How to Wash Starch Out of Clothes

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Laundry starch keeps cotton clothing smooth and crisp, but sometimes it's just so starchy it's crunchy. Whether the cleaner overdid it, you bought something preloaded with starch or you just want a softer look and feel, it's easily remedied with a quick rinse or a run through the washing machine. Starch is designed to dissolve in water, so it usually comes out in the wash.

To Starch or Not?

Starch doesn't only keep clothing looking neat; it also helps protect fabric from stains. Long term, though, it can wear out fabric more quickly.

While some people worry they're allergic to starch, a burning sensation from clothing fresh from the dry cleaner is more likely a sign that the cleaner didn't return the fabric to its normal pH level. But if you have sensitive skin, starched clothing still can feel too stiff, itchy or scratchy.

Starch doesn't work well with synthetic fabrics, and it could make flame-resistant garments less so. Check the clothing labels before using it.

Tip

    • Starch and cotton fabrics are both magnets for silverfish, so store those starched shirts fresh from the cleaners in the garment bags they came back in. If you starch fabrics -- say for quilting or other sewing that you're ironing -- store them in air-tight protective bags, too.
    • As an alternative, use a spray fabric sizing instead of starch before ironing cotton garments, suggests "Wardrobe Care 101" on Martha Stewart.com.

Getting the Starch Out

The best approach depends on the type of starch that was used. Most starch is made of corn (think: cornstarch like you'd use in cooking) or wheat, and is designed to disperse in the wash. Just soak the garment in cold, warm or hot water, depending on the fabric care instructions; follow the soaking with a regular wash cycle. If starch remains, you might try a cup of white vinegar in another wash cycle.

If you or your dry cleaner used a synthetic starch, though, it will bond to the fabric like glue. This will require several washes in hot water to get out the starch.

Tip

    • If you have your cottons dry-cleaned, be sure to specify "starch" or "no starch." If your garment is too starchy, contrary to your instructions, just ask the cleaner to fix it.
    • If the starch won't come out after a wash or two, check with the cleaners, because it might be something other than starch residue on the clothes.

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