How to Wash a Dress Shirt

how to wash a dress shirt

Written by Jeff Law

Taking proper care of your dress shirts is a big part of making sure your clothes and style stays fresh and clean. Even in today’s more relaxed work climate, according to an HR study, almost a third of employers in the United States have a business casual dress code.

Don’t panic after getting a dress shirt dirty though, because washing a dress shirt is not as hard as it may seem. It is important to know how to wash dress shirts, especially how to wash a white dress shirt with stains, in order to maintain professionalism and look your best. This comprehensive guide will help teach you how to wash dress shirts and tips for how to wash a dress shirt that you can start applying to your cleaning routine.

Dress shirts

Read the Directions

Dress shirt care can vary from shirt to shirt, even for shirts from the same company. Shirt material is a big factor for determining how to clean dress shirts, but other factors such as color, sewing, and patterns may also determine the proper way of washing.

Check the label for shirt care instructions, as they will often give you a good place to start. Nimble Made makes shirts using material that’s easy to care for and an easy-iron finish, and offers a care guide that provides even more detail into taking care of dress shirts. The care guide also has an overview of common symbols used by shirt manufacturers and what they mean.

The safest ways to wash at home are hand washing or using a washing machine. Hand washing is the safest way of how to wash dress shirts, especially cotton dress shirts, but requires the most time, and using a machine will be quicker but may affect the quality of your shirt. 


How to Wash by Hand

Hand washing is the best way to clean dress shirts. Start by spot treating any heavy dirt with stain remover if necessary, then remove the collar stays if your shirt has them. Both Nimble Made’s professional and casual dress shirts have metal collar stays that should be removed before washing.

To avoid causing extra stress when you wash button-up shirts and potential damage to the cloth, unbutton the shirt before washing. Use a mild clothing detergent to gently wash the shirt and use extra detergent if the shirt has heavy dirt.

After washing, the best way to dry a dress shirt is either hang drying or lay flat drying if possible. Try to avoid using heat when drying your dress shirt, as adding heat might cause shrinking or change the fit of your dress shirt. For a crisper look, iron or steam your dress shirts as a final step. 


Using a Washing Machine

Using the washing machine is a quicker way to take care of your dress shirts. Washing dress shirts safely in the washing machine is the same as for hand washing, with spot treating any problem areas and removing each collar stay. Unbuttoning the shirt is also more important, as the agitation of the machine can be very damaging to your dress shirt.

Be sure to use cool water when washing dress shirts with dyes, such as the blue Waterbend, as warm water carries the risk of the dyes running and potentially staining other shirts in the wash. Using warm or hot water also can cause fading on the dress shirt, so avoid it when washing heavily dyed dark color shirts like the Edo. It is still recommended not to use a dryer on your dress shirts, as it can lead to the same problems like shrinking and warping.


How to Wash a White Dress Shirt

To wash a white dress shirt properly, follow these steps:

  1. Separation: Wash a white dress shirt separately from colored garments to prevent dye transfer.
  2. Pre-Treat Stains: Address stains by pre-treating them with a stain remover pen or gentle detergent before washing.
  3. Choosing Detergent: Use a high-quality detergent suitable for whites. Bleach or whitening agents can be used if recommended on the shirt's care label.
  4. Water Temperature: Warm water helps remove stains and keeps whites bright. Check the care label for temperature recommendations.
  5. Gentle Cycle: Use a gentle or delicate cycle to prevent excessive wear and tear on the fabric.
  6. Drying: Let the white shirt air dry on a flat surface to avoid shrinkage and to maintain the fabric's integrity. Avoid direct sunlight as it can cause yellowing.
  7. Ironing: Iron the shirts on the appropriate setting while they are slightly damp for a crisp, professional look.

Remember to always follow the care instructions on the shirt's label for specific washing guidelines and to preserve the fabric's quality.

White dress shirt

Dry Cleaning Dress Shirts

Dry cleaning dress shirts is an option, especially for shirts made of delicate fabrics or those with intricate details that might be damaged by traditional laundering methods. However, most cotton shirts or those of polyester blends can be laundered at home with good results without taking them to the dry cleaners.

Always check the care label on the shirt to determine if dry cleaning is recommended or if it can be safely laundered at home. Regular dry cleaning might cause some shirts to lose their crispness over time, so following the care instructions for washing and ironing can often maintain the shirt's quality without the need for frequent dry cleaning.


Both hand washing and using a washing machine are acceptable ways to clean dress shirts. While using a machine will yield a faster result, hand washing your favorite dress shirts will lead to the best result for taking care of your wardrobe. When preparing for either method, remember the collar stay and unbutton the shirt before washing.

For a white dress shirt, separate it from colored garments, pre-treat stains with a suitable stain remover, and use a quality laundry detergent for whites. Wash in warmer water if the care label allows, opt for a gentle cycle, and dry flat to maintain fabric integrity. Iron while slightly damp for a crisp finish, following the care label instructions for best results.

For dirtier shirts, try using spot cleaning the stains using extra detergent on those areas before starting. We also have a separate guide on how to fold these dress shirts for easy travel and minimal wrinkles.

Frequently Asked Questions about Washing Dress Shirts

Can you put a dress shirt in the washer?

Most dress shirts and cotton shirts can be washed in a washer. Usually, a safe way of washing a dress shirt is using a delicate cycle and cold water and then air drying dress shirts. Avoid washing with other rough materials like a pair of jeans or a jacket. 

Is it OK to put dress shirts in the dryer?

Always check the material of your dress shirt before putting it in the dryer. The safest way to dry is to air dry or hang dry. 

Should you unbutton dress shirts when washing?

Yes, unbutton dress shirts and remove collar stays before washing a dress shirt. 

Do dress shirts shrink in the washer?

Be careful when using washing machine. Using hot water or heat when drying has a chance of shrinking or warping cotton dress shirts. 

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