Easy Homemade Starch for Ironing (and DIY Alternative to Dry Cleaning)

Do you take clothes to the cleaners? My husband used to take his dress shirts and pants to a dry cleaner. Once I entered the green path, I learned that there are many reasons to avoid conventional dry cleaners:

  • the chemicals involved  (PERC) are pretty nasty
  • dry cleaned clothing off-gasses some of those nasty chemicals into the air you breathe
  • dry cleaning generates an enormous amount of waste from single-use plastic bags and hangers (although the hangers at least can usually be returned and reused)

As is often the case, first I found a greener alternative, and then figured out a DIY solution because the greener alternative was so darn expensive. In addition, it's not entirely clear that all of the "greener" dry cleaners are actually all that eco-friendly.

DIY Dry Cleaning

So now I wash and iron almost all of our dry-clean-only clothing at home. Well, sort of. I wash the clothing in our front loader (usually delicate cycle with cold water and a low spin works just fine), dry them until they are nearly dry or damp dry in our electric dryer (some items skip the dryer and drip dry), and then pay someone else to iron them. My husband did iron his clothes himself a few times, but it just took way too long and for us it's worth it to pay someone else to do it. Paying for the ironing is cheaper than dry cleaning and far cheaper than the "greener" dry cleaners. I would also like to note that my husband changes out of his work clothes the second he gets home and wears dress pants and shirts repeatedly before washing. He does wear a clean undershirt every day (which spares the dress shirt a lot of sweat), but cotton undershirts don't require special treatment and certainly don't need to be ironed (unless you are my mother-in-law).

Eco-friendly Laundry Starch

The other day the person who irons for me asked me if I could buy some starch for her to use so that the clothes would stay nicer longer after she ironed them. Honestly, I thought they held up just fine even without the starch, but because she asked I decided to look into the matter. A quick web search convinced me that the conventional laundry starches were a no-go ("may contain formaldehyde, phenol, and pentachlorophenol," plus aerosol cans are always bad news). I also discovered that no one makes "eco-friendly laundry starch" that you can buy. So I searched for a DIY Laundry Starch recipe. Turns out the recipe is ridiculously simple, which is probably why no one is bothering to try to bottle and sell an eco-friendly alternative. All the laundry starch recipes go something like this:

Homemade Laundry Starch
1 cup cold water
1 tablespoon corn starch (use less for less stiff or "starchy" feel)
Put in a spray bottle and shake vigorously. Shake before using. Store in the refrigerator between uses.

Like I said, ridiculously simple. Out of dozens of recipes online, I found almost no deviation from this formula, although many did mention as an option adding a few drops of essential oils for fragrance.

So I found some corn starch in my pantry and made some laundry starch. The verdict? It worked just fine. The clothes were not as stiff as they would have been had we used store-bought laundry starch, but they were definitely crisper than before.

Chemical-free Dry Cleaning Alternative

If you are still paying someone to wash your clothes in PERC, iron them, and then put each item in a large  and most likely ne'er-to-be-recycled plastic bag, consider this arrangement instead: wash the clothes yourself in the eco-friendly (or even homemade) detergent of your choosing, and then pay someone to iron them. If you are interested in this arrangement, ask around your neighbors if anyone knows a good house cleaner. Many house cleaners might also iron for a fee (the woman who irons for us cleans houses too). And if you are willing to iron them yourself, or already do, kudos to you.

How do your "dry clean only" clothes get cleaned?

Related Posts
Green Cleaning - DIY Cleaning Recipes
The 10 Easiest Ways to Reduce Toxins in Your Home


  1. If you don't have time to iron, just iron the clothes you will be wearing that morning like I do. I iron one pair of pants and a shirt each morning and it takes less than 5 minutes of my time. It's better than ironing your whole wardrobe for hours in one go.

    I will definitely give this corn starch idea a try. I don't use any and shortly after ironing some of the stubborn shirts begin to ripple at the buttons.

  2. I'm not sure about the amount of corn starch, I'll assume T=Tablespoon

    1. Yes, Linda. Sorry to be unclear. 1 T = 1 tablespoon. Most recipes I found recommended between 1 to 3 teaspoons per cup water depending on how stiff or starchy you like your clothes.


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