, can cause skin to burn. While some people swear by dry irons—they do require fewer steps to get ready as they do not come with a water reservoir like their steam counterparts—we strongly recommend a steam iron if you decide to go the ironing route. It may be boring and time-consuming, but it can be a very effective way to save those extra dollars that you would have otherwise spent on dry cleaning services.
No matter what method you prefer, your dress shirts should always be wrinkle-free and ready to go at a moment's notice. Keeping your wardrobe functional is essential, especially when you need custom suits and crisp clean shirts on rotation. All of us here at Enzo Custom want to ensure that you never leave a stone unturned when it comes to proper care of your custom suits and shirts, so you can extend the lifetime of your wardrobe for many years to come.