white button up shirt on clothes hanger

How to get white shirts that are bright, stains-free, and neatly pressed.

My old friend described my style as “like an apple, fresh and crisp”. This description fit the time period in our lives (early 20s), and even though a decade has passed since then, I still think about it whenever I don a white shirt.

A wardrobe classic is best when it’s bright white, crisp, and fresh. It isn’t always easy to keep it this way.

Composition will play a significant role in the life expectancy of a shirt. Jade Sarita Arnott is the creative director at slow fashion brand Arnsdorf. She recommends natural fibres like organic cotton, linen and hemp. “Stop using synthetic fabrics or synthetic blends, as they attract odours.”

Steve Anderton, a laundry expert at LTC Worldwide, said that this is due to the fact that “polyester tends tenaciously to oily contaminants [including skin serum]” and to greasy food stains (salad dressings, chicken fats, and fish oils).

white button up shirt on clothes hanger

Remember to use deodorant

Anderton warns that deodorant stains are nearly impossible to remove due to the chemicals they contain. He suggests waiting until your deodorant dries completely before you put on your shirt.

Although they aren’t very popular in Australia, an undershirt can help you absorb sweat faster than your shirt.

Select the right detergent

Anderton and Sarita Arnott both recommend that white garments be kept separate from any other colours. This prevents dyes from other clothes from turning white.

A white wash will allow you to choose a detergent that is more gentle than other colours. Anderton suggests using a premium detergent that contains a suspending agent such as sodium silicate salts. This will ensure that dirt from the shirt is removed in the machine and stays in the water for the remainder of the wash. This will prevent the shirt from becoming grey.

To dissolve greasy food stains, your detergent should include an emulsifier such as citric acid. This will also help with stained polyester. Any vegetable dyes from coffee, tea, red wine or beetroot can be removed by mild oxidizing agents such as sodium perborate.

Another thing to watch out for is detergent that contains enzymes such as protease and proteinase. These enzymes will help digest food stains and can be washed at low temperatures. If this is all a bit technical, .Choice .has run lab tests to figure out which detergents are best.

Treat troublesome areas before you start washing

Cuffs and collars are often the first to turn yellow. Anderton says that this is due to “grime tending to accumulate on fabric which gets repeatedly rubbed against the skin during normal wear”.

To keep your collars and cuffs white, he suggests that you pre-treat them. Follow these steps: “Wet them out, then scrub for a few second with a medium-hard bristle brush and a liquid detergent.

This might not work because the fabric may have been stained by skin oils that were left behind from a previous washing. Anderton recommends that you pay “special attention” to treating yellowed areas before they become visible.

He says that sweat and skin oils can be more difficult to remove, but “most food and drink marks will easily wash out, provided they have had a cool pre-wash (below fortyC) to prevent staining”.

Sarita Arnott suggests that you target stains by creating a paste of baking soda and water and applying it directly to oily stains. The paste should be left overnight before washing your garment. Sarita Arnott recommends that you wash the garment with a 30C or colder machine wash after this treatment. To brighten whites, you can add baking soda to your regular wash load. This will keep them looking new.

Sunlight is a great bleach

Sarita Arnott recommends drying white shirts outside in the fresh, because “sunlight can also lighten whites.”

Anderton says this should make the detergent even more effective if it contains an optical brightening ingredient. It will “lock on the cotton fibres and transform the invisible, ultraviolet portion natural daylight into brilliant white lighting”, which will make your shirt glow.

Things to consider

Sarita Arnott suggests that ironing can be avoided by hanging the shirt up on a line or on a coat hook to dry. Most of the wrinkles will fall out during drying. However, she cautions that if you use a coat hanger, make sure it is made of metal or light wood. This will prevent the colour from being transferred.

Anderton suggests ironing your shirt while it is still damp. He recommends using a medium-temperature iron. Turn the shirt inside-out. Start at the back, cross the shoulders with the yoke, then move to the sleeves, and finally, work your way around the body. To maximize fabric life, he recommends not pressing too hard on the sleeves or pleats.