What is starch? Is it that thing in French fries? Well, actually, it is. The kind of starching used for laundering your work shirts is the powdered form of the complex carbohydrate found in vegetables like potatoes and corn. And like those French fries that could eventually harden your arteries, laundry starch is used to stiffen fabrics.
Why bother with a stiff shirt? You don’t iron, right? Starching in dress shirts helps control wrinkles when you put the dress shirt on. Linen (a cotton generally laundered without starch) wrinkles up the second you put it on and move. The cotton dress shirt is the most universal item of mens clothing. But even crisply ironed cotton dress shirts can look unkempt minutes after you’ve put them on — especially during summer heat. When you request that your dry cleaners use a light starch on that same shirt, the result is a longer-lasting just-ironed look. Very Sharp.
Don’t overdo it. Too much starch can leave spots or a slick finish, especially in darker colored fabrics. If your dress shirt isn’t 100% cotton (read: cheap blend), or if it’s a more delicate fabric (read: expensive), starch may cause damage. The most common problem is that starch actually builds up in the professional laundry machines, which sometimes leads to this shiny, cardboard-like look. This can also lead to the disintegration of fibers, resulting in shirts that tear and wear out faster (not my Zenga!!!). Make a point of finding a high-end cleaner to protect your investment (or at least avoid having to buy new work shirts).
What else can you do? Check out these tips for starching like a pro:
Don’t starch all of your clothes. Linen clothing, mens dress shirts, and blue jeans are some of the few that can be starched regularly.
But, if you like the finished look of starch, have your cotton shirts lightly starched every other time you take them to the cleaners (or only during the summer, when your clothes are likely to look wrinkled sooner).
Don’t starch your dress shirts at all if you have a tendency to remove clothing, roll it up and stuff it under the bed — if these lightweight shirts are starched, you’ll have to launder them again to get the wrinkles out — and this won’t be easy. Instead, hang your starched dress shirts between wearings.
Same goes for suitcases; don’t starch your stuff before folding it up for business travel — the creases will show when you put the dress shirt on. Instead, have the dry cleaners launder the dress shirt without starch and then box (fold) it for easy travel.