How to Wash Your Custom Dress Shirts at Home (and Save Money)

How to Wash Your Custom Dress Shirts at Home (and Save Money)


Believe it or not, your custom dress shirts don’t need to be dry cleaned. Unless a piece of clothing has a tag that specifically states “DRY CLEAN ONLY,” you’re spending a lot more than you need to taking your clothes to the dry cleaner.

In fact, if you do take your dress shirts to get dry cleaned, the cleaners probably don’t actually dry clean them. Instead they do what’s called a “wash and press.” This usually costs about $1.50 per shirt, and it can be the easiest way to get your shirts cleaned and pressed. But if you’d like to save some money, don’t have time to get to the cleaners, or feel the need to prove your ability to care for yourself (#adulting), you can absolutely wash your shirts at home and get the same results.

That said, you can’t just throw custom tailored shirts into the washing machine and expect them to hold up. In order to avoid all the worst washing problems like shrinking, staining, pilling, and tears, here’s what you need to do.

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Before the Wash

1. The sniff/sight test

First things first, determine whether your shirt actually needs to be washed. Try to break the habit of wearing shirts for part of one day and then throwing them in the hamper. Your dress shirts will last longer the more care you take washing them, but even so, they only have a certain number of washes in them before the fabric starts to break down. So help your shirts live longer by giving the arm pits a sniff and checking the collar and cuffs for signs of sweat. If your shirt still seems fresh, hang it up.

Pro tip: If you don’t already, wear short-sleeve undershirts beneath your custom dress shirts. This will help keep them fresh and clean even longer.

2. Spot treat any stains

If you spilled something on your shirt, pre-treat the area before putting the shirt in the washing machine. You can do this by gently working a little detergent directly onto the soiled area with a clean washcloth. Don’t rub too hard. You can also use a fabric pen, but be careful not to press too hard or you may end up doing more damage. If the shirt is 100% cotton, you can also try a dab of white vinegar for a natural treatment that works wonders. If you fail to treat stains before washing a shirt, the stain might set in the wash, and then you’re out of luck.

3. Unbutton and flip

Unbutton every last button of your shirt, including the cuffs and collar. Undoing the buttons helps the shirt wash more evenly and helps prevent the shirt from catching on things in the washing machine. You should also turn the shirt inside out so that the dirtier areas (such as the inner collar and armpits) get the cleanest.

Pro tip: If you have an older washing machine or use a communal washing machine, invest in a laundry bag. Washing your shirts in a mesh bag will protect them from getting caught on things and tearing. Here’s a great option from Amazon for just $8.

4. Separate your lights and darks

Don’t wash your white shirts and your colorful dress shirts together. Separate them into two loads that you will wash with different settings. (More on that below.) If you have any red shirts, they should probably get their own load, just to be safe.

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In the Wash

1. Choose the right cycle

You’ve got three options when it comes to the cycle you use. If your shirts are made of delicate fabrics like silks or satins, use the delicate cycle. If your shirts are made of cotton or linen, use the normal cycle. If your shirts are made of synthetic fabrics like rayon or polyester, use the permanent press or “casual” cycle. This cycle spins a bit more slowly, making it gentler. Most of your shirts should be just fine using the normal cycle, but it’s up to you.

2. Set the temperature

Your light shirts and any heavily soiled shirts can be washed in warm water. The warm setting will get your clothes a bit cleaner, but it will also cause more wear and tear. Cold water is best for any dark shirts. You should only use hot water for basic white cotton shirts, and even then warm is probably a better choice.

3. Use good detergent

If you use cheap detergent to save money, you’ll end up costing yourself down the line by prematurely wearing out your shirts. Make sure that your detergent is safe for color shirts, or use one detergent for white shirts and another for color shirts. Stay away from chlorine based detergents for any of your custom tailored shirts, but be especially careful with your darker shirts. Gain, All, and Tide are good brands. Buy the biggest jug to save money.

Pro tip: Don’t go overboard. Using too much detergent won’t make your shirts extra clean. It will just break down the fabrics prematurely.

After the Wash

1. Stay away from the dryer

If at all possible, avoid putting your custom dress shirts in the dryer. Instead, hang them on molded plastic or wooden hangers and let them air dry.

Take your shirts out of the washer as soon as the load is done to avoid molding and wrinkling. Hold them by the shoulders and give each shirt one good snap. Then place each shirt on a hanger and button the top button. Using this method, your shirts should dry with minimal wrinkles.

Pro tip: If you absolutely must dry your shirts, put a few dryer balls in the load to help reduce the drying time, and use a moderate heat. Take your shirts out as soon as the buzzer dings to avoid wrinkles.

2. Iron your shirts

If your shirts have wrinkle free fabric, you’re done! But if your shirts are prone to wrinkles or if you prefer that crisp pressed look, break out your iron to get your clean shirts back in perfect form.

Start with the back of the shirt, then move to each sleeve, the yoke (the piece of fabric that sits on top of the shoulders), the collar, and finally the front. Take your time and use the steam function of your iron, but remember not to let the iron sit in one spot — keep it moving to avoid burns. Use the lowest heat that still gets wrinkles out of the particular shirt fabric. Check out our blog on proper ironing technique for more detailed instructions.

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