Put This On Episode 4: Grooming
Jesse visits the barber, a how-to for the classic wet shave and some guidance on avoiding and removing underarm yellowing in shirts.
When I was researching the Q&A for episode four of Put This On, I reached for one of my favorite reference books, “Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House,” by Cheryl Mendelson. Ms. Mendelson is a true domestic goddess.
The book offers practical advice and explanations of everything from laundry to vacuuming to sewing to entertaining. It’s exceptionally well-written and absolutely fascinating. The advice is consistently excellent, as well. It’s my shortcut to figuring out how to do things the Right Way.
Of particular note to readers of the blog are the careful explanations of the valuable properties of various fabrics, the simple explanations of clothing repair techniques, and the rundowns on ironing and stain removal. Whether you live alone, or share home care duties with a partner, it’s essential information.
Q and Answer: How Do I Wash My Sweaters?
Conor writes to ask: I’m a big fan of wool jumpers (or sweaters I guess?) and cardigans. A lot of those I own say hand wash only on the care label. Do you think I could get away with machine washing them on a cool wash? How else can the machine damage them other than with heat?
This is a tricky question, Conor.
Can you get away with washing wool knits in your washing machine? Probably. If you use a no-agitation or “kints” or “woolens” setting on your washer, a lingerie bag and a cold-water wash, you’re likely to be OK. I won’t guarantee it, though. It’s easy for sweaters to get stretched out of shape when wet, and agitation can make them pill. My recommendation is to hand wash.
Hand washing a sweater is pretty simple.
That’s it. It’s easy. Remember that unless you spill something on yourself or spend a night in a smoky club, you really only need to do this once a year or so at most.
(If you have a Q for us to Answer, email us. We respond to as many as we can, which right not is maybe half.)
Q and Answer: What Do I Do About Underarm Stains on Shirts?
Rebecca writes from Changwon, South Korea: My boyfriend and I are teaching in southern South Korea and it is the full bloom of summer here. This means heat and humidity at tropical levels. He has several what I call dress shirts, but are just basic cotton and polyester blend button downs that he wears to work. They are starting to get a bit yellow and grimy around the collar and armpits. With his white ones I just bleach them and that works out fine. However, he has some light coloured ones that I can’t bleach. My question is, how do I get sweat stains out of light coloured shirts and how I can prevent it from reoccurring?
This is an eternal problem. There are a number of ways to address it, but none of them are perfect.
These stains are caused by the combination of sweat and anti-perspirant chemicals, so one solution is to switch from anti-perspirant to deodorant. In my experience, those underarm “crystals” are about as effective as aligning your chakras, but you a real deoderant will have some anti-microbial agents that will kill stink bugs, in addition to some scent to cover them up. Look for something alcohol-free, without aluminum chloride. If you stick with the old stuff, let it dry before you put on your shirt, and don’t go crazy with it.
In your husband’s case, I’d start by recommending switching away from poly-cotton blends, which breathe poorly and will certainly contribute to his sweating issues. Go with all cotton, or for very warm weather, a cotton-linen blend, which will wear cooler.
You can also have him try wearing undershirts. Of course, the undershirts will be stained, but at least it’ll keep it off the shirts.
Some people swear by more powerful anti-perspirants, like those which can be obtained by prescription. These are applied before bed, and then wiped off in the morning. No sweat means no stains.
As far as removing the stain, I defer to Cheryl Mendelson’s brilliant, brilliant, wonderful book Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House. Mendelson recommends the following for perspiration stains:
Treat with prewash stain remover, or dampen stain and rub with bar soap. If the color of the fabric has changed slightly, apply ammonia to fresh stain or white vinegar to old stain; rinse. Launder in hottest water safe for that fabric. Stubborn stains may respond to pretreating with a product containing enzymes, then launder using an all-fabric bleach.
Probably the most freely available enzymatic stain fighter is Biz. You can also, believe it or not, use dish soap. I’ve personally had good results with Oxiclean, which is pretty much the single greatest product ever.
(We also just got a product in the mail from our advertiser, RibbedTees, called “Deo-Go.” I think they’re distributing it in the States. It’s specifically for this purpose. I haven’t tried it yet, but when I get the chance, I’ll put up a “We Got It For Free” with the results. We’ll see.)
Q and Answer: Wrinkle-Free Shirts?
Dan in Baghdad writes: What is your thought on wrinkle free shirts? Personally I’m not a big fan: First, they’re never quite wrinkle free. They look okay, but still need a little work after washing to make them look crisp. And many are not really meant to be ironed either—for example one such shirt I purchased from Land’s End, which is 55% cotton and 45% polyester, looks slightly burned/melted after I ironed it.
Wrinkle-free shirts always look worse than natural cotton shirts. Do not buy them.
There are two kinds of non-iron shirt. One is as you describe above: a blend of polyester and cotton. The only time polyester (or almost any petroleum-based fiber) should be in your wardrobe is if you’re buying high-tech “wicking” gym clothes. Polyester has the super power of making things look cheap and ugly.
The second form of non-iron shirt is all cotton, but impregnated with a chemical bath that makes it resist wrinkling. This chemical treatment makes the shirt breathe poorly, look weirdly shiny, and feel slick and unpleasant. It also washes out of the shirt after a few dozen go-rounds with the laundry. This style of non-iron is marginally better than the the other one, but there’s really no reason not to just jettison the weird chemicals all together. Maybe if you travel a lot in places where there are no irons in hotels(?), and need one shirt for emergency looking nice duty. Maybe.
The reality is that for casual wear, most all-cotton oxford shirts look fine without ironing as long as they’re hung dry or at least removed promptly from the drier. The heavy, textural weave of cotton oxford is resistant to wrinkling on its own - the worst you can expect is rumpling, which I for one find kind of charming. It’ll basically end up looking like the one above. I wouldn’t wear a rumpled oxford with a suit, but if I was planning to wear a suit, I’d just iron a proper dress shirt.
If you iron once a week, it will not take you more than the length of one re-run of Seinfeld. I know, because I do my ironing while watching Seinfeld. Usually on Sunday afternoons. Pull your shirts out of the drier while they’re still a bit damp and go to town. It should be easy going.
Q and Answer: Laundering Dress Shirts
Nick asks: Quick question for you. Since it’s the summer time, my dress shirts usually need washing after one wear (it’s been 90 the past few days). However, I just don’t feel right throwing any dress shirt on the floor or in the laundry hamper with my other dirty stuff (exercise clothes, underwear). It just doesn’t seem right. Am I holding my dress shirts in high too high regard, or is there a better way to store them after wearings but before washings? Thanks so much!
This is the same bizarre compulsion that leads men to send their dress shirts out for cleaning. I don’t understand it. It is fine to put your dirty laundry in the laundry hamper.
If you want to take care of your dress shirts, wash them yourself. Feel free to wash them cold and delicate, and use a bit of OxyClean spray on the collars if you’re prone to ring around the collar. While men wash many garments too frequently, dress shirts should be washed every time you wear them. They will benefit from being hung to dry, but using the drier will be fine.
From our friends over at StyleForum, a five-step system for getting rid of stubborn stains in shirts using vinegar and Oxiclean. This isn’t infallible, but you’d be amazed at the results. I often will take a flier on a great thrift shirt with ring-around-the-collar, and give this a shot. Usually I end up with a shirt that’s clean as a whistle.
How to Clean Shirts
Note: I find that this normally removes sweat/dirt stains from the armpit, neck, and cuff with ease. For really strong stains, you might have to repeat the process a few times.
Q and Answer
Jacob from LA writes to us:
While I understand a good deal about the care of my New Standards, shirts have always eluded me. Dry cleaning is a no no, but should I fear a cleaner’s launder/press service and go the entire hand way? Any advice is warmly welcomed.
Here’s the story: most dry cleaners are hacks. They’ll throw your shirt into a vat of boiling water and chemicals and press it all at once at crazy temperatures. There are exceptions to this rule, but they are few and tough to find. If you want the convenience of dropping shirts off dirty and picking them up folded and pressed, then the price you pay is a shorter lifespan. (The other price you pay is the price you pay - a buck or two per shirt per wash.)
We recommend washing your shirts yourself. Put a little stain remover on the inside of the collars - OxiClean works great. Wash them in the machine on delicate with like colors, and either hang dry them (better) or dry them on low heat. If you like, you can iron them while they’re still very slightly moist - the ironing will be easier.
That said, when we’re rich, we’re going to have a laundry service, and when our Barba shirts get shiny from ironing, we’re going to use them to mop up spills around the garage. And we’ll also take a lot of treasure baths.
My mother spent several years as a textile conservator. It was her job to clean and preserve fabrics of all kinds without damaging them for San Francisco’s The Mexican Museum.
When she saw our segment on denim care, she just about exploded out of her seat to send me an email demanding that we use Orvus Paste Shampoo rather than Woolite Dark, which is what we recommended. And moms are always right.
Let’s start with this admission: Orvus Paste Shampoo is for horses. And dogs. On the plus side, though, it’s apparently “great on manure stains.”
Orvus is used by conservators because it’s completely Ph-neutral and exceedingly gentle, even more so than Woolite or Dr. Bronners or any other product on the market. It’s also used by quilters to care for delicate quilts - if you’re buying the small jar, you’ll find it at a quilting store, rather than the feed stores where you’ll find the larger jars.
Now, all of this is getting a bit precious, I know. I’ve used regular laundry detergent to wash my jeans, and it was just fine. But there’s no doubt that the process is part of the fun of raw denim, and I’m not going to keep you from buying some Orvus, in case of manure stains.
Plus, I’ve got a dog who needs a shampoo from time to time… and a quilt Nee-Naw made that could use a wash. That’s it, it’s settled. Orvus Paste Shampoo it is.