Necktie Cleaning as Much Art as Skill

Martin L. Young Jr. |

CONCORD, N.C. — I am hoping we have turned the corner on the “casual workplace” trend and will begin to see an increase in the neckties to be cleaned. Much like the rebirth of natural fibers 25 years ago, many cleaners have little experience in the proper cleaning and finishing of a necktie.

Men have an emotional attachment to their ties. Favorite ties are worn until the edges and knot areas are threadbare. I am guilty of having more than 50 ties, but I wear one from the same eight or 10 on most occasions. My red tie with diamond shapes of royal blue and silver has been retired but still brings back memories of my first consulting job.

Cleaning a necktie is as much art as it is skill. It involves knowing more about what not to do than about aggressive techniques. Ties are not cheap. Polyester ties often sell at between $20 and $50; a good silk tie may sell for around $140. At the point where emotion and investment meet, the cleaner can easily find a profitable item.

Ties have a combination of unique characteristics. The material is cut on an angle (the bias), which makes it easier to construct the narrow end in relation to the broad end. Cutting on the bias also makes it easier to tie the necktie. Those pretty diagonal stripes are the product of cutting the material on the bias. But cutting the fabric on the bias also creates problems for those attempting to clean a tie.

Ties are dimensionally unstable and are prone to distortion of the design and yarn slippage, which can easily happen during stain removal. When spotting a tie, it is a good idea to reduce the normal work area by half to limit the risk of damaging the tie.

Ties come to the dry cleaner with obvious stains; they tend to function as a bib when the wearer is eating. You can expect to find a stain in the body of the tie and body oils in the area where the tie was knotted.

The temptation of the water glass and napkin is too strong for some people when food is dropped on the tie. They dip the napkin in the water and briskly rub the stain. In most cases, the tie is chafed, leaving a light area. The spotter using aggressive mechanical action, especially on silk, makes the same mistake. Since most ties are silk and cut on the bias, ties require a delicate touch.

First, do no harm. Commercial silk restorer or mineral oil on a powder puff or in a dip bath will usually mask the chafing damage. Your CSR should inspect ties well for picks, yarn slippage, fraying and chafing when received from the customer.

Pre-spot ties on the dry side with a general pre-spotter or leveling agent. There should be no moisture, which means no use of a spray spotter. Run the ties in a net bag and on a short cycle to reduce mechanical action. Dry the ties, while still in the bag, at a reduced temperature. Immediately remove the ties from the bag once dry and hang them over a strut hanger.

If it is necessary to spot a tie on the wet side, remember that 1) silk bleeds and becomes much weaker when exposed to water and 2) bias construction is subject to yarn slippage and distortion by the pressure exerted by the steam and air coming from the spotting gun. Place the tie over a white towel on the spotting board and mist an area on the small end of the tie to determine how much the dye will shift when exposed to water. You can deal with a little dye migration by immediately drying the area after using steam.

Almost all of the stains left behind after dry cleaning will be water-soluble. The amount of post-spotting that can be done safely will depend on the extent the tie bleeds upon steam application. Reduce the work area to approximately one-half your norm and dry the area as quickly as possible after the application of stain remover and steam. Restrict mechanical action to tamping, as brushing and the bone/spatula increase the risk of distorting the fabric.

Follow the wet-side stain-removal protocol strictly; use alkaline stain-removal agents only after NSD and tannin have failed. Increase the distance between the steam gun and the tie to reduce fabric-distortion risk, and do not bring it closer in an attempt to dry it more quickly. A tie has multiple layers, so be patient when drying the treated area. But insufficient drying may lead to dye migration. After drying, apply a leveling agent as insurance against rings and dye migration. Hang the tie aside for at least a half-hour. Re-clean the tie as normal.

When finishing a tie, never bring down the head of the press. This will crease the outside edges. A majority of ties will require only a light application of steam.

Lay the tie on the buck of the press, with the tie’s “face” against the padding. Apply steam for roughly five to eight seconds. Press the vacuum to remove the moisture and cool the tie. If wrinkles remain, remove them using a horsehair brush with steam. For tough wrinkles, use steam and a hand pad.

Do not use an iron on the tie against the pad. Hold the tie in the air with one hand while applying steam from the iron to the fabric with the other; be careful to keep the steam below your top hand to avoid getting burned. It is worthwhile to have a tie form for cases when normal procedures prove inadequate.

Cleaning and finishing ties well is the sign of a good cleaner.

About the author

Martin L. Young Jr.

Industry Consultant and Trainer

Martin L. Young Jr. has been an industry consultant and trainer for 20 years, and a member of various stakeholder groups on environmental issues. He is a past president of the North Carolina Association of Launderers & Cleaners (NCALC). He grew up in his parents’ plant in Concord, N.C., Young Cleaners, which he operates to this day. Contact him by phone at 704-786-3011, or via e-mail at



Great article Martin, and I beleive you are right about the turning tide. Young people are dressing up for work for their Friday nights out. No more Casual Friday - it's Party Friday!  :)

Shirley Naylor


Wet cleaning

What if wet cleaning is the only option? Most shopping centers are not allowing dry cleaning stores. I have a wetcleaning store. What do you recommend for silk treatment? 


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