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Conventional steam irons are becoming more and more capable of outdoing your local dry cleaner. Many new irons are safer and more convenient to use than older models, and they release more steam than before. Even cheaper irons are capable of doing a good ironing job, so learn about the different types and features to look for in your next iron.

Types of Irons

Steam irons allow a small amount of hot steam to be applied to clothes when they are being ironed, making creases disappear faster and reducing the time spent ironing. Almost all new models can use tap water, thanks to an anti-calcium valve or a resin filter within the unit.

Steam generators allow you to apply a constant flow of high-pressure steam while ironing. They take up a lot more space than conventional steam irons and should be placed on a chair or on a rack at the end of the ironing board. The steam production speeds ironing and will easily remove wrinkles from dry linens, as well.

Cordless irons resemble conventional steam irons, but they do not have a power cord. While they are more maneuverable, they have poor steam power compared to other iron types, and often need to be reheated in their base every few moments.

Important Iron Features

  • Auto-shutoff is an important feature in irons, not just for forgetful consumers, but also for safety purposes. Irons with auto shutoff will turn off the power automatically if the iron is left motionless for an extended period of time, whether laid flat or propped up. Some will also shut off if left on their sides. This can prevent a fire if the iron is close to flammable materials.
  • Steam gauges let you adjust the amount of steam of your iron or eve shut the steam off completely. An anti-drip feature, found on most irons, is designed to prevent leaks when you steam at lower settings.
  • Transparent water reservoirs are convenient on models that don't hold as much water, because you can see how much water is in the chamber at all times. Some reservoirs are a small, vertical tube, while others are large chambers on the handle. Either way, they make it easier to determine when to refill the water chamber.
  • Removable water reservoirs are easiest to fill, and they help you avoid dripping water all over the iron when you pour water in. You also will never have to hold your iron under a sink faucet again.
  • Retractable cords can keep the cord out of the way when you're using the iron or when you're storing it. The only safety concern is that it occasional whips when it retracts, to be wary of how close your face and fingers get to the cord.
  • Nonstick surfaces are becoming increasingly common in irons. The nonstick plates are sometimes made with stainless steel, while other cheaper models use aluminum. While the nonstick feature will make your iron operate more smoothly, it is more susceptible to scratches from things like zippers, which could ruin the iron's ability to glide over clothes.

Iron To-Do List

  1. Consider your clothing. If you commonly press natural fibers such as linen, or heavy fabrics like denim, then choose irons that have burst-of-steam and spray features. Also choose one with a steam feature that can be turned off. This is easiest on your clothes.
  2. Test-drive before you buy. Make sure the iron is comfortable to pick up and hold. Some irons will have handles that are too small for larger hands, and other irons are too heavy to maneuver easily over light fabrics. Also look at the controls, and make sure that they are clear to you and easy to understand and operate.
  3. Clean the surface occasionally. Like anything else, irons need a little TLC. To remove residue, clean the iron's heating plate every once in a while, about once a month, to ensure it continues to work smoothly and properly. This is especially necessary if you use starch, which can blotch up the heating surface. Follow the iron manufacturer's directions for cleaning.
  4. Minimize leaking. Leaking can occur when you press clothing at low temperatures. To prevent dribbles of water, press delicate fabrics first, before you add the water to the iron. After ironing items requiring steam, empty the water chamber. This will reduce the chance of drips the next time, and it gives you another benefit: the heat will evaporate the remaining moisture, so it won't leave deposits on the heating plate.
  5. Press hanging fabrics. With some irons, you can use the "burst of steam" function for vertical steaming to remove wrinkles from items that require hanging, such as delicate clothes and curtains. Read the manual of your iron to learn more about how to do it.
Last Updated: January 20, 2012
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About Emelie Battaglia Emelie Battagila is a contributing writer for

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