Shirt-ironing hacks?
November 16, 2009 5:29 PM   Subscribe

How can I get faster at ironing shirts?

We're talking standard men's cotton dress shirts, and I'm currently averaging an abysmal 15-20 minutes per shirt, with the shirts not looking all that great by the end anyway. (I'm using my $10 WalMart iron from college, but answers to this question seemed to suggest that the iron doesn't matter that much.) I think part of the problem is that I'm constantly having to change the position of the shirt on the ironing board in order to get all the little crevices (underarms/wrists/etc.) pressed. But it could also just be that I suck.

I got into this to try to tighten our recession budget, but my time's got to be worth more than $5.25/hr, right? If you've managed to break that elusive three-shirt-per-hour barrier, would you mind sharing what (equipment, techniques, hacks, irons, boards, approaches) worked for you?
posted by Bardolph to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I take a while, too, but I'm pretty picky. One thing that made my ironing go a lot faster: use the square end of the board, not the pointy end! It seems counterintuitive, but you get a lot more surface ironed with less moving around.
posted by The Deej at 5:35 PM on November 16, 2009

I iron the center of the back first, then the sides (under the armpits -> hem), then lay each side of the front down flat at an angle to the long edges of the board and do them, then do sleeves front and back, then the collar. All in all it only takes me 5 minutes to get rid of wrinkles and get fairly sharp creases on the sleeves (unless I'm going for no creases on a more casual shirt). Are you using one of the higher steam settings? 100% cotton can take it.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:39 PM on November 16, 2009

Always obey Martha when it comes to these sorts of things.
posted by xingcat at 5:42 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Three tips that have been helpful to me:

1- Buy shirts that are designed to be easy to iron. Investing a little in a couple of nice broadcloth shirts was, honestly, the easiest improvement to my ironing time. Actually, come to think of it, the shirts I "enjoy" ironing the most are the Stafford Everyday Broadcloth shirts- they come out of the dryer looking pretty good, and press up nice with a hot steamy iron.

2- Wash smaller loads of clothes. Washing my dress shirts together (I have 7 to 10 that I wear regularly) but not adding socks, pants, unders, etc. into the load make them easier to iron when I pull them out of the dryer.

3- When all else fails, dry clean right. Go to a dry cleaner with dirty shirts. Ask them to be hung and pressed with HEAVY STARCH. Even after a couple of washing and drying cycles, the shirts retain their "shape" better and are easier to iron.

YMMV, of course, but I've been wearing collared dress shirts most of my life, and those tricks have worked for me!
posted by elmer benson at 5:44 PM on November 16, 2009

I doubt it takes me 15-20 minutes to iron a shirt, but I'm certainly not going to whip one out and iron it to time myself. Here's my pattern:

First, do the collar (and the thingy that connects the collar to the shirt).
Then, do a shoulder, reaching the iron as far in either direction as you can. Do the other shoulder the same way.
The next step is to iron the button band and whatever part of the shirt front you can reach without moving the shirt. If you place the shirt properly on the ironing board, you can reach all the way to the side seam.
Rotate the shirt, pressing as much of the width as you can before moving it. Depending on the size, you should be able to complete the full circle of the shirt in four, maybe five, segments.
Flatten the sleeve and press it. With enough heat, the backside gets pressed at the same time. Do the other sleeve.

posted by DrGail at 5:44 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

It helps to have plenty of padding on your ironing board, too. A hard surface is hard to iron on.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:50 PM on November 16, 2009

You should be able to iron a shirt in a few minutes. Be sure to use steam in most cases, and adjust the level to whatever fabric the shirt wants. Adjust temperature to the kind of fabric, using the icons on the dial. Use enough pressure to unwrinkle and use smooth easy strokes forward and back like a violin, but shorter, varying the trajectory to hit everything, kind of like vacuuming. Go slow enough for the steam to do some good, but it doesn't have to be really slow.You'll get a lot faster with practice. Google for a video tutorial.

You can start with sleeves or collar. Doesn't matter. Let's slay sleeves.

Pinch-grab at top of shoulder and cuff and hold up so that the sleeve is flat and bottom sleeve seam forms the bottom crease. Lay flat lengthwise along the board and pull taut. Don't worry about rest of shirt. Iron one side, making a good crease a the top. It's OK to just iron the cuffs as part of this, but some iron them separately, laid out flat, which can be tricky (french cuffs might require something special there - don't know). Then grab again at same points and flip. Iron. Not more than 20 seconds total.

Other sleeve, same thing. Not more than 20 seconds.

Collar. Lay it flat with external side up, as though the wearer were laying on the ironing board on his back. Pull taut from one end, using the weight of the iron to anchor the other end. Squiggle iron, like the path of an undulating little snake. You don't need to do the underside. 5 seconds.

Yoke. That's the separate panel going from shoulder to shoulder. The easiest way to do it is to pinch it at either side of the bottom of the yoke and hold the shirt up facing you so that the yoke falls down in front, overlapping the back of the shirt. Lay it down flat and smooth out the wrinkles. At this point the unwrinkled yoke is facing up at you and it is doubled over the lower back panel of the shirt, which forms the bottom layer. Don't worry, you'll be ironing that under part later. Iron the yoke, but don't make a crease where it joins the lower back panel. You might even want to make your pinch fold lower than the yoke seam so you can iron the whole thing and not risk a crease there. 15 seconds.

Now all that's left is the two front panels and the back panel below the yoke.

Doesn't matter which side you start with, but put the collar at the pointy end of the board, with the point of the board sort of acting as a shoulder. The board is half wearing the shirt at this point. The buttons or button holes are right at the edge of the board on your side while the rest of the shirt hangs over the opposite side. Let's say you've started with the holes side. Pull the strip tight from the bottom, the top part being held by the board end, and iron it straight up and down several times really good. 10 seconds placement and ironing.

Without moving it, now do the front panel of the shirt adjoining the holes strip. Be sure to get all the way up the front of the shoulder by the collar and out to the sleeve seam. Do the pocket by starting from the bottom of it and pushing up. 10 seconds.

Now start rotating the shirt around the board, ironing a section and then rotating, ironing, rotating: You've done the front left panel, so lift and pull it toward you until the last area you ironed is now at the edge by you, with the already-ironed part hanging down in front of you and unironed part on the main area ready to get ironed. You're most of the way around to the back now. Iron. Rotate again and do everything in front of you. These parts are the easiest because it's just flat fabric. One more turn and now the front right shirt panel is in front of you, with the strip of buttons running along the opposite edge of the board. Quickly do the non-button parts of the panel just like the first panel. Now drive the pointy end of the iron in and out of each space between buttons. That whole thing from panel to panel is 30 or 45 seconds.

And you're done. 3 minutes tops once you get the hang of it.
posted by kookoobirdz at 6:15 PM on November 16, 2009 [8 favorites]

Iron shirts while slightly damp - I iron them straight out of the washer. Ironing dry shirts is much less effective.

Skip the sleeves if you're really pressed for time, or just do one side as DrGail suggests.

Heck just follow DrGail. You should be ironing large sections of the shirt at one time, and never going back over to redo anything. That's collar (front/back), shoulders (left/right), fronts (left/right), back(left/right), and sleeves.
posted by meowzilla at 6:21 PM on November 16, 2009

Oh, and for that pleat thing in the center back, if your shirt has one, anchor the collar end around the pointy end of the board. Place the iron centered on the yoke pointing at the bottom of the shirt and push down. Pull the bottom center of the shirt tight so the pleat thing straightens out, go back and forth a few times over it, top to bottom to top, as low as you'd like that pleat thing to go, say a third of the way down or so.
posted by kookoobirdz at 6:21 PM on November 16, 2009

My mother always said the best way to iron was to "chase the wrinkles around the shirt."

I start with the board pointing to my left and the shirt shoulder in the point. When done, I pull the shirt forward, and move to the back, then pull it forward for the front left panel. I then iron the yoke, the collar, and then each arm. It is the fastest way I know how to do it, and that even involves several repositions as my shirts are much larger than the width of an ironing board. I did 16 shirts in two hours on Sunday, so this method certainly works - though the majority of my shirts are "wrinkle-free" or "wrinkle-resistant."
posted by gagoumot at 7:42 PM on November 16, 2009

I highly recommend investing in a steamer. I just bought the one seen here a couple weeks ago. I cannot tell you how drastically my life has changed. It sounds dramatic, but it is so true. There is a part included that you can use to make creases easily, and there is also a upholstery brush included. The only down side is that if you want to use starch you probably need to use an iron, but I still think you could take care of most of the work with the steamer, then go back over the shirt with an iron when you apply the starch.
posted by junipero at 8:21 PM on November 16, 2009

I take 10 minutes. I use water in a spray bottle. For cotton, I turn the temperature all the way up; about half for blends or synthetics.
posted by neuron at 9:59 PM on November 16, 2009

One last tip. It occurs to me that these days I only iron the front side of each sleeve. Since both sides are pressed flat and steam shoots through both, the under layer really gets done well enough that way. So there's some more time savings. When you want it to look nice and crisp, use that Magic Sizing in a spray can - I like the lemon scent. Oh and in my scenario above, the board was pointing to my left.
posted by kookoobirdz at 7:41 AM on November 17, 2009

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