How to clean a shirt collar

How to clean a shirt collar

The good news is that you’re doing pretty well if you’re using a spray-style stain remover before laundering your shirts. The bad news is that you’re still having a problem with ring around the collar, and so today we’re going to fix that. It will be pretty painless, actually!

Before we get into the nitty gritty of de-gritting your collars, I’m offering you an exciting content delivery option: If you’d prefer an aural version of these instructions, my editor here at Esquire, Jonathan Evans, joined me on my weekly podcast to talk about the dreaded ring around the collar problem. You can listen to that episode here. If you want to check out other episodes or subscribe, you can do so at Acast, iTunes or Stitcher.

Preventing/Reducing Ring Around the Collar

Before we talk about how to deal with ring around the collar, we should first talk about what causes it and a few things you can do to prevent it or reduce its effects. That ugly ring that likes to make its home on your collar is caused by sweat, yes, but also by a combination of dead skin, the oils that your body produces, and product buildup.

There’s not much to be done about the sweat other than maybe applying a swipe of antiperspirant back there. (Try it! Many, many ladies have been using this technique to great effect to combat underboob sweat and why should we have all the fun?) But for those who suffer from a more pronounced case of ring around the collar, it will be worth adopting one or two personal grooming habits that will cut back on the amount of collar buildup.

Because dead skin and your natural oils are culprits, making sure you’re not forgetting your neck during your daily ablution is key. A washcloth, shower sponge, or pouf are all great ways to give your neck a little love the the shower; scrubbing after you’ve washed and conditioned your hair, if that’s a thing you do, is the best practice here, as run-off from products can wind up on your neck post-rinsing.

Post-shower, if you’re a person who uses hair products like gel, paste, oils, etc. for styling your ‘do, give your neck a wipe before putting on your shirt to ensure that they don’t end up soiling your collar.

Treating Day-to-Day Ring Around the Collar

Our Letter Writer is more or less on the right track with his treatment technique: Spraying a laundry pre-treatment product on the stained collar before tossing it in the wash is a good thing to do. It’s even better to spray the collar before you put the shirt in the hamper, so that the product has a good long time in which to do its work. Leaving the bottle of stain remover right by the laundry bin is a nice convenience/reminder. Another helpful thing to do is to rub the fabric against itself after applying the spray, which will help to work the product into the fibers.

I do have some products to recommend to you, but I also want to mention that not all products work equally for everyone, so some trial and error may be needed before you settle in on the right brand of stain treatment for your particular collar. With that said, here are some specific products to look out for: Zout, Shout, OxiClean, and Resolve Spray ‘n Wash.

Once you’ve pre-treated, the shirts can be laundered as usual. One thing to avoid, however, is the use of bleach—chlorine bleach can cause a reaction with perspiration, which is a protein stain, that will render the stain more yellow than it was to begin with. Skip it! If you want to add a booster to the wash, opt for an oxygenated bleach like Oxo Brite instead.

Treating Set-In Ring Around the Collar

We have now arrived at the big mama, getting rid of those set-in, stubborn, permanent-seeming rings. This is the time for you to treat your stained shirts to a nice, long soak in a solution of hot water, if the fabric will allow for that, and a scoop of something that will eradicate the grime. Oxygenated bleach is GREAT for this, but Borax is also a good choice. Cascade powder—yup, the stuff you use in the dishwasher!—is excellent for whites, but can have a bleaching effect on colors. Even regular old laundry detergent will do the job; the idea is that the prolonged soaking is the thing that will take care of your collar problem. In terms of length, plan to soak the shirts for at least an hour, but the longer you can leave them in there, the better the results will be.

If you have a washing machine that allows for it (i.e. one that belongs to you and is not one of those HE dealies that won’t fill up with enough water to make soaking possible), go ahead and do this right in the machine by stopping the cycle after the drum has filled with water at the start of the proceedings. Let the shirts hang out in there for 30-60 minutes, longer if you can, then restart the machine and allow it to carry on its merry way.

If you don’t have a laundry set-up that allows for it, go ahead and soak the shirts in the tub, kitchen or utility sink, or a bucket.

If you launder at a laundromat and toting a soggy bag of shirts is out of the question for you, fret not! You’re not out of luck. What you need is a laundry bar—something like Fels Naptha or Zote—which you’ll wet and rub onto the stained collar before washing. Laundry bars have fallen out of favor but they’re great little products and I’m so happy to have had the chance to mention them to you. I’m only sorry you had to suffer from ring around the collar in order for us to get to this glorious day.

How to clean a shirt collar

Gentlemen, we're in the thick of August. We're heading full speed toward Labor Day, the fall, and the holidays, which basically means it's already 2016. Around this time of year, many of us tire of the heat, the humidity, the sweat, and the soiled shirt collars that come with the aforementioned. That ring of cruddy buildup can put a gross-ass damper on your workday and wardrobe, but we're happy to report that your shirts can be rescued, thanks to the wisdom of cleaning phenomenon Jolie Kerr.

Before we get into the prevention, we've got to understand the creation of these rings. "It's more or less intuitive, but it's caused mostly by sweat," Kerr explained over the phone. "If you live in a city, the grime will lead to rings around the collar. Dead skin and the natural oils from your body rub onto the collar of your shirt that leads to a buildup of yellow and brown dingy muck. City grime is a part of that, too." She also cautioned that if you have long hair, any product you put in it will exacerbate the issue. Hearing her actually describe what was up was enough to make me set my shirt collar on fire, which seemed drastic, so we then talked prevention.

Believe it or not, your best line of defense starts before you even put a shirt on. "For men that notice a significant problem," Kerr tells us, "they need to make sure they're really scrubbing the back of their neck." And while that may seem obvious, think of the last time you truly paid attention to the back of your neck in the shower. It was probably longer ago than you realize. Making sure your neck is clean and letting any hair product dry before you put your shirt on will help keep those grime rings away.

If you catch a ring forming early—"a fresh ring," as Kerr calls it—then restoring your shirt to brilliance will be easier. "If you take off your shirt and see a fresh ring, pre-treat the stain with virtually any laundry pre-treatment product. Any kind of spray or stick will be fine. Hit your collar as soon as you can, then throw it in the hamper or wherever it goes." Though many stain removers will work, Kerr recommends Zout, an enzymatic product that's particularly good on protein stains.

More often than not, you're going to happen upon these stains once they've really set in. They may have even been laundered a few times before you notice them, but it's all good. In that situation, Kerr counsels us to amp things up a little. "Take the shirts, soak them in water with some kind of stain treatment like powdered OxiClean. Soak them for a few hours and launder them as usual; they should come out looking significantly better. You'll be shocked!" If you can find it, OxiClean White Revive works supposed miracles (it restored Kerr's pillowcases to looking brand new).

So instead of setting your shirts ablaze in a farewell-to-summer bonfire, just arm yourself with the appropriate products and a little bit of effort. Your shirts will thank you.

How to clean a shirt collar

Ring around the collar is a collar stain caused by body soil. Learn how to clean ring around the collar and cuff stains on your shirts, suits, and clothing.


The collar of my shirts get very dirty, how can I treat this?


I’m guessing you have a shirt with “ring around the collar”, a combination of sweat and body soil that rubs off the neck and onto the inside collar of a shirt, leaving a dark stain that can be difficult to remove when it has been allowed to build up over time. On a white dress shirt, pre-treating is key, and we have a great product that makes this easy and convenient—Clorox® Bleach Pen Gel. It’s got the same active as Clorox® Regular Bleach2 but at a much lower level so it’s safe to apply directly to bleachable white fabrics, providing concentrated cleaning power for tough stains. Just apply a little gel directly to the stain, gently rub it in with the soft scrubber tip, and then wash the shirt immediately in hot water using detergent + ¾ cup Clorox® Regular Bleach2 (or ½ cup if you are using New Concentrated Clorox® Regular Bleach2). You didn’t mention the color of the shirt with a dirty collar—if it has color, then you’ll want to use liquid Clorox2® Stain Remover and Color Booster to pretreat the stain before washing. Just pour a little Clorox2® directly on the collar and gently rub it in. Wait 3-5 minutes, then wash the shirt in the hottest water recommended on the garment care label using detergent and more Clorox2®. You can prevent collar stains from building up by doing this each time you wash the shirt, and it’s also good to only wear a shirt once before washing it. Please let me know if you have any other questions, and thanks again for writing.

One of the more common locations for sweat stains, especially for men, is on the collar of white dress shirt. While necks don’t sweat quite as much as underarms do, even a small amount can be very evident on a starched, white collar.

Luckily, if your shirt is of a relatively hardy, washable fabric (like cotton), you have a whole lot of approaches you can try. They do not include chlorine bleach, since the chlorine can react with the proteins in sweat and make the stain darker. Instead, give one of these a shot:

Laundry detergent — Probably the easiest way to remove sweat stains is to use a liquid detergent formulated to treat protein-based stains (such as grass stains) and/or one that has something advertised along the lines of "oxygen cleaning power." Apply it undiluted to the stain and let it sit for about 30 minutes before washing.

Lemon juice — Before washing, combine equal parts lemon juice and water, and scrub until the stain is gone.

Vinegar — Add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar to 1 cup of water, and apply to the stain. Let it sit for 30 minutes before washing. (And don’t even think of using any other vinegar type but white.)

Salt — Add 1 tablespoon of salt to 1 cup of water, and sponge the solution into the stain until it’s completely gone. Then wash.

Baking soda — Combine 4 tablespoons of baking soda and 1/4 cup of water. Dab on the stain until it’s gone, and then wash.

Ammonia — Dilute ammonia with an equal amount of water, and pour onto the stain. You don’t need to let it sit before washing, just toss it in.

Hydrogen peroxide — Dilute hydrogen peroxide with an equal amount of water, apply to the stain, and let sit for 30 minutes before washing. Don’t use hydrogen peroxide on colors, as it does have some bleaching qualities.

Hopefully, your first attempt at sweat-stain removal will succeed. If it doesn’t, just work your way through the list until you hopefully find something that works (washing in between each method).

If you find your perspiration stain isn’t fully responding to these methods, you may have to take your methods up a notch. Underarm stains, for instance, can be tougher to remove than collar stains, since there’s typically more sweat soaking in and antiperspirants can make the stain worse. For especially stubborn sweat stains, you’ll need to slightly shift your approach.

Before ironing or machine-drying a sweat-stained article of clothing, be sure the stain is completely out. Heat will set it for good.