"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
October 3, 2013
White Shirt Rescue
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


As I was doing the laundry last week, I noticed that our familyís white shirts look pretty bad. They are not bright, white, and crisp. They are more dingy, greyish, and limp.

The breast pockets of some have a funny black outline, and there is an odd grey something collected in the seams. There are stray marks on cuffs and collars ó ink, maybe, but how would ink get on a collar? There is definitely ring around the collar. Also, the shirts donít look crisp anymore. The collars and stitching are limp and lumpy.

How can I get them white and crisp again? I canít just go out and replace all of these shirts.


This column will be for people who have more time than money.

If you have more money than time, I suggest you throw away the shirts and replace them. Everything has a life, and once a white shirt turns yellow or grey with stains and a lumpy collar, itís time to replace it.

Yes, Iíve heard of waste not, want not. But itís not wasteful to discard an item whose usefulness has been exhausted, especially when the value of that item is very low. Indeed, spending hours trying to make it new again would be a complete waste of time if you donít have much time to spare.

However, if you have a spare day, there is a lot you can do to make your white shirts white again. And if your family is going to continue wearing them, you absolutely want them to look sharp. A crisp white shirt is a joy to everyone who beholds it.

First, youíll need some tools.

  • OxiClean

  • Hot water

  • A deep sink or big bucket or both

  • A bleach pen

  • Nylon brushes, like youíd use on grout

  • Strong laundry detergent

  • A good steam iron

  • Ironing board with well-padded cover

  • Starch

Get your water running until it is nice and hot. While it is heating up, scrub the sink and/or bucket. Then, fill them with hot water. As the water is running in, add about a half scoop of OxiClean for each gallon of water. Donít fill them too high, or the water will slosh out when you add the shirts. Use a wooden spoon to help the OxiClean dissolve.

While the sink is filling with water, inspect each shirt. Remove anything from the breast pockets, undo all buttons, note any stains or discoloration, and check for tears. After you have inspected a shirt, plunge it into the soapy water. You might want to use the wooden spoon again so you donít scald your arms. Get all of your shirts soaking and use the spoon to make sure all cuffs, collars, and underarms are totally submerged. Then, leave them until the water has cooled enough for you to put your hands in without hurting yourself.

Once the water is tolerable, retrieve the dirtiest shirt. Using your hands and the nylon brush, scrub the shirt. To wash by hand, grasp the soapy shirt in both hands, which should each be making the shape of a sign language ďA.Ē The hands should be about four inches apart on the fabric.

Sign language ďA,Ē which is basically a fist with the thumb pointed upward and outward.

Hold one hand still with the folded fingers facing up. Then rub the other hand, with its folded fingers facing down, across the first hand. The fabric between the hands will agitate against itself, removing dirt and stains. (This motion is also an excellent way to get white deodorant marks off a knit top, but you do it dry, without water.)

As you scrub, periodically dunk your hands, still grasping the shirt, in the water for some more suds. Once you have scrubbed a part of the shirt to your satisfaction, move your hands down the fabric three or four inches and repeat the process.

On particularly soiled areas, such as the collar, cuffs, and underarms, use a brush. Put the part of the shirt you wish to wash on a flat surface, such as the center divider or side of your sink (I am assuming you donít have a washboard), and use short strokes away from your body. Dip your brush into the suds frequently. Since you are going to put the shirt in your washing machine after the OxiClean soak, you probably donít need to use a scrub brush on the whole shirt.

You may be interested to know that vast swaths of the worldís people scrub their clothes with brushes. The result, when combined with good soap or detergent, is extremely clean clothing (as long as you have a way to prevent discoloration from polluted water).

Your brush should also be used on the strange gray/black outlines of your pockets and seams. These outlines are caused by lint that has collected in the crevices of your shirts. Gently turn the pockets inside out and brush the lint from the seams. If the button placket is not stitched down, you may have a lint accumulation there, too. Also, in the space for collar stays and in the cuffs. Gently turn the seams inside out and brush out the lint.

If you have a tiny brush around your house, like an instrument-cleaning snake or mouthpiece cleaner for a brass instrument, you can use that to remove lint in tiny spaces, like where collar stays go. Gently insert the brush wherever you see buildup, then pull it out. Rinse the brush and repeat until you canít remove any more lint without damaging the shirt.

If the shirt has stains or is smelly in the underarms, use the brush and lots of suds to loosen the dirt. If you have a severe buildup of deodorant or antiperspirant, you will need to soak the shirts overnight in clean, hot, soapy water and scrub them again tomorrow. Then, spray them with Shout or similar before you put them in the washing machine.

If the shirt has other unknown stains, scrub them with the nylon brush. If they do not respond, use the bleach pen. Apply the bleach; then rub it in with the brush. Rinse and repeat until the stain responds. If the stain does not respond to bleach, let it soak overnight in clean, soapy water. An unidentified stain that responds to neither bleach nor OxiClean is almost not worth bothering to remove unless you have a deep interest in experimenting with laundry products. Just get a new shirt.

Once you have completed this process, put the shirt back in the sink or bucket and move on to the next one.

After all the shirts have been hand treated, drain the water and put them directly into your washing machine. Donít rinse them. Take a moment to reflect with awe on how dirty the water is. You have accomplished something!

Now, wash them on warm with as long a soak as your washer will do. Use the washerís setting for whites, and make sure it includes an extra rinse, also with warm water. Use the maximum recommended dose of detergent.

Once the washer is done, inspect each shirt before putting it in the dryer. They should be looking pretty good by now. Dry them on medium and then hang them up on proper shirt hangars, the kind that have the shape of a collar at the top. Hang them straight.

The creases in the sleeves should line up with the hanger as it transverses the yoke (thatís the part of the shirt that goes on top of your shoulders).

Now, set up your ironing board. Put it somewhere that children cannot knock it over, and where your clean shirts will not drag on a dirty floor or be stepped on by any kind of creature. If you are right-handed, the pointy end of the board should be on the left, and the iron should be plugged in to your right.

If you are not a veteran ironer, donít plan on watching TV while you iron. You need to look at what you are doing. I will allow an audiobook, of course. The whole point of ironing is to listen uninterrupted to audiobooks.

Fill your iron with water and plug it in. Turn it up to hot and turn on the steam. Let a few good bursts of steam course through the iron to make sure there is no build-up inside that will soil your clean shirts.

Get your starch. Take down the sorriest looking shirt and iron it. For each part you iron, put it on the board, smooth it out, and spray some starch. Let the starch settle into the fabric for a few seconds before you apply the iron. Donít use too much starch, or you will get little grey flakes of it all over the shirt.

Here is the order in which to iron the parts of a manís shirt:

  • Collar: Lay it flat and iron the wrong side, then the right side. Work from the points of the collar towards the middle. Especially in an older shirt, this will prevent that funny little extraneous fold of fabric from appearing at the edge of the collar. Leave the collar flat until you are done with the whole shirt.

  • Yoke: Flatten it on the ironing board, fold any pleats to their proper position, and work from the outside in (again, to keep seams smooth); pull it almost taut as you work

  • Button-side placket: Wrong side, then right side, ironing between the buttons. Note: As you iron the front and back of the shirt, the collar should stay to your left and the body of the shirt to your right.

  • Right sleeve, front and back; then left sleeve, front and back. Straighten and flatten each sleeveís seam, pleats, and cuff before you iron it. Start ironing at the seam, then move up.

  • Buttonhole-side placket: Wrong side, then right side

  • Button-side placket again: Wrong side, then right side

  • Right side front of shirt, from collar to hem; rotate the shirt around the ironing board as needed.

  • Back of shirt, moving from the right side to the left, taking care to properly iron any pleats.

  • Left side front of shirt

  • Buttonhole-side placket

When the shirt has been ironed, fold the collar by hand. Ironing down the folded collar only wears it out sooner. Then, hang the shirt with the hangar in the creases of the yoke. Fasten the second button from the top and hang it where it will not be disturbed. Let it cool before you put it in the closet. It will re-wrinkle most easily when it is hot.

Note that shirts with a high polyester content will not be as crisp as shirts with a high cotton content; also, they are much harder to whiten as they age. I prefer shirts that are 100% cotton.

Your shirts must look amazing! Admire them! If they donít look amazing after all this, itís time for new ones. Replace one a month until the old shirts have all been sent to the great beyond, not to the Goodwill.

The next time these shirts walk out your door, reflect with joy and pleasure on the transformation you have wrought. Look at the white, pointy collars and ring-free pockets and tell yourself how amazing they look. Then, when they come home, spray the collars with Shout or a similar product and wash them in your washer as described above with a scoop of OxiClean.

Finally, and most importantly, once you have mastered the art of white shirts, teach the young wearers of those shirts how to do it themselves.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and sheíll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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