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How Starch Impacts a Man's Dress Shirt

You like your dress shirt so stiff that it could stand in the corner on its own? So does my husband. To get that feel, you’ll first need to start with a 100% heavyweight cotton shirt. Then when you drop off your shirts for laundering, you’ll need to express your desire for starch.

Starch and sizing are laundry additives that increase the firmness of fabrics and, in particular, men’s cotton dress shirts. A study conducted by the Dry-cleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI), the Association of Professional Drycleaners, showed starch and sizing can both protect and harm shirts at the same time.

Here’s how:

When you wear your shirt, it experiences two types of abrasions. The first is called flat abrasion, and it refers to the abrasion that occurs when the shirt rubs against any other surface. The second type is called flex abrasion, and it refers to the stretching of the fibers when the wearer bends their elbow or somehow stretches the material.

Believe it or not, starch actually protects and harms dress shirts at the same time. Added starch enables dress shirts to withstand higher degrees of flat abrasion; however, it reduces the degree of flex abrasion a shirt can handle because it stiffens the fibers and makes them less flexible.

DLI’s Study Results

DLI conducted some laboratory experiments and found that the tensile strength (the measure of how well fabrics and fibers resist breaking under stress) on shirts with medium starch and no starch was similar. However, the variance in tensile strength was substantial between shirts with heavy starch and no starch. Further, after 10 laundering cycles, the tensile strength results on the shirts with no starch was 29% higher than the results on the shirts with heavy starch. DLI continued to 25 and then 50 wash cycles, and there was still about a 20% difference between the two groups of shirts.

So, while the major function of starch is to add body or stiffness to the fabric, doing so does not degrade the material directly, but instead it increases the fabric’s rigidity. As a result, the lack of flexibility can cause the fabric to snap when tested (rather than stretch); therefore, the life expectancy of a shirt is shortened by the use of starch and sizing by reducing its ability to bend, stretch, and straighten during use.

The Pros of Starch and Sizing

While this is a negative, there are some positives to starch and sizing including better whiteness retention, a crisper look, and an increased resistance to staining. At A Cleaner World, we want you to look and feel your best when you put on your dress shirt, so we recommend that you evaluate the pros and cons and then decide which option works best for you.

dress shirt
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