Ten Tips for Ironing Shirts

Most people hate ironing, but I admit to finding a strange pleasure in it. There’s something gratifying about passing a hot iron over cloth, and seeing a wrinkled mess transform back into a smooth, familiar garment. It is, however, a chore, and like all chores, there are better and worse ways of doing things. Over the years, I’ve picked up ten practices that I think not only help speed the process, but also improve the results. 

  • Dampen your shirts. Most irons are terrible at giving off steam, so before your start ironing, dampen your shirt with some water from a spray bottle (set it on mist, not stream). This will help soften up the fibers. 
  • Put damp shirts in a plastic bag. Let the water soak in and evenly distribute by rolling up your damp shirts and putting them in a plastic bag. This will also prevent the water from evaporating. I typically spray down three shirts at a time, and let them soak while I work on the others. 
  • Press down. Get the job done faster by actually pressing down on the iron. Do this to the back though, not the front, otherwise you risk pushing in new wrinkles. 
  • Don’t crease the sleeves. Unless you’re in the military, sleeves shouldn’t be creased to the edge. So, iron right up to the edge and stop. You can also use sleeve boards. 
  • Iron the thick parts first. To avoid having to do touch-ups, iron things such as the collar, placket, and cuffs first. They’re less likely to wrinkle than the thinner, larger areas such as your shirt’s back.
  • Gently iron around buttons, snaps, and hooks. Don’t iron over them, as they can crack or melt.
  • Don’t flatten the collar. Iron your collar so that it’s flat and smooth, but don’t use your iron to fold it down entirely. Instead, iron just the back of the fold, where the collar would touch the back of your neck, then use your hands to fold down the rest of the collar. 
  • Get a good ironing board. Countertop ones are small, but they don’t give you enough space to work. Foldable, four-legged ones are the business. I like ones with slightly narrower, pointy ends, so I can get to tough-to-reach places on my shirt (just under the arms can be a pain).  
  • Avoid over-ironing. Remember this bit from Seinfeld? Yes, something can be “over dry.” Iron up to the point where the last bit of moisture can evaporate after five minutes of hanging. Otherwise, you risk making the fabric shiny, brittle, or even a bit yellow with time.
  • Button everything up. If you iron in batches, button your shirts all the way up before hanging them. This will help you avoid that wavy, bacon-like placket that can result from a shirt hanging too long in your closet.   

(Video by Garra Style)

A Cheap Iron
A year or two ago, I got inspired to up my ironing game. I read some iron reviews and bought the fanciest one. It was a gorgeous Rowenta, just like Derek’s, and I was in heaven. Ironing was so easy! The Rowenta was so powerful! It was the best $150 I’d ever spent.
Until it broke. Which, looking at the consumer reviews, the ones that last past initial performance, seems to happen a LOT with Rowentas. And of course, there’s no small appliance repair in my neighborhood anymore.
So I faced a choice: I could replace the Rowenta, and run the risk of having it break again. I could buy a professional iron, which, with professional ironing board, would cost $500 or so. Or I could go cheap. I went cheap.
After looking at even more reviews than I looked at the first time, I picked the Black & Decker Digital Advantage. It costs $47. It was head-and-shoulders above any other inexpensive iron in performance in ever review. Its reliability was superb. And its performance is pretty darn good.
Sometimes when I’m ironing, I miss my old Rowenta. And I think about getting a $300 Reliable, like the pros use. (Incidentally, word is that Reliable’s cheaper consumer models aren’t worth the money - you need a separate steam generator to get great performance.) But frankly, I don’t think about that stuff all that often. Mostly, my Black and Decker is a solid performer. It heats up quickly, it puts out decent steam, and it glides smoothly. For less than fifty bucks, I’m not gonna complain.

A Cheap Iron

A year or two ago, I got inspired to up my ironing game. I read some iron reviews and bought the fanciest one. It was a gorgeous Rowenta, just like Derek’s, and I was in heaven. Ironing was so easy! The Rowenta was so powerful! It was the best $150 I’d ever spent.

Until it broke. Which, looking at the consumer reviews, the ones that last past initial performance, seems to happen a LOT with Rowentas. And of course, there’s no small appliance repair in my neighborhood anymore.

So I faced a choice: I could replace the Rowenta, and run the risk of having it break again. I could buy a professional iron, which, with professional ironing board, would cost $500 or so. Or I could go cheap. I went cheap.

After looking at even more reviews than I looked at the first time, I picked the Black & Decker Digital Advantage. It costs $47. It was head-and-shoulders above any other inexpensive iron in performance in ever review. Its reliability was superb. And its performance is pretty darn good.

Sometimes when I’m ironing, I miss my old Rowenta. And I think about getting a $300 Reliable, like the pros use. (Incidentally, word is that Reliable’s cheaper consumer models aren’t worth the money - you need a separate steam generator to get great performance.) But frankly, I don’t think about that stuff all that often. Mostly, my Black and Decker is a solid performer. It heats up quickly, it puts out decent steam, and it glides smoothly. For less than fifty bucks, I’m not gonna complain.

A Good Iron
A good iron is worth investing in. I recently bought a Rowenta DW8080, and whereas my old iron took out wrinkles in three or four passes, this one can do it in one or two. That’s cut down on the time it takes me to iron two weeks’ worth of laundry, which has allowed me to do more important things, such as write blog posts about ironing.
Admittedly, even with the Rowenta, however, I find it’s still useful to have a spray bottle on had. Unless you’re smart enough to iron your shirts while they’re still slightly damp, you’ll need to soften the fibers with a bit of water. The iron’s steam feature can do most of that for you, but the best way, I’ve found, is still with a spray bottle. Spray down three shirts at a time, roll them up, and then stick them into a plastic bag. That way, the shirts will soak a little before you take each one out at a time for ironing.
The Rowenta DW8080 is about $100 brand new, but you can sometimes find them on eBay for about $10 or $20 less. Note that even Rowenta, as praised as they are, have had reports of failure. You may want to purchase yours from Costco (or some other place that has a good replacement policy) in case yours breaks after a year or two.
When I was looking for a new iron, I also came across this DW5080 model, which spec wise seemed fairly close to the DW8080, but comes in at $30 less. Our advertiser The Hanger Project also has some professional grade irons starting at $139.
(Photo via William Somoma)

A Good Iron

A good iron is worth investing in. I recently bought a Rowenta DW8080, and whereas my old iron took out wrinkles in three or four passes, this one can do it in one or two. That’s cut down on the time it takes me to iron two weeks’ worth of laundry, which has allowed me to do more important things, such as write blog posts about ironing.

Admittedly, even with the Rowenta, however, I find it’s still useful to have a spray bottle on had. Unless you’re smart enough to iron your shirts while they’re still slightly damp, you’ll need to soften the fibers with a bit of water. The iron’s steam feature can do most of that for you, but the best way, I’ve found, is still with a spray bottle. Spray down three shirts at a time, roll them up, and then stick them into a plastic bag. That way, the shirts will soak a little before you take each one out at a time for ironing.

The Rowenta DW8080 is about $100 brand new, but you can sometimes find them on eBay for about $10 or $20 less. Note that even Rowenta, as praised as they are, have had reports of failure. You may want to purchase yours from Costco (or some other place that has a good replacement policy) in case yours breaks after a year or two.

When I was looking for a new iron, I also came across this DW5080 model, which spec wise seemed fairly close to the DW8080, but comes in at $30 less. Our advertiser The Hanger Project also has some professional grade irons starting at $139.

(Photo via William Somoma)

On the MaxFunForum, rossination asks:
Jesse, let’s talk about laundry. Do you have your shirts cleaned and pressed at the dry cleaner’s, or do you do wash (and iron) yourself? Starch or no starch? As a poor student, I don’t have the money to send my shirts out. Plus, I kind of like ironing. But I’ve been finding lately that I’m pretty unhappy with the slouchiness of my collars (even with metal stays). I’m thinking about going against my dad’s admonitions and getting some spray starch. What do you think?
I’m a public radio host, Rossination, not an oil magnate.  I wash and iron my shirts myself.
First: I’m glad to hear that you’re already in the “kind of like ironing” camp.  Ironing isn’t a lot of work, and it’s a great thing to do on Sundays while you’re watching football, or, in my case, Mondays when you’re watching The Roadshow.  (As an aside, I highly recommend spending a hundred bucks or so on a good iron.  The weight, steam and smoothness are very much worth it.)
Most cleaners use the harshest methods when washing and pressing your clothes, and should be avoided whenever possible.  There are exceptions, but they’re tough to find and expensive.  Especially if you have access to laundry in your home, there’s no reason not to launder your clothes yourself.  You care for them in a way a cleaner never will.
Starch is harsh on clothes and completely unnecessary.  Remember: your collar isn’t supposed to be like cardboard.  It’s made of fabric and is supposed to behave as such.  A collar stay is plenty to keep your collar sharp — beyond that, let them roll!

On the MaxFunForum, rossination asks:

Jesse, let’s talk about laundry. Do you have your shirts cleaned and pressed at the dry cleaner’s, or do you do wash (and iron) yourself? Starch or no starch?

As a poor student, I don’t have the money to send my shirts out. Plus, I kind of like ironing. But I’ve been finding lately that I’m pretty unhappy with the slouchiness of my collars (even with metal stays). I’m thinking about going against my dad’s admonitions and getting some spray starch. What do you think?

I’m a public radio host, Rossination, not an oil magnate.  I wash and iron my shirts myself.

First: I’m glad to hear that you’re already in the “kind of like ironing” camp.  Ironing isn’t a lot of work, and it’s a great thing to do on Sundays while you’re watching football, or, in my case, Mondays when you’re watching The Roadshow.  (As an aside, I highly recommend spending a hundred bucks or so on a good iron.  The weight, steam and smoothness are very much worth it.)

Most cleaners use the harshest methods when washing and pressing your clothes, and should be avoided whenever possible.  There are exceptions, but they’re tough to find and expensive.  Especially if you have access to laundry in your home, there’s no reason not to launder your clothes yourself.  You care for them in a way a cleaner never will.

Starch is harsh on clothes and completely unnecessary.  Remember: your collar isn’t supposed to be like cardboard.  It’s made of fabric and is supposed to behave as such.  A collar stay is plenty to keep your collar sharp — beyond that, let them roll!