How To Iron A Dress Shirt Correctly
It might be a basic task, but every dude needs to know how to iron a shirt. If possible, he should know how to iron a shirt well.
I hand-wash, hang-dry, and iron all my own dress shirts. I decided to go this route because I was sick of scorched fabric, poor pressing, and broken buttons from the dry cleaner. Plus, at $5-$6 bucks a pop, you can really save some cash. To me, the money is much less important than knowing my clothes will be treated properly.
This topic has been covered elsewhere before, but novelty has often been the primary focus rather than the useful information you really need. So, here is a primer on how to iron a dress shirt.
Get Yourself a Good Iron and Board
First of all, you should get yourself a great iron. Will a cheaper iron do the job? Yes, but a better one will make your life easier.
My personal iron, the Velocity V95 by Reliable, is pictured below. This model has since been replaced by the V100, but they are nearly identical. You can get the V100 on amazon for $139.
This iron has one primary feature that makes it better than most others. It generates steam no matter the selected plate temperature. Your traditional “steam iron” relies on selecting a high temperature setting in order for the iron to generate steam. This means, if you want steam, your iron needs to be really hot and that simply isn’t safe for many types of fabric (they can burn or melt).
On the contrary, with the Reliable V95/V100, you can iron a shirt on the lowest temperature setting but with as much steam as you want. 100% cotton is generally safe to iron at high temperature, but anything with synthetic fiber (polyester, spandex, lycra, etc) in it needs to be treated with more caution, as it can burn or melt. You might be saying “Why would I be ironing spandex??”, however many dress and sport shirts contain some percentage of the materials listed.
The Reliable V95/V100 has four temperature settings, plus separate controls for the steam, all on a cool, back-lit, digital display. If a gadget has extra buttons or a screen, instead of switches and knobs, that always gets a few points in my book.
In terms of an ironing board, I only have two important tips for you:
- If the width of the board closely matches the width of your shirts it will make your job way easier. So, don’t try to save a couple bucks by getting some tiny ass ironing board.
- Ironing boards tend to include really cheap pads on them. Under the pad, typically, is metal in a honeycomb pattern. The metal absorbs heat and can transfer it back to your garment. If you use too much pressure on a cheap ironing board pad, you can end up with a visible honeycomb pattern on your clothing. So, spending a few bucks on an upgraded pad to replace (or go on top of) the included one is a wise investment.
General Shirt Ironing Strategy
Temperature: You’re always better off starting with a lower temperature and increasing if need be. My iron has heat settings 1 (lowest) thru 4 (highest). I iron all my shirts on setting 2, with the steam turned on. As I mentioned above, synthetic materials (especially when dark colors) should be ironed at a low temperature. If you set it too high, you can actually melt the fabric and it will become shiny looking and will essentially be ruined. (Some minor fabric shine can be fixed with vinegar and a tooth brush… but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that)
Motion: You never want to let your iron sit still on the fabric for more than a second or two. If the iron is on, and touching the fabric, it should be moving.
Sequence: My strategy, that I shall now impart to you, is to iron the sturdiest parts of the shirt first, as they are least likely to get messed up as you continue ironing. Also, the way the shirt will sit on the board determines the best order for ironing. My preferred ironing sequence is: collar, cuffs, yoke, sleeves, fronts, and back. If timing allows, letting each section of the shirt cool down before moving on to the next will yield better results.
In the photos below, I am ironing a 100% cotton, white theory dress shirt.
1) The Collar
Lay the whole collar flat against your board, as shown above. Using the front tip of the iron, iron out all the wrinkles in smooth motions. Depending how your shirt is stitched, you can adjust the direction you move the iron as to not cause any ripples or creases in the collar.
Since I iron with the steam on at all times, I never find the need to iron both sides of the collar (front and back). I just iron the front, visible area, and leave it at that.
2) The Cuffs
Next, unbutton all the cuff buttons (and remove any cuff links), and flatten out the cuff on the ironing board. Similarly to the collar, use the front tip of the iron to remove the wrinkles in the cuff. Use care when going around the buttons in the cuff.
Repeat on the second cuff.
3) The Yoke (piece of fabric across shoulders)
Firstly, the yoke is the piece of fabric behind the collar that runs across your shoulders. The size of the yoke will vary from shirt to shirt. For example, the yoke in the shirt pictured is larger than the one on a more basic shirt from Express. The more significant the yoke, the more important it is to iron separately.
Your ability to place the yoke totally flat on your board will depend on the shape of the shirt and the board. It is perfectly fine to do the yolk in two phases, one side then the other. You can line up the shoulder end of the yoke with the narrow tip of the board and get it as flat as possible.
Again, use the tip of the iron to smooth out the wrinkles in the yoke. If you wrinkle other panels of the shirt in the process of ironing the yoke, it’s ok, you’re going to be ironing them later.
3) The Sleeves
The sleeves are next, and a bit more tricky because you need to take a moment to line up each sleeve properly on the board before you iron it.
Place the sleeve face-down on the board, so that the button flap near the cuff is facing upward. You want to the sleeve totally flat on the board, using the seams on the top and bottom as guides. If you get the sleeve totally flat, and use steam, you can usually iron the front and back in one pass without needing to turn the sleeve over.
Ironing the majority of the sleeve is pretty easy. Ironing down by the buttons and cuff is a bit tougher. Some shirts have pleats by the cuff, so exactly how you iron them varies. In general, you’ll use the very tip of the iron to smooth out as much of the fabric as possible while working around any pleats and buttons.
4) The Front(s)
We are coming down the home stretch… Next come the front panels of the shirt.
You’re going to lay each panel of the shirt on the board as flat as possible. It’s ok if you need to shift it to get the job done, but the less shifting required, the less touching up you’ll need to do.
The left side, without buttons, is quite easy to iron. Long, smooth motions with the iron should do most of the work. Extra attention is usually needed where the front meets the collar and sleeve. These areas near seems have a tendency to ripple, so do the best you can. With practice, it will get easier and quicker.
The right side, where the buttons are, requires a little more time to iron between each button using the tip of the iron. Buttons aside, the same rules apply as the left side of the shirt.
Aside from the collar, the front panels are typically the most visible when you’re wearing the shirt, so take a little extra time to make sure everything looks the way you want it.
5) The Back
Almost done. We’ve reached the back of the shirt.
Lay the back of the shirt on your board, with the collar of the shirt at the pointed end of the board. Unless your shirt is small and your ironing board huge, you’re going to need to do this is 2 or 3 sections.
The back of the shirt is really easy to iron. Again, mind the areas around the sleeve seems. Use the tip of the iron to smooth out any small winkles.
Depending on the shirt, there will likely be a center pleat or side pleats along the seam where the back meets the yolk. Use the very tip of the iron to remove the wrinkles but leave the shape of the pleat intact. This area of the shirt is usually the most prone to being pressed poorly at the cleaners.
And, You’re Done!
There you have it, you’re ironed your first shirt.
Some opt to iron a crease into the collar fold, but I just fold it by hand to get a more natural, rolled look.
Now, hang it up on a wooden hanger, fasten the top few buttons, and let it chill out for a bit.