How to wash dress shirts in a washing machine

Laundry experts explain how to wash dress shirts without professional help

Blue and white dress shirts hanging on clothes rack
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's actually pretty easy to learn how to wash dress shirts at home without having to fork out the extra cash for the dry cleaners. You may have thought this was a job limited to professionals but it turns out you can actually do the job yourself. 

You want your dress shirts looking fresh and clean to make a great impression in the workplace. See how to get them looking like new with some expert advice.

Our laundry pros break down how to do laundry without causing any damage to your dress shirts. You'll be looking sharp in no time.

How to wash dress shirts

With day-to-day wear, there's no doubt your dress shirts need a good wash. From sweat and odors to spilled coffee, it's important to keep your garments fresh and clean. But before you run off to the dry cleaners, see some easy tips for washing dress shirts at home. 

As long as you have your laundry room essentials in order like a mild detergent (such as the Blueland cruelty and plastic free laundry tablets from Amazon) and stain remover, you're ready to get going. 

If you're mainly working with white shirts, they may need some extra care. Learn how to wash white clothes to keep them bright and stain-free.

Close up on folded blue dress shirts stacked

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Step 1: Check the care label

Before you get started, you'll need to know what your dress shirt can and can't handle in the wash. Check the care label for the laundry symbol meanings which will tell you if your shirt can go in the wash and tumble dryer. 

"Always consult the care label before washing. Different materials may have specific instructions, so it's best to review these first before attempting to clean," says cleaning expert, Karina Toner.

Karina Toner, Operations Manager, Spekless Cleaning
Karina Toner

Karina Toner is a cleaning expert and the Operations Manager at Washington D.C.-based Spekless Cleaning. 

Step 2: Treat stains

Next, treat any pesky stains on your dress shirt and let the stain remover soak for at least 10 minutes. Removing food stains like coffee and wine can actually be pretty simple if you treat them quickly. We like Shout stain remover spray available on Amazon for getting rid of heavy-duty messes.

"Before loading the dress shirts into the washing machine, pre-treat any
stains with a stain remover or a dab of laundry detergent. Gently rub the
stain with your fingers or a soft brush (the Laundress soft laundry brush on Amazon has over 8000 reviews from happy shoppers), then let it sit for a few minutes before washing," says Angela Rubin, a cleaning expert from Hellamaid.

Angela Rubin, cleaning expert at HellaMaid
Angela Rubin

Angela Rubin works at Hellamaid, a top-rated cleaning company in Canada. Hellamaid are industry experts specializing in residential and commercial cleaning services.

Step 3: Separate by color

Dress shirts are prone to bleeding color when mixed together, so be sure to separate them before tossing them in the wash. "Separate your dress shirts by color and fabric type. Wash similar colors together to prevent color bleeding, and group delicate fabrics like silk or linen separately from sturdier materials like cotton or polyester," says Angela. 

You can also use Shout color catcher sheets available from Amazon to prevent any color bleeding in the wash.

Step 4: Wash on delicate cycle

Set your washing machine to a gentle or delicate cycle to wash your dress shirts. You'll also want to make sure you're using cold water as extreme heat can damage the material. 

"Use cold water for dark or bright colors to prevent fading and shrinkage. For whites and light colors, use warm water to help remove stains and body oils," says Karina.  "Turn your dress shirts inside out before placing them in the washing machine to protect the outer fabric and buttons."

A mild detergent like Tide Free & Gentle (available on Amazon) can be used on just about anything.

Step 5: Air dry

Skip the dryer when drying clothes in a small space and air your dress shirts on a clothesline or drying rack such as this Amazon Basics folding rack. If you need to use a tumble dryer, turn it on low.

"Avoid using a dryer, as high heat can shrink the fabric and cause wrinkles. If you must use a dryer, select a low heat setting and remove the shirts while they are still slightly damp to minimize wrinkles," advises Karina.

Step 5: Iron or steam

Dress shirts look best when they're crisp and wrinkle-free. "Once dry, iron your dress shirts on the appropriate setting for the fabric to remove any remaining wrinkles. Use a steam iron for best results, as it helps relax the fabric and makes ironing easier," says Karina. 

If you're nervous about causing damage with an iron, a steamer like this Beautural steamer available on Amazon, will do the job but is a a little more gentle. 

Master the art of washing dress shirts with a few laundry hacks that are sure to improve your cleaning routine. If you're doing a load of all-white dress shirts, you may need to use bleach to get them as bright as possible. Just avoid high heat as it's a common laundry mistake that can damage your dress shirts.

Emily Lambe
Deputy Editor

Hey! I’m Emily and I’m the deputy digital editor at Real Homes. I’m here to bring you the latest decor trends, inspirational ideas and the best budget-friendly buys. I live in a rented apartment, making the most of small spaces and using accent pieces to make things pop. When I’m not writing, I’m usually doing yoga, eating chocolate or working on my skincare routine.