Nearly gone are the days when you had to run to the dry cleaners to get your nicest clothes steam cleaned and pressed. With today’s affordable irons possessing more of the special steam tools that make them effective at ironing out all your wrinkles, you can treat delicate fabrics from your own home.
Inexpensive irons, some as low as $25, now compete with high-end models in offering the best iron features. These special qualities greatly improve an iron’s performance, efficiency, and safety.
When you set the iron on its heel to adjust a garment, you don’t want it to wobble or tip over, causing a spill or an accidental burn. Irons should be heavy enough that they rest solidly on its base.
An iron shouldn’t be so heavy that it’s hard to lug around, but you don’t want it too lightweight either. If it’s just heavy enough, the iron can smooth out tough wrinkles in thick fabrics and is less likely to be knocked over accidentally.
After you set the temperature on your iron, it shouldn’t take much longer than a minute to heat up, and when it does, it’s convenient to have an indicator light or audible alert go off to let you know the iron is ready.
A cord should be positioned so it doesn’t get in the way of your ironing or snag on the clothes you have set on the ironing board. Wrapping it up for storage is also a key consideration. Some irons now feature a retractable cord. With the push of a button, the cord automatically winds itself into an internal compartment.
Ironing around buttons, along seams, and in tight corners can be challenging if the iron’s tip isn’t grooved or narrow enough.
Many irons claim to possess a nonstick soleplate. Really, the iron’s ability to glide easily depends a lot on the soleplate material and the type of fabric it’s ironing. Stainless steel and ceramic are common materials. There’s generally little difference between them when it comes to heat distribution, durability, and scratch resistance, but stainless steel is easier to clean and ceramic is less likely to have fabrics cling to it at high temperatures. Aluminum is typically found on the least expensive models.
Transparent, easy-to-fill water tank
A transparent water tank will let you know at a glance when it’s time to refill it. Get an iron with a large enough tank, say at least 10 ounces, and you’ll be spared performing that task very often. With a removable tank, filling it should be a simple matter of taking it to the sink and opening the hole cover. Just be aware that some covers that slide or click into place may not be entirely effective at preventing leaks.
Irons that accept regular tap water, not distilled water, are nice, too.
Irons typically develop scaly buildup in the vents from the calcium and magnesium particles in the water. A self-cleaning feature loosens these mineral deposits so they can be flushed out. However, if this feature loses its effectiveness, it’s just as easy to use the burst-of-steam feature and wipe out the residue with a cotton swab.
3-way auto shut-off
Today’s irons are designed with safety in mind. Apparently enough people were forgetful and walked away while the iron was running, causing accidental fabric burns or, worse, fires. Now most models have an auto shut-off feature. These irons shut off after a short period of inactivity, whether they’re resting flat, sitting upright, or tipped over. While this feature may be essential for safety reasons, it’s not universally loved by users who dislike having to continually turn the iron back on.
Controls on the handle
For the easiest access, buttons and dials should be at the top of the iron handle, not below it where your fingers can accidentally graze the controls. Having the controls at your fingertips makes the ironing process easier and faster. A digital or LCD display is convenient and nice-looking, but it’s not an essential feature.
A steam iron should, obviously, produce enough steam to smooth out wrinkly clothes. Irons measure their steam output in grams per minute. Besides delivering a steady stream of steam, irons should have variable steam control, allowing you to raise or lower the steam output depending on the type of fabric you’re ironing. Other useful steam tools:
A burst-of-steam button conveniently blasts stubborn wrinkles with extra heat and moisture to smooth them into place.
Vertical steaming allows you to give garments, drapes, and curtains a fresh cleaning without breaking out the ironing board.
An anti-drip system, common on most irons, prevents water leaks on your clothes when you set the steam on a low level.
If an iron comes with multiple fabric settings, it should also include a fabric guide printed in plain view on the iron. Silk and wool generally take less heat than cotton and linen.