Essential Skills: Ironing a Shirt in 10 Easy Steps

I was sitting in the office putting the finishing touches on a complaint when Jordan sashayed in from a settlement conference.

“Hey Loser,” he greeted me. I made the mistake of looking up, and I just had to shake my head.

“Did you really just go to court looking like that?”

“What? I’m been reading all your articles! I’m following all your rules. What did I do wrong today?” He was puzzled.

“It looks like you picked your shirt off the floor this morning.” It was true. His shirt was a wrinkled mess.

“No, I just took it out of the dryer and put it on. What’s the problem?” He sounded a bit displeased.

“Your shirt’s a travesty. Don’t you have an iron?”

“Iron? Heck no. I’m a man. I didn’t take home ec. Besides, I read on the internet that you can just throw your shirts in the dryer to get rid of wrinkles.”  I sighed.

“Jordan, you can’t believe everything you read on the internet. You’re a grown up. Time to learn to iron.”

Learn to Iron Your Shirts

Maybe you learned back in home ec class in high school. Perhaps you make take all your shirts to a professional laundry. Or it could be that you never learned how. But there’s no real excuse.

You’re a grown up. You ought to know how to iron a shirt.

Why? My Shirts All Go to the Cleaners Anyway

Please stop taking your shirts to the cleaners. All too often commercial laundries pay little to no attention to your clothes at all. They dump them in a giant washer, then dump them in a giant dryer, and then press them in a commercial machine that ruins your shirt’s collars and breaks buttons. (Or worse, they could be hiding a meth superlab). This press flattens them, making essentially nearly two-dimensional. This presents a problem for most of use with three-dimensional necks.

You’ve probably seen (or experienced) collars ruined by commercial laundries. The unfortunate soul whose collar has been pressed to death suffers from the following symptoms:

  • the collar points flap up like Sally Field’s habit in The Flying Nun
  • the collar band, rather that conforming to the contours of the wearer’s neck, has a distinctly triangular shape
  • the fabric on the collar may have a sheen to it due to over-pressing
  • bubbling in the collar caused by disintegration of the collar’s interlining
  • generally doofy appearance

Now, you can prevent this by asking your local laundry to hand-iron your shirts, rather than pressing them, but that’s usually a pricey affair. And in this economy, you should try to save a few bucks wherever you can.

But all my shirts are “non-iron”

Non-iron shirts aren’t foolproof. Non-iron shirts have generally been treated with some sort of chemical spray that makes them less-susceptible to wrinkling after laundering. But while they’re wrinkle resistant, they’re not always wrinkle-free. Moreover, as you launder a non-iron shirt, the non-iron coating wears out, and it becomes a decidedly “must iron” shirt.

Eventually, you’ll find yourself needing to iron, no matter what. You’d better learn now.

Okay, but I don’t know how to iron

Luckily for you, through the marvels of a series of tubes known as teh interwebs, we can investigate further.

Search Google for “how to iron a shirt” and you’ll end up with about 117,000,000 results. Each of those 117,000,000 results is probably slightly different than the other. I don’t expect you to sift through all of them. In fact, I’ll obviate the need for you to go through them, and explain my technique, which is most similar to that demonstrated by John Francomb of TM Lewin.

Ironing 101 — Things You’ll Need

So you’re ready to embark on your ironing adventure. But before you ship out, make sure you have the following essential supplies:

  • Iron — buy a quality iron that has some heft. It will make ironing much easier. Also, ensure to fill the water reservoir before beginning.
  • Ironing Board — you’re best off buying a full-size board, rather than one that hangs behind a door, or fits on a table. I got mine at Ikea.
  • Spray bottle with water — to wet the shirt while you iron
  • Spray sizing (optional) — sizing will give you some additional crispness, if you desire it. You might hear some recommend spray starch. Ignore them. Starch is essentially a glue that gums up the fabric fibers and shortens the shirt’s life. Sizing is superior
  • Wrinkly shirt. Make sure all the buttons are undone before you start ironing.
  • Hanger (on which to hang the once-wrinkly shirt)

Step 1. Set up the Ironing board & plug in the iron

Obviously. Also, make sure to turn the iron to its medium-high setting. Many irons have this labeled as “cotton.” You may wish to turn the iron’s steam on as well. Steam helps press out wrinkles. Generally, I do not use the the steam function on my iron, but YMMV.

Step 2. Spray the wrinkly shirt with water

Grab your shirt. Turn your spray bottle nozzle to the “mist” setting. Spray the shirt to dampen it, and let it set for a few seconds. You may spray water on the shirt as you go along to help get rid of wrinkles.

Step 3. Pick a cuff & press it

Pick a cuff. Unbutton it. Lay it flat on the ironing board, within the inside facing up. Press it flat with smooth motions, moving from the inner part of the cuff and moving toward the edges. Flip the cuff over and iron the reverse side. Make sure you iron around the buttons, not over them.

If you’re ironing french cuffs, just press the entire cuff flat. Don’t iron a crease into the cuff. This looks stupid, and takes away from the natural elegant roll of cuff when its folded.

Step 4. Press that sleeve

This part’s tricky. Sleeves can be a bit vexing because you’re ironing two layers of fabric at once. It may take a bit of practice, but a well-pressed sleeve is worth the effort.

Take a look at the sleeve that’s attached to the newly pressed cuff. Take your hands and gently lay out the sleeve flat on the ironing board, so it’s essentially two dimensional, and the sleeve’s seam to the bottom of the ironing board. The key to a well-pressed sleeve is carefully ensuring that entire sleeve is laid flat before your start ironing.

Once you’re laid it flat, spray the sleeve with a bit of water.

Take your iron and press the sleeve seam flat. Then, move your iron from the bottom of the sleeve up to the top of the sleeve. This will ensure that you’re ironing a crisp line on the top of the sleeve. Finally, I like to press the entire sleeve’s top line, gently starting by where the sleeve connects to the shirt’s body, then moving towards the cuff.

Then, flip the sleeve over and repeat.

Repeat steps 3&4 on the other cuff and sleeve

Step 5. Iron the yoke

Once you’ve ironed the sleeves, you’ll want to iron the yoke, which is the triangular shaped fabric that’s on the back of your shirt, by your shoulders. Slip one of the shirt’s armholes over the narrow end of your ironing board. Press the yoke flat with your hands, and then iron it flat.

Step 6. Iron the collar

Take the collar, pop it, and lay it flat on the ironing board so its underside is facing up. Spray it gently with water. Put the iron down on one point of the collar and press firmly. Gently move the iron from one point to the other. If any wrinkles result, press them out gently. Then, flip the collar over and iron it gently on the other side.

Step 7. Iron the front side of shirt where the buttons are

Now that you’ve pressed the collar, take the shirt and find the front panel that has the buttons on it. Lay that side flat on the ironing board. Begin to press the front of the shirt around the area that has the buttons. (Remember don’t iron over the buttons). As you iron with one hand, you will want to slightly stretch the shirt with your other hand — this helps keep wrinkles out of the shirt. Once you’ve ironed around the buttons, you will want to press the rest of the front of the shirt. Move the iron from the buttoning point to the side seam, carefully pressing out the wrinkles as you go along.

Step 8. Iron the back

Pull the shirt around until the back of the shirt is flat on the board. Press it.

Step 9. Iron the other side of the front

Do like you did on step 7. When you iron the placket (the part of the shirt where the button holes are), you will want to stretch the fabric gently with your non-iron hand as you press. This will ensure a crisp look to the front of the shirt.

Step 10. Hang it up or put it on

Put your shirt on the hanger and fasten the collar button. Or, if you’re about to get dressed, put it on.

Practice Makes Perfect.

Like anything in life worth doing, it’s going to take a while until you’re proficient at ironing. Your first shirt might take you fifteen or twenty minutes to iron, and it might look like crap. If you’ve never ironed your shirt before, don’t decide to try it for the first time on a morning you’re due to be in the office early. It’s going to take a while. Try ironing the night before.

But as you practice, you’ll get to the point where you’ll be ironing effortlessly in a matter of a few minutes. Or you can be a bum, and just keep taking your shirts to the cleaners.

If you’d like additional reading, photos, and video check out the following:

Next time, we’ll talk about how and why you ought to polish your shoes.

(photo: young man try to ironing his clothes without success from Shutterstock)


  1. True story – I used to get all my shirts pressed at the dry cleaners and then Leo taught me the dryer trick.

  2. Sam Glover Sam G. says:

    One of the many things my Mom taught me was how to iron my shirts properly, but I just hate to do it. It takes forever. The last thing I want to do with the limited time I have to myself is maintain my wardrobe. I buy decent shirts and have them laundered at the cleaners, but I don’t get anything so expensive that I will feel bad replacing it in a couple of years. And I always have a couple of wash-and-wear shirts on hand for emergencies (i.e., when I forget to take my shirts to the cleaners.

    This morning, however, I’m stuck ironing my own shirts, and I’m quite annoyed about it.

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