How to Starch a Shirt 

White polo shirt with collar - How to Starch a Shirt

Are you or your partner attending more in-person meetings like my husband is? 

My husband is back to in-person meetings, which means a fresh wardrobe, including a revival of dress shirts. 

The business casual wardrobe comeback also calls for an updated laundry routine in our household. 

I’ve been on a mission to optimize our laundry routine and I have been asking the questions: How to maximize wears between washes? What are the most effective wrinkle-preventers? How can I expedite ironing? 

I’ve learned that starching can assist with all of these considerations and more! 

What Causes Wrinkles in Shirts and Why Starch Them?

What Causes Wrinkles in Shirts and Why Starch Them?

Plant-based fabrics like cotton are primarily made of the polymer cellulose. 

The cellulose chains in the fabric have a network of hydrogen bonds between them that help to hold them all together. Wrinkles form as the hydrogen bonds in the fabric break and then reform as you move the shirt, whether by wearing or improperly storing (source). 

Starch is a polymer made from glucose, so it, too, can form all those sticky hydrogen bonds. But unlike cellulose, starch is a branched polymer, so it sticks and acts as a scaffolding to hold all the cellulose molecules in place (source). 

Starching a shirt creates a stiffness in the fabrics, making it easier to iron and less likely to wrinkle. 

Starching a shirt: 

  • Makes cleaning easier as dirt and sweat get stuck to the starch instead of to the fabric 
  • Helps in ironing cotton and cotton blends as it makes the fabric stiffer and easier to smooth out
  • Prevents wrinkles
  • Lengthen the time between laundering 
  • Clean, crisp appearance 

How to Starch a Shirt 

How to Starch a Shirt 

To starch a shirt, you’ll need just a few household ingredients or a store-made starch. Store-made starches tend to have more additives than homemade starches, so you’ll need to take extra care to use a limited amount. 

Project Overview:

  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Active Time: 30 – 45 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours, including laundering time (2 hours to launder, 30 – 45 to starch, 1 hour + to dry) 
  • Estimated Cost: $30 – 40

Tools and Materials:


Step 1: Check your Fabric Type

Check your Fabric Type Before Starching a Shirt

Starch works best on natural fibers like cotton, cotton-blend, or linen-woven fabrics, and it will not work well on knit fabrics. 

Not sure if your item is knit or woven? According to an article from Dutch Label Shop, there are two easy ways to test:

  1. Stretch test: If your fabric can stretch easily, it’s more likely to be a knit.
  2. Wrinkle test: If you ball up the fabric of your garment and it bounces back mostly wrinkle-free, then it is likely to be a knit.

Step 2: Launder as Normal 

How to starch a shirt - launder the shirt

Whether you machine wash or hand wash your shirt, launder it as normal to ensure it is clean. 

Step 3: Start with Damp Fabric 

How to starch a shirt

Starting with damp fabric is ideal as the dampness helps to reduce wrinkles. 

You can start when the fabrics are pulled out of the washing machine or slightly dampen the fabric with a spray water bottle. 

Step 4: Spray the Starch 

Spray starch on wrinkled shirts

Lay your shirt on your ironing board and lightly spray your starch mixture on the shirt.  

Step 5: Iron Your Shirt 

Iron a shirt after using spray starch

Make sure to select the appropriate heat setting for your fabric. You will not need to use the steam setting when ironing damp fabric sprayed with homemade spray starch.

If you’re ironing a dress shirt, here are a few tips:

  • Start by ironing the collar on both sides. 
  • Then move to the shoulders of your shirt and drape them over the small edge of your ironing board. 
  • Iron each sleeve by stretching them across your ironing board. 
  • Start at the armpit and work your way towards the cuff. 
  • Lastly, iron the body of your shirt.

Step 6: Hang the Shirt to Fully Dry 

Place your shirt on a hanger and allow it to dry completely. I recommend buttoning the top button and one or two additional buttons down dress shirts after hanging to keep the fabric in place.

Additional Tips for Starching a Shirt 

Starching a shirt can be straightforward (launder, spray the starch, iron, and hang dry!), but there are a few considerations to ensure you do not ruin your shirt. 

What Not to Starch 

Take care to read the fabric label to see what kind of fabric your shirt is. Starching is best on cotton shirts, and the below fabric types should not be starched. 

  • Wool, Cashmere, wool blends, and wool-like synthetics should not be starched. 
  • Knits or delicate items made from thin, silky fabric.
  • Dark fabrics could develop a shine if they are over-treated or over-saturated with starch. 

Best on Formal Shirts

Starched clothing does not breathe well, which can be uncomfortable in warm weather. 

Starching is best on looser shirts, like dress shirts, as starching tighter-fitting shirts can make the fabric constrict. 


Why do you starch a shirt?

Starching a shirt creates a stiffness that makes it harder to wrinkle and easier to iron. Starching a shirt can help it hold its shape for longer and make it easier to prevent and treat stains.
Starching a dress shirt is popular since it helps to hold its shape and gives a sharp, crisp look. 

How long does starch last on clothes?

You can typically wear shirts 2 – 3 times after starching. 

Does starch weaken fabric?

Over time, heavy starching can decrease fabric strength by increasing its rigidity. Starch adds stiffness, which means little flexibility. Over time, the lack of flexibility in the fabric can lead to weakening. 

Final Thoughts on Starching a Shirt 

Hopefully, you now feel as well-informed as I do about how to starch a shirt. 

I’m going to include a monthly starching session in my clothing care routine to ensure I prevent wrinkles, repel dirt, and create a crisp appearance for dress shirts. 

Best of luck in your starching pursuits!

White polo shirt with collar with text overlay How to Starch a Shirt Step-by-Step Guide

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One Comment

  1. The bonus for this post was the link to your D.I.Y starch recipe with vodka and cornstarch. That really helped the process. I love a freshly pressed outfit!

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