Pilot Shirt Care

For best appearance, longest shirt life and to minimize shrinking, wrinkling and pilling...

The wear life of any garment is greatly influenced by its care. Even with the best of care, of course, all fabrics will eventually wear out. But "eventually" can be a little later if shirts are given a few considerations to help prolong their useful life. If laundering your shirts at home, we recommend these guidelines:


  • Machine wash shirts by themselves. Very important !! Do not mix with colored garments or clothing made from other fabrics. (Maintains whiteness, and reduces pilling.)
  • Pre-treat stained or heavily soiled areas, such as the collar band or pocket area, with liquid laundry detergent. (Allows the concentrated detergent to start to work immediately where it is needed most.) Other pre-treatment products such as stain-sticks or sprays are not recommended.
  • Wash in warm but not hot water. Rinse in cooler water. Use the permanent press cycle if available. (Warm water releases dirt and oils and relaxes wrinkles, but hot water promotes shrinkage. Rinsing in cool water before the spin-cycle reduces wrinkling.)
  • Use the full load water setting. (Water is what carries away the dirt - use plenty of it.)
  • Use regular, not heavy-duty agitation setting. (Avoids unnecessary stretching of fabric and seams. Reduces stress and unraveling of button stitching.)
  • Use liquid laundry detergent with alternative (non-chlorine) bleach. (Chlorine is a harsh chemical and can damage fabric fibers. Too much chlorine bleach will actually yellow the fabric. Chlorine bleach used in hard water will often turn the water and the shirts yellow or brown. Also note that bleach is a whitener/brightener, not a cleaning agent... the detergent is what will remove dirt and body oils.)
  • Avoid using too much detergent, especially if you have pretreated the collars with detergent. (Avoids soap buildup in the fabric that won't rinse out.)
  • You may use a liquid fabric softener sparingly. (Helps reduce static and pilling in the dryer.)
  • Use two rinse cycles to thoroughly remove dirt and soap residue. (This is very important to maintain whiteness and avoid discoloration of multiple-layer areas like collar tips and placket.)
  • Remove shirts from washer immediately after last rinse cycle. (Reduces wrinkles.) Lightly shake out, and give a slight tug along front placket, sleeve and side seams to stretch out the seams. (Reduces shrinkage and puckering.)


  • We recommend air-drying your shirts on a plastic hanger until slightly damp, followed by ironing. This can extend shirt life significantly, because tumble drying induces wear, shrinkage and pilling. But if you must use a clothes dryer, then:
  • Dry shirts by themselves or with other white woven shirts only (no knitted garments). Very important!! Do not mix with clothing made from other fabrics. (Reduces pilling.)
  • Do not dry any shirt that is still soiled or stained. (Dryer heat will ”set” stains and make them impossible to remove.)
  • Turn the shirts inside out and flip up collars before placing in the dryer. (Reduces pilling and excess wear.)
  • You may use a fabric softener sheet instead of liquid softener in the washer. (Reduces static and pilling.)
  • Tumble dry at medium heat. Use the Permanent Press or heat-reduction Auto-Dry cycle if available (to reduce shrinkage and damage from over-drying.)
  • For best results, remove shirts while slightly damp. Press immediately or hang up promptly (to minimize wrinkling.)
  • Do not over-dry! (Over-drying promotes shrinkage, pilling, collar damage and premature wear.)


  • Use a warm (not hot) iron with steam. (Prevents scorching.)
  • Do not iron any item that is soiled or stained. (Heat will “set” the stain.)
  • Go lightly on the use of starch. (Starch makes fibers brittle and more prone to break.)

Notes about Pilling

Pilling is the formation of little balls (pills) of fiber on the surface of the fabric, resulting from contact, abrasion, and wear. As fabric gets rubbed, short or broken cotton fibers are pulled away from the yarn and rise to the surface of the fabric and gather to form pills. The stronger polyester fibers tend to hold on to these pills, preventing them from shedding off.

Pilling is most noticeable in areas that receive the highest wear and abrasion, such as inside the collar band, under arms, on cuffs, and where the seat harness rubs on the upper chest area.

While pilling occurs unavoidably in all fabrics, it can be minimized with reasonable care and proper handling during laundering. As our instructions indicate, it is most important to launder your shirts separately from other clothing, and it's best to avoid tumble drying altogether.

Usually the pilling appearance will actually subside as the pills finally shed off after repeated launderings. Also, hand-held clothes shavers (similar to an electric razor) are available which shave the pills off the fabric .

Notes about Collar Tip Discoloration

A brownish or yellowish discoloration of collar tips is usually a result of detergent, bleach (especially in hard water), softener or soil residue that has built up in the collar tips where the thickness of several layers of fabric makes rinsing more difficult. This residue can cause discoloration by itself, but it is exacerbated by the heat of drying and pressing/ironing... often taking on a scorched appearance. An old or commercial dryer that runs very hot can sometimes scorch the tips. Once this discoloration has taken place it is virtually impossible to remove, and attempts to bleach it out usually just makes the discoloration worse. Prevention is the key here; avoid using too much detergent and once again, rinse with plenty of clean water.

Notes about Commercial Laundering

Commercial laundering typically uses strong solvents or a strong alkali/detergent in very hot water for cleaning. Likewise, machine pressing is often harsh and damaging to shirts and buttons. So, while commercial laundering can be effective and convenient, the cleaning fluids, the equipment, and the level of care taken by the shop is critical in determining the appearance and longevity of your shirts. The best cleaners are rarely the cheapest shops.

Notes about Broken Buttons

All of the buttons used on all the shirts we sell are high-grade uniform spec buttons, made to withstand normal and reasonable heat and pressure from commercial laundering, We sell thousands of shirts per year and broken buttons are generally a rare occurrence. If you experience broken buttons on your shirts, it is nearly always a result of the commercial cleaners exerting too much pressure with their presses. This problem is exacerbated due to the thicker, multiple layers of fabric found on uniform shirts that have flap style pockets, epaulets and lined button plackets as found on pilot shirts. (The cleaners are usually pressing dress shirts made from thinner fabrics and with no epaulets or pocket flaps, and may not alter their settings or technique as required for thick pilot shirts.) In our experience, it is almost exclusively the extra thickness of our oxford fabric, along with the thickness of the velcro under the pocket flap, that seems to create the biggest challenge for these press operators. (We never see the problem on shirts that are laundered at home, even when banging around inside the steel drum of a hot clothes dryer.) The assumption that the buttons must be fragile or faulty is refuted by the fact that A) the exact same buttons used on pilot shirts made from thinner pinpoint fabric virtually never experience breakage, B) these same buttons are used successfully on uniform shirts (of, once again, thinner fabrics) made for other professions as well, and C) we sell thousands of shirts per year to thousands of pilots, yet broken buttons are limited to shirts possessed by a relatively small number of individuals, while the vast majority of identical buttons on the vast majority of shirts remain intact. Clearly, it is specific to the pressing technique of certain cleaning shops. Some may still hold the opinion that the buttons should be strong enough to withstand the herculean force being applied at those cleaners, but as the search continues for an indestructible button for uniform shirts, the fact remains: With reasonable attention and care, any conscientious professional cleaner is quite capable of pressing any uniform shirt without breaking buttons. Although some are notoriously reluctant to do so, your commercial cleaner should accept responsibility for buttons that break during pressing and they should replace buttons for you. If they don’t, you should find another shop. Remember, the best shops are rarely the cheapest. We can provide spare buttons if replacements are needed.