Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Starchy Experiment

I very much appreciate all of you who leave comments on my blog, whether to tell me my projects are lovely or to set me straight on some matter. I was especially intrigued by Jan's comment to my post on trying to find spray starch. She recommends using Mary Ellen's Best Press, which is billed as "The Clear Starch Alternative". I searched all over the internet trying to find out just what is in this stuff, but to no avail. I did, however, find a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) which says it's not carcinogenic (thank Heaven!), but don't ingest the stuff. Starch, of course, is perfectly safe to drink, but I wouldn't want to drink the products marketed for ironing.

I decided conduct a quasi-scientific study to try to determine if BP is really so great, so I went out and bought some along with a can of aerosol spray starch. My experiment consisted of comparing these two against homemade spray starch using Kingsford's starch and the concentrated Staflo starch (on the left in the unmarked bottle made up in a four to one ratio). By the way, the spray starch formula is incorrect on the bottle. I use one Tablespoon per pint of water.

I just washed sheets, so I had plenty of pillowcases to iron. Normally I iron these using my steam press iron, but decided to use the hand iron for this little study. I sprayed each pillowcase with once type of spray and immediately ironed them. I then laid them all out on the bed for comparison.

First of all, I used the homemade formula. It sprayed on somewhat evenly, given that it is in a non aerosol bottle, and ironed well, with no flaking or sticking to the sole plate. It gave a flat, but not a real crisp finish. I put lavender essential oil in it, so it had a lovely smell, especially as I'm pretty heavy handed with it. Then I tried the Staflo mixture from concentrate. It worked just as well, with that same lovely lavender scent that I added. No flaking or sticking to the sole plate. The Faultless sprayed on very evenly, after all, that's the advantage of an aerosol, but it had a faintly annoying "linen fresh" scent. It also ironed well, with no flaking or sticking. Both of the commercial starches gave a nice, crisp finish to the pillowcases. Last of all came the BP. This was the cherry blossom scent and it is a heavenly smell! It also didn't stick or flake, but didn't iron as well. I had to keep ironing and ironing over the same area to get a flat surface, which never quite matched the starches, especially as it wasn't very crisp.

After looking at all four pillowcases, I had to conclude that the commercial starches gave the best finish, ironing in well and making the fabric nice and crisp. Then I remembered that I had read somewhere that cooking the homemade starch makes it work a bit better, so I dumped the bottle into a pot and simmered it for a few minutes until it was almost completely translucent. After cooling I tried it on another pillowcase and the finish was indistinguishable from the two commercial starches.

You may think it's odd that none of the starches flaked at all. My experiment was conducted with 100% Egyptian cotton pillowcases, which are very absorbent. I suspect that if I repeated this with shirts or quilting fabric I would get very different results.

So now let's look at the cost. Cornstarch costs $12.99 for a 16 oz jar and contains 56 Tablespoons (according to the package). The Staflo was $21.20 for a 64 oz bottle of concentrate, making the equivalent of seven aerosol cans, the Faultless aerosol $2.99 for a 20 oz can, and the Best Press was a breathtaking $8.00 for a 16 oz bottle! However, after searching on Amazon I found you can buy a gallon refill for $29.70, reducing the cost to a much more reasonable $1.86 for 16 oz.  The non aerosol Niagara that I also sometimes use, but didn't in this experiment, is available for $2.54 for a 22 oz bottle. And what about availability? I had to go to a quilt shop to buy the BP at that unbelievable price, but can get it on Amazon. Jan buys hers at Hancock Fabrics, but there aren't any here in my neck of the woods. The Staflo concentrate is also (supposedly) on Amazon, but when I tried to order it they couldn't seem to find it so I cancelled the order after finding it at Walmart. There is another brand called Linit available on Amazon, but I haven't tried it. Maybe next time. Both the Niagara and Faultless are available at supermarkets and Joann's fabrics.

After normalizing all the different products to a 22 oz bottle, the costs are thus:
Homemade using Kingsford's = $0.30
Staflo = $3.03
Best Press, using the 1 gal refill = $2.44, otherwise = $11.00
Faultless aerosol = $3.29
Niagara non aerosol = $2.54

Other considerations: Using the Kingsford's means one less product you have to buy and keep on hand, but it is a bit more trouble to make up and cook.  The Faultless aerosol and the Niagara non aerosol are the easiest to find and use, but not too environmentally friendly as each can or bottle gets thrown away. I'm not too keen about aerosols as I really don't need the hydrocarbons from the propellant in the air. The Staflo and the Best Press are much harder to find, but available. What's nice about the Staflo and the Homemade is that I can adjust the strength to whatever I need instead of having to spray several times. This is handy for ironing fabrics for quilting, but it's not essential. But what really annoys me about the Staflo is that it is priced so there is not much savings over the individual cans or bottles. I would expect to see a much greater savings by using a concentrated product. So I'll probably use up the two bottles of Staflo that I have on hand then switch to the Homemade. I have the rest of the BP to use, so maybe I'll grow to like it. I certainly love the fragrance.


  1. Thank you for doing this starch test! You've taken the guesswork and experimentation out of it for all of us. NEVER considered the idea of adding lavender oil--inspired and will do the same from now on...

  2. I confess to never even having considered using starch at all, so this has been quite an eye opener!=)

  3. I have a teeny spray bottle of Best-Pressed I take with me to conventions. I agree, it doesn't give that crisp hand to fabrics, and doesn't hold finger-pressing as well, either. It's convenient for classes, though.
    I can't remember ever having a can of spray starch that didn't spit clumps at my clothes.

  4. Thank you so much for doing this testing and sharing the results with everyone. Great information and you clearly put a lot of effort in to your "test".

  5. This is such great information. I recently got a recipe for homemade cornstarch (I'm a quilter) and it is not only environmentally safe, very economical but you can adjust the strength which is very handy for the different stages in quilting - cutting fabric, sewing bias edges etc.
    Your information that it can be boiled for a short period is new to me - I will try that out.
    Thank you - great test!

  6. Dear Cynthia,
    I have been following your blog for some time and really enjoy your posts on heirloom embroidery. I wanted to know if when you smock do you use a pleater machine or mark all by hand? I am going to try smocking for my granddaughters and will not use a pleater as they scare the heck out of me.
    I am intrigued by the saving of homemade spray starch and wonder if adding the essential oil left any oil residue. By the way, your side-by-side comparison was truly informative.
    Cynthia I sent this to you before thru AOL, but do not know if it was ever received. That is why I am resending the message.
    Thanks for the inspiration.

  7. Hi Everyone! Thanks for all the comments! I tend to add lavender oil to the starch and to the spray bottle of water that I have around for ironing. I've never seen any kind of residue left on any clothing. I also spray the lavender scented water in the linen closet on occasion and on my clothes while they're hanging in the closet.
    I never received your message on AOL, I don't have an account on it.


  8. This is a very interesting, helpful article. I too have been testing various spray starches, sizing and ironing sprays. So far, the hands-down winner is Bounce Ironing Spray, but it's nearly impossible to find!


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