You could easily spend 10 or 15 minutes ironing a single shirt if you follow every rule of the etiquette book. That might be fine for butlers and bon vivants, but not for the rest of us. Consumer Reports’ experts know how to get crisp, wrinkle-free results in a fraction of the time using the simple step-by-step demonstrated here—along with a top-rated iron from our steam iron Ratings, of course. 

Fast, effective ironing starts with a hot iron. The standouts in our tests reach the desired temperature in less than two minutes, so if you plug the iron in while you’re setting up your ironing board, it should be ready to go by the time you are. Remember to fill the iron with fresh tap water, which is fine for most irons today (in fact, distilled water can harm a lot of newer models).     

Be sure to choose the appropriate fabric setting for the iron (most quality dress shirts are made of pure cotton). Then set the steam setting to its highest setting; the combination of heat and moisture will help relax the shirt’s cotton fibers as you iron, resulting in a smooth finish. Now you’re ready to go.  

Step One: The Collar and Yoke

Start at one point of the collar and work your way across. Some manuals and guides say to begin with the back of the collar, but we’ve found that going straight for the front creates a clean, crisp collar without the added step. 

Next, position the yoke of the shirt (the part that sits across the shoulders) squarely over the narrow end of the board and iron it. 

Tip: Let the iron do the work by moving it gently across the fabric. Novices tend to fight the fabric with a lot of herky-jerky motions, creating more wrinkles and more work.

Step Two: The Sleeves

Position the first sleeve on the board and iron it moving down from the underarm. It helps to tug gently on the cuff as you go. Then open the cuffs and iron them flat. As with the collar, you only need to iron the visible outside of the cuff. Though if you like to roll your shirt sleeves, you may want to hit the inside of the cuff as well.    

Tip: Hit stubborn wrinkles with short blasts of steam. If that doesn’t work, spray them with water from the iron or a separate spray bottle. Be sure to dry the fabric completely with the iron or it could pucker as it dries. To do so, you might need to turn the steam off and make a few passes with just the hot iron.

Step Three: The Front and Back Panels

Slip the front panel with the button band over the board and iron it smooth. Maneuver the tip of the iron carefully around the buttons so that you don’t break them or scratch the sole plate. Once the panel is complete, pull the back of the shirt up on to the board and iron it. The trick is to iron around the shirt with as little movement as possible so that you’re not creating new wrinkles.   

End with the front panel that contains the placket—the double layer of fabric that holds the buttonholes. This is the most visible section of the shirt and requires the most attention. It helps to give the placket a gentle pull as you iron to get it perfectly smooth          

Tip: If using starch, spray each section as you go, but allow a few moments for it to soak in so there’s no buildup on the iron’s sole plate.

If you don’t plan to wear the shirt right away, hang it up and fasten the top button and maybe one other (no need to go crazy buttoning them all). The shirt will look its best the next time you need to do the same.

Need a New Iron?
The Rowenta Steamforce DW9280, $140, topped our steam iron tests followed by the Panasonic NI-W950A, $100. If you iron only occasionally consider our CR Best Buy, the T-Fal FV4495 Ultraglide, $45.