08 November 2010


In the old days, I used to drop my shirts off at the cleaners, medium starch on hangers. I loved the way they would come back all crispy and flat, and a little bit stiff. The way the back pleat would "crack" when I put the shirt on was the best. But that was in the days before children and full blast adulthood, when I had a tiny bit of disposable income. These days, I wash and iron my own shirts. Money aside, with two children in the house I do about 200 loads of laundry a week. Sending the shirts out is extravagant. What's one more load? I still like 'em crisp and bright, though.
Niagara Original Spray Starch may be an old lady product, but it does the trick. While it doesn't give me the stiff and crispy shirt of yore, it does allow me to press the collar, placket, cuffs and back pleat of my shirts super flat, while leaving the rest of the shirt relatively soft, yet neat. At $1.99, it costs as much as the commercial laundering of one shirt. I'll take it.  Besides, a man should know how to press his own clothes. Sometimes, the experience can be mildly therapeutic. It forces you to slow down a bit, and there's nothing quite like putting on a warm, freshly ironed shirt on a chilly morning. You'll see.
I just found Mrs. Stewart's concentrated liquid bluing today at the supermarket. I washed a load of white and blue shirts, and added a quart of cold water with a few drops of bluing to the wash. The whites are gleaming. I'd be leery of using this stuff too often, maybe every fourth or fifth wash, and sparingly. But I'll be damned if it didn't give me a "like new" brightness, without the poison that is bleach. At $1.99, this bottle will likely last me more than a year.

My routine is to wash the dress shirts separately, then hang them to dry on hangers with the top button closed on the shower curtain pole in the bathroom. I hang them wrinkled in the closet, and press them one by one just before wear. Ironing a bunch at once is pointless, since they tend to get wrinkled in the closet anyway. In a pinch, when a stiff starched shirt is not required, I'll throw a soft oxford in the drier alone for five minutes to knock the wrinkles out of it. It's a perfect quick fix if you're wearing jeans, or even with khakis, a knit tie and a comfy old blazer or sweater.

Wash your own clothes.


Jauregui said...

I agree with washing your own clothes. Being a Latino and an Army man I love the look and feel of nice, crisp ironing. It seems that very few men know how to wash and iron these days.

When I was stationed in Georgia I made a little extra money by ironing the other soldiers uniforms for inspection. I used Stay-Flo Heavy Starch back then.

Polishing shoes is another art form lost to men these days.

Standard Kiwi for black leather mirror like shines.
Lincoln wax for brown leather.
Saddle soap to wash off the dirt.

Ironing and polishing shows discipline, attention to detail and that you care.

Simple, Straight forward, American!

God Bless.

Kim said...

I actually like to iron, but do send out DOTR's shirts these days...mainly because he doesn't wear a suit that often anymore now that he's his own boss. I'm a fan of Magic Sizing and lavendar linen water since I don't need the stiffness. The saddest day of my life was when my heavy old black GE iron died and I couldn't find a replacement and had to go with some super expensive Rowenta thing that leaks water all over the place and doesn't do half the job of my trusty old iron that I bought at Eckerd.

Anonymous said...

throw a wet washcloth in the dryer with the oxford and you'll knock out even more wrinkles (if that's your goal)

matthew said...

This couldn't have been a more appropriate topic for me today. As i dont have to go to work til noon, im spending the whole morning doing the 200 loads of laundry from myself, the mrs, and a lil girl. (yep, 200 loads).

my question that ive been meaning to ask (which seems pretty appropriate here) relates to hanging shirts in the closet:

i like the way you hang the shirts right from the shower curtain pole, but when you do put them on hangers, do you button the collar? ive heard different theories on what helps the collar stay better on the hanger. some say button the very top collar button and no other buttons, some say button the second button and no other buttons so you dont stretch out the collar, etc etc.
i may be splitting hairs here, but like yourself i want to get the most life out of my clothes that i can and would like to hang them properly. how do you suggest?

(for the record, my overzealous ass buttons both the collar button and the second button when putting a dress shirt on a hanger, figure that covers all my bases, and hopefully isnt mangling my collars...)

Gentleman's Gazette said...

I also do my laundry and while I always liked ironing it recently got even better.
For the money I saved on the dry cleaners, I bought a vacuum pressing table and not only can I iron much faster now but is also great for delicate fabrics that would otherwise wrinkle because of the steam.
After this experience I can tell, that a good vacuum ironing board is far more important than a good iron.

Jho78 said...

Disposable income... I feel like I used to know what those words meant, 3 kids ago.

Giuseppe said...


I've always done the top button. I find it keeps the collars straight while they dry, making it easier to iron them later, and also prevens them coming off the hangers in the closet.

Every week, 200 loads. I still can't fathom how it's possible.

David V said...

During high school I was informed by my mother that I would now be responsible for washing and ironing my own cloths.

I'm very good with shirts.

Old School said...

This used to be on the Lands' End website:

If you've never ironed a shirt, this essay from our May 1987 catalog may provide some tips. If, on the other hand, you've secretly enjoyed ironing's small triumphs, you'll discover in its author a kindred spirit.

The Pleasure of Ironing a Fine Cotton Shirt.
by Roy Earnshaw

My wife is still asleep. I've exercised (quietly), showered, eaten breakfast. Now comes time for a familiar early morning ritual.

I take a cotton dress shirt from the closet, a wrinkled cotton dress shirt, shrug it off its hanger, and drape it over the ironing board.

Some men might smirk at the sight of me preparing to iron. "What? You iron your own shirts? John Wayne never would've!"

Well, call me a pantywaist, but I happen to enjoy it.

I plug in the iron, check the water level, turn the setting to — what else — cotton. Then pause for a few moments to let it get hot.

The room where I iron is a barren one. No furniture, just the ironing board. A "room we haven't figured out what to do with yet," having just recently bought this house. I suppose one day it will fill up with things, but right now I like it this way. Its spartan aspect seems well suited to the art of ironing.

I start with the left sleeve, first spritzing on water with a sprayer, then ironing it so flat, it almost looks as if I could pick it up and slice bread with it.

I turn it over, do the other side, then the cuff. Then on to the other sleeve, while the ironed one dangles just above the dusty wood floor.

(My wife tells me my technique is all wrong, but then so did my golf coach, my typing teacher, other authority figures. I take a perverse pleasure in doing things my own incorrect way.)

Now the back yoke, and a couple swipes at the collar. The easy parts. And then I sweep the shirt up off the board and down again, with its back spread out flat before me.

Sometimes I botch the back pleat, and have to do it two or three times. But no one is watching.

The ironing board cover bothers me. It's a cheap one, full of childish flowers in jarring hues. Orange. Chartreuse. Purple. The colors of fast food restaurants. I miss the plain white one my mother used to have, with its humble dignity and burn smudges.

I press on. (No letters please — bad puns harm no one.) The cotton cloth is soft, sturdy in my fingers, and responsive to the iron. I swear, it enjoys being ironed! Almost seems to purr. It has a wonderful, tightly-woven texture to it, and glistens with the heat of the iron, and the soft light of the room.

Again I sweep the shirt up off the board, and down again, to do the right front, skating in and out around the buttons, then the left, using plenty of water and going over the stubborn placket again and again, bearing down, until it finally yields and becomes flat, neat. I am finished.

Now, the final pleasure of slipping into the toasty shirt. Especially keen now, in the February cool of the house. It almost crackles as I button it up, tuck it in.

The finches in the back room start to peep as first light looks in the windows. Time for me to go. But I leave with a sense of contentment, knowing that whatever large debacles or small frustrations await me, I have at least done one small piece of good work today.

Old School said...

Mom on the Run:

Here's a replacement for your GE iron:


michael said...

Faultless Spray Starch is better and usually less expensive. I pay .96 per can. The so called professional grade of Faultless is 1.78. But I don't see any difference in my shirts with one versus the other.

Main Line Sportsman said...

I shamefully admit that my wife drops them off at the laundry and they show up back in my closet...
The thing is....commercial laundry is very hard on the shirts...I really think it cuts down on their life span.

Unknown said...

May I suggest mixing your own starch? You can find liquid starch concentrate at many grocery stores, and it's great because not only is it economical, but you can fine-tune the water/concentrate ratio to best suit you. A ratio of 2:1 water/concentrate gives me something roughly equivalent to Niagara spray starch. Just combine the concoction in a spray bottle (my wife bought me a simple one from the dollar store and it's worked great), shake well, and you're in business.

Roger v.d. Velde said...

The tailor I visit here in the Netherlands advised me to iron all my shirts damp; either before they are entirely dry or by dampening them later on with a spray. Also placing them in a plastic bag for 20 minutes after wetting.

I stopped folding the collars back down during drying because they tend to wrinkle underneath and spoil the neat fold. I leave the collar up, top two buttons fastened on a hanger.

We all have our little ways.

Anonymous said...

the beauty of thick oxford cloth is the charm in slight wrinkles -i hang them-they have never seen a dryer---however broadcloth and pinpoint almost require ironing and starch. fun article giueseppi

Young Fogey said...

Great post.

Back in my single days, I used to iron my own shirts--until I "discovered" the laundry feature of the dry cleaners. I would send my shirts out to be laundered. I had good laundries that took care of my shirts. The moderate cost was worth the time I saved.

Then the Little Woman enters my life. She loves to iron, and loves to iron my shirts. Wonderful!

Then she got pregnant (how'd that happen? ;-) The ironing stops. I send my shirts out again--but the laundry where we live now isn't as good as the one where we lived before. Shirts come back with mismatched buttons replacing the ones they broke.

Wife, kids, mortgage, bills--sending shirts out is too extravagant. I start ironing my own shirts again. (Really had to when the laundry ruined a brand-new shirt.) A can of spray starch from the dollar store--or Target, my spritzer, and something on the DVD player. I iron my pocket squares, then as many shirts as I can (stand to) get through before the show ends.

I no longer iron the backs--why bother when I seldom take off my jacket? And if I do, my body heat has already worked out the worst wrinkles, while wearing the shirt has worked more in.

Washing: cold water, hangers to dry, top button buttoned. Fels-Naphtha on the collar and cuffs as needed, including a quick dip in Oxy-Clean to help get the Fels-Naphtha loose.

Economical. Practical. Satisfying.

But I still can't wait until my youngest is big enough for the Little Woman to have enough time to iron my shirts again.

Anonymous said...

I had a question about the Blue Dye use.

Did you wash the white and blue shirts in the same load?
If not, would be ok to use a few drops of blue dye in a whites only load, and still expect the whites to come out their brightest?

Thanks- I've seen dyes in the store, but never understood their purpose. I had no idea you could use them as a whitener.

Anonymous said...

I've always washed my own shirts, be it cheap ones from the Gap or expensive designer ones. The last time I sent one of my more expensive shirts out, some of the buttons came back cracked by the idiot who pressed it.

I always button the top button when hanging in the closet, but leave the collar buttons undone on button-down collars.

Orthodox Trad said...

Anonymous 10:26:

Bluing is really all about adding a tinge of blue to your white clothes because in amongst all shades of white, the one with a blue hue is the brightest and clearest looking one. In fact most manufacturers recognize this fact and put their white products through a swirl of blue tint before putting it on the shelves. But the tint doesn’t last forever, the effect of chlorine, detergent and bleach will soon take its toll and that’s when you’re left with a yellowish or grayish looking white.

those tricks said...

Very interesting to learn of this blue trick.
thanks, guys.

RVS said...

You are a man of many talents. I just discovered "Magic" Premium Starch for darks colors...it doesn't flake and it smells divine.

btw~I think there's a glitch with your post feed, it says last content updated a year ago. I know you like to talk far too much for that to be the case...


Orthodox Trad said...


1. Spray the shirts with water.
2. Put them in a plastic bag.
3. Leave them overnight in the fridge.

The third step is not a joke.

Old Prof said...

Gentile Signore Timore,

Considering the fact that at this very moment there are 22 responses to a post about a seemingly mundane topic like laundry, might I suggest that you consider a post on how to iron a shirt. I predict that this will generate even more responses.

Grazie in anticipo.

Giuseppe said...

Stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

I definitely echo Jamie's "mix-your-own" sentiment. It's even cheaper than Niagara, provides more flexibility, and your plastic spray bottle won't ever throw rust on your dress shirts (which I've gotten from an aerosol can before).

jgodsey said...

I have a quick refresh, where i put the item in the drier with a damp washcloth and run it on low or even air fluff. the combo not only knocks on the wrinkles but sucks off all the lint, pet fur and surface dirt. Throw on a spritz of a fabric refresher and you are good for another wearing.