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How to Wash Your Button-Down Shirts at Home (Without Ruining Them!)

Woman holding a white dress shirt

There’s no need to take your dress shirts to the cleaner for laundering. This article discusses how to wash and care for your button-down shirts at home.

You Can Wash Your Button-Down Shirts at Home

Old laundry habits can die hard. And if you’re used to taking your dress and button-down shirts to the cleaners for laundering, you may not have even entertained any other options. But Heritage Park Laundry Essentials is here to tell you that washing dress shirts at home can actually be pretty simple (along with being more cost effective and gentler on fabric than a big commercial washing machine).

Woman holding a white dress shirt

So read on to learn how to safely and effectively clean button-down shirts at home. (Note: these instructions are geared to cotton dress shirts, easy-care cotton blends, some linen, and washable fibers like modal that would be brought to the cleaners for washing. We do not recommend washing any shirts that explicitly require dry cleaning, which is a different process; those garments should be cared for by a reputable dry cleaner).

How to Wash Button Down Shirts 

Follow these steps to machine launder your button down casual and dress shirts:

  1. Start by reading and following the guidelines on the care label. This is a super important first step in clothing care (check out our guide to understanding laundry symbols here). If a shirt says to hand wash or dry clean, follow the recommendations. 
  1. Choose a well-formulated mild detergent. Our Heritage Park All-Purpose Laundry Detergent is ideal for any washable high quality dress shirt or casual button down. This concentrated, pH-neutral detergent is made to effectively clean while caring for fine fabric. It contains a proprietary blend of cleaning enzymes that effectively tackle tough stains without causing damage to delicate fabric. Learn more about laundry enzymes here. The fragrance-free formula is also certified hypoallergenic and tested by dermatologists. (Note: some natural fibers such as silk and wool should NOT be washed with enzyme detergent. This is why reading the care label is so important). NEVER use fabric softener on your clothes, towels, or laundry; it creates a waxy build up on the fabric.
  1. Pre-treat any stains with an enzyme-based stain remover, particularly around the collar and cuffs. (see below for more on treating stains).
  1. Remove collar stays, if any, and unbutton the garment. Turn it inside out and place in a mesh laundry bag to protect it in the machine. 
  1. Sort dress shirts by color. A white shirt and a colored shirt should never be washed together (trust us on this).
  1. Wash in warm water on a normal cycle to get an effective clean. In most cases, washable dress shirts will do fine in this setting as they are made to be laundered (check out our guide to washing machine cycles and settings here). For lightly worn garments, a delicate cycle is fine. Also, don’t give in to the temptation to use hot water to get your shirts clean; this can be effective in preventing white shirts from growing dingy, but is not ideal for protecting fabric.

Best Products for Stain Removal on Dress and Button-Down Shirts

Carefully attending to stains is one of the essential elements of caring for your dress shirts. When stains happen, we recommend treating them as soon as possible, before they have a chance to set into the fabric. The most effective treatment will vary with the type of stain; our guide to treating common types of stains can be found here. We suggest using an enzyme-based stain remover to pre-treat any stains. You can make your own with a 1:1 solution of our enzyme detergent and water in a spray bottle.

Men's white dress shirt with a dirty collar

A word on collar, cuff, and armpit stains: These are the most common types of stains in dress shirts and are the result of sweat and—sometimes—dead skin cells. To prevent collar stains, we recommend making sure to carefully scrub and exfoliate the skin on your neck as well as taking care to wipe away any hair-care products; this will help reduce the likelihood of dingy collar stains. You should also pre-treat any collar, cuff, and armpit sweat stains with an enzyme spray before washing. Leave the treatment on for a while; you can even spray it before dropping it in the hamper to give the solution time to work. Resist the urge to treat these stains with bleach, which can cause colors to fade and will react with body chemicals to cause yellow stains on white dress shirts. If your shirts need a little extra help, use an oxygen bleach in the wash and either stop the cycle to allow to soak or use a “soak” setting which can be found on some machines. 

Drying Your Button-Down Shirts

When removing your freshly laundered shirts from the machine, give them a shake to remove excess water and put them on a hanger. Air drying dress shirts is our preferred method, and by far the best way to preserve the fabric for years of regular wear. If space and time don’t allow for hang-drying, put your shirts in the dryer on the lowest possible temperature for the shortest amount of time.

Ironing Button-Down Shirts

Easy-care cotton blend shirts may require no ironing whatsoever. Pure cotton shirts are a bit more prone to wrinkles and are good candidates for ironing. We recommend ironing while still slightly damp, or using a spray bottle with a warm iron. Iron the front of the shirt lengthwise on the wide end of the ironing board, first one side then the other. Go between the buttons and, on the other side, stretch the placket of the shirt to get a clean look. Press the underside of the collar first, then fold on the seam and iron it flat. Next iron the back of the shirt, and finish by ironing the cuffs on the inside. Put your freshly ironed shirt directly on a hanger to prevent new wrinkles from forming.

When to Use a Professional Cleaner

There are definitely some circumstances where you should use a professional cleaner for your dress shirts. If your shirt has any special embellishments or, for example, pleats like a formal tuxedo shirt, take it to the cleaners for laundering. Additionally, consult a professional for any stains that you are having difficulty treating at home. The laundry experts here at Heritage Park are also available to answer your stain-removal and fabric care questions; drop us an email or give us a call and we will try to assist you.

Heritage Park Laundry Essentials

At Heritage Park, caring for fine fabric is our passion. As lifelong collectors of luxury sheets, towels, and cloths, we found many commercially available "gentle detergents" either damaged our fabrics or didn't get the job done, leaving stains. We knew we could do better. So we developed a formula with the perfect balance of powerful -- yet safe -- ingredients designed to remove tough, set-in stains while remaining gentle on luxury linens. Please connect with us at (800) 977-1841 or visit our store or email us with any product feedback or cleaning questions.

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