A good steam iron makes a tedious chore go more smoothly
Sadly, the advent of permanent press fabrics has not done away with the need to occasionally haul out the ironing board and iron to crisp up a favorite blouse or re-crease those dress pants. And for sewers, quilters and other fabric hobbyists, a great iron is a must. The good news is that the right steam iron can help reduce the time, frustration and elbow grease needed to knock out those wrinkles.
Steam irons come in three main types:
- Traditional steam irons. Traditional, corded steam irons can cost anywhere from $30 to $200. These days, even basic steam irons have features once limited to high-end models: variable steam settings, a "burst of steam" button to tackle the toughest wrinkles, and a vertical steam feature for steaming wrinkles out of hanging clothes or curtains. You can also expect a steam iron to have an 8-foot cord, a UL or ETL safety certification, an auto-shutoff feature, and a one-year warranty. However, paying extra for a deluxe model can get you still fancier features, such as digital displays, specially shaped soleplates, retractable cords, and self-cleaning cycles to remove mineral deposits.
- Cordless irons. Cordless irons are a bit of a throwback to the very earliest irons, which were made of solid metal and heated on a stove or over a fire. Instead of heating up the soleplate (the steel base of the iron) through a cord that tethers the iron to a wall socket, modern cordless irons sit on a power base that heats up. Once the iron comes up to temperature, you can pick it up and use it with no cord to trip or entangle you. However, despite the convenience of this design, cordless irons don't get nearly as many reviews as traditional ones. The few we've seen are priced a bit higher than a basic steam iron — usually between $60 and $130.
- Travel irons. For travelers who don't trust the irons in hotels, a small travel iron comes in handy for quick touch-ups. They're also popular with quilters and sewers for toting to classes or conventions. Travel irons are compact and lightweight enough to stash in a suitcase, and some have folding handles to make them even smaller. Travel irons are cheaper than their full-sized brethren, with prices around $25 to $40, yet often have the same features you'd find on a basic steam iron. However, these mini irons aren't widely covered in professional reviews, and users generally don't rate them as highly as the best steam irons.
The best steam irons have to provide quick, even heat, loads of steam, and useful safety and convenience features. They should also be easy to use, with clearly labeled controls and indicators. We analyzed a handful of professional roundups, as well as hundreds of owner reviews from retail sites such as Amazon.com and BedBathandBeyond.com, to find the best steam irons for everyone from passionate pressers to reluctant wrinkle wranglers.
And since every good iron deserves a good ironing board, we dug around and found some great recommendations for those as well; see the end of the section on best cordless irons for more information.
Both high-end and basic steam irons perform well
If you're the kind of person who wants to look freshly pressed every single day, sources say you can't do better than the Rowenta Focus DW5080 (Est. $80). This high-end steam iron has it all: fast heating, abundant steam, and plenty of handy features.
Every feature on the Rowenta Focus shows attention to detail. Its stainless-steel soleplate has 400 tiny "microsteam" holes to spread a large volume of steam evenly across a garment. To keep up with all this steam production, it has an extra-large 10-oz. water tank, marked with measuring lines, which automatically props itself open to make it easier to fill at the tap. The burst-of-steam and spray buttons and the steam-volume slider are all positioned at the front of the handle, where they're easy to adjust with your thumb. The temperature-setting dial, located below the handle, is large and clearly labeled with all the standard settings: Min, Nylon, Silk, Wool, Cotton, and Linen. Its auto shutoff activates in 8 minutes when the iron is propped upright on its wide, stable base, but in only 30 seconds if it's lying flat or tipped over, so there's literally no way to burn your clothes with it. The vertical steaming feature removes wrinkles from curtains and hanging garments, and the anti-calc system clears away mineral deposits.
In tests at TheSweethome.com, the Rowenta Focus is a top-notch performer. It goes from cold to the linen setting in only a minute and twenty seconds, faster than any of its competitors. It's tops for steam power, too, putting out an impressive 30 grams of steam per minute. In fact, reviewer Eric Hansen says the volume of steam was too much for his shirts, which took longer to dry after their "drenching," but it was a big time-saver with blue jeans. On ironing time, the Focus wasn't the absolute fastest, but it got through two button-down shirts in just over 12 minutes, from heat-up to completion.
More than a 1,700 users at Amazon.com are extremely impressed with this Rowenta iron, granting it a rating of 4.5-stars. They say it glides easily over fabric, and its quick heating and massive steam production cut ironing time significantly. The most common complaint about the Rowenta is that it doesn't last as long as you'd expect for such an expensive product. Rowenta backs this iron with a standard 1-year warranty, but several owners say that Rowenta's customer service isn't as helpful as it could be.
For those want good performance but who aren't willing to invest $80 in an iron, the T-fal Ultraglide Easycord FV4495 (Est. $45) offers solid performance for about half the price. Its ceramic soleplate is designed to glide more smoothly over fabric than the usual stainless steel, though TheSweetHome.com's Hansen says the actual difference is barely noticeable. It also has many of the extras found on the Rowenta: a larger-than-average 9-ounce tank with a self-propping lid, an anti-scale system, a 3-way auto-shutoff feature, and a 1-year warranty. It also has the same stable base and handy, intuitive placement for the controls. The Ultraglide even has one feature the Rowenta lacks: a 9-foot-long, retracting cord, which stays out of the way during ironing and coils up into the iron for storage.
The Ultraglide has fewer steam holes than the Rowenta: just 27 large holes for high-volume steam delivery and 37 "microholes," concentrated at the tip, for smoother diffusion. Nonetheless, its steaming performance in professional tests is excellent. Hansen says in his tests, it emitted 27 grams of steam per minute, putting it just behind the Rowenta and way ahead of the rest of the pack. It also keeps up with the Rowenta on ironing time, actually taking a few seconds less to get through two button-down shirts.
In Amazon reviews the T-fal Ultraglide isn't quite as universally loved as the Rowenta, earning a 3.9-star score after more than 380 reviews. While most users say it irons smoothly and quickly, some say the steam is actually too vigorous, resulting in leaks, spraying, or bubbling of water. They also say the monthly cleanings it requires are a lot of work. We saw some reports of problems with leakage around the handle area, but Hansen says a T-fal representative he spoke to claims that most of these problems are due to using the wrong type of water or failing to empty the iron before storage. Most of all, users hate T-fal's pictorial instruction manual, which many owners find impossible to decipher.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Cordless Irons | Best Travel Irons | Buying Guide | Our Sources