How to Iron a Dress Shirt (or Fake it for Similar Results)

Life isn’t fair. Bad things happen to good people.

Case in point: sooner or later, you’ll have to act like a grown man and iron your own shirt. Or, at the very least, pretend you did.

Having a crisp, unwrinkled shirt could be the difference between landing a respectable job and landing your sorry butt in the welfare line.

Clothes make the man.  The man must therefore make the clothes appear not-slept-in.

Here’s a handy guide to impressively wrinkle-free shirts — both the real way and the probably-good-enough way.

1. Know thy shirt

ironing shirt tips

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Real way: look at the tag under the collar. It will tell you, via cryptic hieroglyphics, whether you can iron the shirt. A line crossing through a symbol of an iron should be a dead giveaway that you’re not supposed to iron it. Most dress shirts are cotton or cotton blends, which are fairly resilient to heat, so you’re good. Synthetic fibers like polyester are more prone to melting (and bad fashion), so watch out.

Probably good enough: always, always, always buy shirts purported to be “wrinkle-free” or “wrinkle resistant.” This will save you lots of trouble.

2. Wash the shirt

Real way: a shirt will iron better if it’s still damp from the washing machine. And you don’t want to iron a dirty shirt, because you’ll end up cooking any caked-on schmutz right into the fabric. Remove it from the dryer before it’s fully dry, because it’s better for ironing if it’s still a bit damp.

Probably good enough: check for obvious stains, blobs and smears. If any are present, determine whether they’ll be hidden by your suit jacket. If this is your strategy, remember not to remove your suit jacket, no matter how much you intend to drunkenly dance to “YMCA” at your cousin’s wedding reception. If it’s clean-ish, spritz it with water from a spray bottle to moisten it. A squirt of Febreze wouldn’t hurt either. If the shirt really needs a wash, wash it. Or throw it out and buy a new one.

3. Find an ironing board

Real way: You should probably have one of these. Go to the closet you use least often and look in the very back of it, behind the tennis racquets and ab exercisers you never use. It should be there. Or go buy one. In a pinch, you can use another hard surface — but NOT a varnished/laminate tabletop or countertop. You’ll melt it (and ruin your shirt). A wooden floor or other hard surface covered with a thick towel will do the trick.

Probably good enough: No ironing board necessary, since you’re not going to be doing any ironing.

4. Prepare the iron

Real way: Fill the iron with clean drinking-quality water (sediment or minerals will eventually muck things up). Turn it on low and let it heat up for a few minutes. Don’t let the iron sit hot-side-down on anything. That’s how you’ll get one of those comical black scorch marks frequently on the shirts of hapless doofuses on sitcoms.

Probably good enough: If you washed your shirt, take it out of the dryer just before it’s dry and hang it up (don’t let it sit in the dryer, or it’ll just re-wrinkle). Don’t hang it too close to other clothes, or things will bunch up. If it’s still wrinkly, see step 5.

5. Iron

Real Way: This should be done in steps.

(i) Lay the collar out flat and iron it first. A crisp collar is a must-have. It frames your face and is one of the only parts of the shirt visible if you’re wearing a jacket. Be sure to remove any little plastic tabs from inside the collar or they’ll melt.

(ii) Iron the cuffs. They’re the other part that will be sticking out from the jacket, unless you’ve bought an oversized jacket and undersized shirt. Don’t iron the buttons. That would be dumb.

(iii) Iron the front of the shirt. Start on the side with the buttons. Maneuver the pointy end of the iron between the buttons, but to reiterate: don’t iron the buttons (they’re already flat). Push the iron in long sweeps up and down the shirt, never stopping on one spot too long. Then do the other half — the side with the button holes — in the same manner.

Ironing a shirt

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(iv) Iron the back of the shirt. Wherever you see wrinkles, rub the iron over them until they go away. It’s not rocket science.

(v) Iron the sleeves. Lay one sleeve out flat, trying to match the existing crease (you do not want to create a new crease). Once it’s laid out flat, iron from the shoulder to the collar. Switch sleeves, repeat.

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ironing a shirt

The home sauna technique.
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Probably good enough: Because the steps above seem like an awful lot of work, you’ll probably want to avoid them. If your shirt is still wrinkly after coming out of the dryer — or if you’ve pulled a wrinkly shirt out of a suitcase and don’t have laundry facilities handy — try this classic technique. Put the shirt on a hanger, hang it from a shower curtain rod, turn on the shower as hot as it’ll go, then leave the bathroom and close the door. The sauna effect should give your shirt a satisfactory de-wrinkling.

6. Wear the shirt

Real way: Your crisp collar and cuffs and your billiard-table-smooth shirt will lend you the air of a man who’s really got his sh*t together. Go get that job, promotion, loan, sexy woman or casket for pallbearing!

Probably good enough: The suit jacket is your friend. It covers up your failings. Get it professionally dry cleaned and pressed after every use, and store it in a plastic suit bag between uses. Seriously.

7. The best strategy

how to iron a dress shirt

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