A white shirt is one of life’s great essentials, a wardrobe staple. Crisp, clean, fresh. Ah, yes, fresh.
Of course, since it is white it is going to show the inevitable signs of wear and tear. A little special attention, however, gets you a lot more mileage.
Basic care and feeding:
Go with laundering over dry cleaning, which uses chemicals that are hard on a shirt. Best-case scenario? Wash your shirts at home, where you can control settings and temperatures (professional cleaners tend to crank up the water and air temps). Any old laundry detergent will do. If your shirt just needs freshening up — usually the case — put your machine on a gentle cycle and warm wash. If it’s truly grimy, go hotter.
Don’t over-dry — too harsh. Air-dry on a plastic hanger or rack if possible.
Take it easy on starch. It makes the fibers brittle and can shorten the shirt’s life span.
What to do when white starts a slow fade to yellow or gray?
First, when you wash the shirt, make sure all the soap, which can leave a dingy film, is being rinsed out. Run the shirt through the rinse cycle twice every now and then.
There are also laundry products specifically formulated to help defeat dullness. Blueing agents — contained in most detergents and fabric softeners — will put that optical brightness back in a shirt; just look for the word “blue” on the package. As a last resort, there’s always good ol’ bleach. But beware: The chlorine-based type can strip the blueing agents, and actually add a yellow cast. Ingrid Johnson, a professor of textiles at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, recommends this method instead of bleaching: Soak the shirt in a solution of one part hydrogen peroxide and three parts water.
After soaking and rinsing, hang your shirt up on a line or plastic hanger in the sun to dry. The natural rays do whitening wonders.
Ring around the collar
Before you relegate your shirt to house painting duty, try any of these at-home solutions: applying a baking-soda paste to the collar; or soaking in ammonia, white vinegar, or salt-water.
And speaking of collars, fraying can make a shirt look old before its time. Not a problem: Take your shirt to a good tailor, who can usually cut the collar off and flip it over, sew it back on, good as new.
The easy way out
Have more than one white shirt and keep them circulating.