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In many situations, a well-ironed dress shirt makes a clear difference in creating a stylish, professional look. If you have one, you can feel more confident, more professional and worry less about wrinkles and looking off throughout the day. It especially makes a difference if you are also going to be around other people who have well-ironed clothes. You don't want to be the scruffy one. It also feels like a requirement in some circles, even if you're wearing a suit jacket or blazer over your shirt.
Yet ironing isn't a skill that's as popular as it used to be, and there is undoubtedly a way to do it right. So, for the sake of your appearance and your confidence (among other benefits), keep reading to learn how to iron a shirt perfectly.
Step 1: Get a Good Iron and a Good Ironing Board
You do not need an expensive iron to do a good job ironing and giving shirts a wrinkle-free finish. However, you should try to make sure that you are using an iron that is properly functioning, is not damaged in any way and has good safety features, such as automatic shutoff. This isn't simply for the safety of your shirt but also peace of mind. Additionally, you might want to check to make sure there is no buildup or other damage. If you decide to buy a new iron, a steam iron is the way to go.
Don't try to iron your shirt on the kitchen table. While a table is a flat surface that seems like it would be perfect for ironing, it just isn’t safe. It is a risk and could cause damage to everything involved. Ironing boards are easily foldable, and they are affordable for practically anyone. You can easily keep it in a closet when not in use, and some older homes even have compartments explicitly built to hold ironing boards. Don’t iron shirts on a table or any other hard surface. Get an ironing board and put it in an appropriate spot.
Ensure your ironing board is secure and stable. Try putting a little bit of weight on it if you are setting it up for the first time. Having it buckle unexpectedly under the pressure of your ironing could lead to disastrous results, so a few seconds of precaution are well worth it. In terms of size, aim for at least a standard ironing board and make room for it. Remember, ironing boards fold flat for easy storage, so you don’t need to worry about it being in the way while in use.
Once this is done, fill up your iron with water, preferably filtered tap water or a mixture of tap and distilled water (too much of one or the other can cause damage over time to your iron). You may wish to look at your iron's instructions for this step. Some manufacturers have different recommendations regarding distilled water vs. filtered tap water. Always follow your iron’s instructions to ensure the best results. If you know what you're doing, you should start heating the iron before going to the next step. As for the heat, check the tag on the shirt. There should be an icon signifying the proper heat for your iron (more on this in a moment).
Finally, give yourself enough space to work. You want to be able to move around freely and not worry about knocking anything over or tripping with your iron in hand (which can be profoundly dangerous). You aren't working with the most dangerous tool in the universe, but you are working with something hot, so take care to avoid accidental burns from a hot iron.
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Step 2: Prepare the Shirt and Place It on Your Ironing Board
Whether it’s a dress shirt or a t-shirt, start by washing and drying the shirt according to the instructions on the care label. If the label says the item is dry clean only, don’t put it in your washing machine or dryer. Instead, visit a professional dry cleaner. If a shirt has a stain on it, ironing it will only worsen it, so be sure to remove stains before ironing. In the worst-case scenario, the stain could even be a fire hazard. A clean shirt makes for a well-ironed shirt. Plus, starting with a clean shirt means you’ll look clean and polished once all the creases have been removed.
Do make sure it is mostly dry before ironing. You do not want to iron a soaking-wet shirt, as it will interfere with the process. Once the shirt has been machine- or air-dried (depending on the instructions on the shirt’s label ), you can try to work with it. However, you can — and perhaps should — use a spray bottle to dampen the shirt with a bit of water to make it easier to iron and help prevent damage. Spraying some extra water later down the line can also help with the worst creases and wrinkles.
Something else you will want to do is check if there is any label or icon on the shirt that can tell you the optimum ironing temperature.
- A single dot inside the iron means you should use a maximum temperature of 110 degrees Celsius. You probably shouldn't steam iron the shirt.
- Two dots mean that you should use a maximum temperature of 150 degrees Celsius.
- Three dots mean you can use a maximum temperature of 200 degrees Celsius. Cotton shirts are usually the ones that can withstand this much heat.
- If there is an "X" through the iron, do not iron the shirt.
Once this is done, unbutton the shirt entirely (including the cuffs) so that you can more easily iron everything. Lay the shirt flat on your ironing board.
Step 3: Iron Your Dress Shirt Part by Part and Take Your Time
Now you are ready to iron your shirt. After checking to see if the iron is at the right temperature (try flicking a drop or two of water at it if it doesn’t have an indicator light to let you know when it’s up to temperature), follow these steps:
- Start by unfolding and ironing the back of the shirt collar, ironing towards the middle instead of starting with it.
- Next come the cuffs. Iron the insides first, again ironing towards the middle. Make sure that you avoid ironing the buttons, as you could damage them in the process. You should iron over the button holes on the other side, though.
- Once the cuffs are taken care of, move up to the sleeves. To make the sleeves a bit easier to iron, pull them over the narrow end of your ironing board. This makes keeping them flat much simpler. As you work, be sure to rotate the sleeve so that you can iron all sides. Try to remove wrinkles and creases yourself with your hands first, and then iron from the cuffs up to the shoulders. Flip the shirt over and do the other side if necessary.
- After the shirt sleeves are done, iron the back of the shirt. To iron your entire shirt on a standard ironing board, you will probably need to reposition it a few times. Take care not to wrinkle it further when moving it around. If your shirt has pleats, then iron under them first. Take care not to mess up the pleats.
- The yoke, or shoulder area, of the shirt should come next. Iron from the outer parts of it to the inside. Do one shoulder, and then iron the other.
- The front of the shirt comes next and can be more difficult than you might think. Ensure to iron around the buttons and work from the outside going in when it comes to ironing the shirt's pocket (it can be especially prone to small wrinkles). Be sure to iron the entire placket and button hole area. Just take care to avoid running the hot iron over the buttons, as mentioned above. Use the tip of the iron to get as close to them as possible.
- Finally, you will want to iron the collar's front, again working from the edges towards the center of the collar.
Just remember — there is such a thing as over-ironing your clothes. It leads to burning, especially if you forget about the water levels in the iron. You will want to keep a focused mind as you iron if the shirt is truly important to you. Pay attention to what your iron and shirt are doing.
Step 4: Put Away Your Shirt Properly
A vital step in ensuring you don't reverse all your hard work ironing your shirt is putting it away properly. Whether it’s a dress shirt or t-shirt, you don’t want it to get all wrinkly again before you wear it! If you want to wear it right away, that's all well and fine (though perhaps let it cool off a bit if needed), but most of the time, you're saving it for later. Don't rush the job and don't just put your shirt off to the side, however tempting that might be. Having to iron it all over again will be more frustrating.
If you wish to use starch on your shirt at this point, do so. Spray starch can help keep the shirt unwrinkled, but use it sparingly. Using too much can wear away at your shirt over time. Read the instructions on the can for more detailed information.
When hanging the shirt, make one last check for any remaining wrinkles or problems. Use a plastic hanger rather than metal as metal is more likely to cause wrinkles in the shoulder area.
Ironing your shirt may or may not be a skill you use every day, but it is a valuable skill to have. The last thing you want is to look like a mess at the worst possible time and feel less than your best. On the other hand, poor ironing can ruin your clothes or make things worse, as burn marks are much worse than wrinkles. We hope that you can get your ironing done without issue and that you have a great day — whatever the occasion for ironing is.