What shirts can be laundered, and what must be dry cleaned?

So, given that laundered shirts are much cheaper than dry cleaning the same garment, you want to launder all of your shirts, right? Well, to some extent. It really depends on the fabric. Most button-down shirts, from the most formal tuxedo shirt to a relatively casual short-sleeve button-down, are either going to be cotton, or a cotton-polyester blend. And those are what you principally launder. Drop any of those off at our counter, and we’ll say, laundered shirt, no question. Once you get into other fabrics, then we’ll have to start looking at care labels and trying to figure out what’s actually best.

- Rayon. Rayon is a man-made fiber. It’s a fabric that is very soft and often shiny; if you see a button-down shirt that looks shiny, it’s probably made of a high percentage of rayon or a related material like lyocell. These shirts will very often say on their label “extra soft.” But if you press them, you are going to sacrifice a little bit of that softness. Presses use high heat, which slightly diminishes that softness. So ultimately, we try to leave that decision up to our customers: which is more important to you, saving money or keeping the shirt as soft as absolutely possible?

- Linen. As with rayon, for the absolute best results, dry cleaning is recommended. But also as with rayon, we like to offer you the ability to launder linen shirts at less cost, just so long as you are aware that it is not necessarily ideal. First off, any dye in linen shirts fades in washing to a much greater extent than the coloring in cotton and polyester shirts. Second, linen wrinkles very easily, and it’s tough to get linen shirts looking at their best on a press, even if we try to re-touch and manually iron out any wrinkles that emerge. And, finally, there’s again a softness issue; to keep your shirt with the most similar feel to how it was originally, dry cleaning is generally preferable.

- Lycra/Spandex. Shirts with a significant percentage of these man-made fabrics are a definite no-go; the high heat used in the process distorts their chemical structure. So women’s shirts that are largely comprised of these materials absolutely must be dry cleaned - we’ll get to the trouble with women’s shirts in general in the next section.

The current fashion trend toward slimmer cuts in men’s shirts has some companies - notably Express and Banana Republic - utilizing a small amount of lycra or spandex. Just the littlest bit of elasticity - these shirts are generally 98 or 99% cotton and just 1 or 2% spandex or lycra - helps with the slim cut. We have found no evidence in our experience that shirts with this tiny amount of man-made material are adversely affected by laundering. Our customers launder these shirts regularly without any problems.

- Wool. Wool shrinks badly in water, so it’s generally a bad idea to launder wool shirts.

- Silk. Never, under any circumstances, should you launder silk.

  1. Why are shirts laundered rather than dry cleaned?
  2. What shirts can be laundered, and what must be dry cleaned?
  3. Why do women’s shirts sometimes cost more than men’s?
  4. What’s the value in putting a bar code on your shirts?
  5. What is starch, and should I get it on my shirts?
  6. How do we remove those nasty collar stains from your shirts?
  7. What machinery is used in cleaning and pressing your shirts?
  8. What kind of quality control measures are in place for shirts?
  9. What is 'finishing,' and what does it mean in regard to shirts?
  10. What's the expected lifespan of a shirt, and how can I prolong it?