When it comes to choosing the best steam iron, reviewers and users tend to look at one common denominator before anything else: Which one puts out the most steam? After that, ease and safety of use are assessed, although some features -- such as sophisticated three-way auto shutoff and audible readout capabilities -- are more subject to user preference than others.
In contrast to professional reviews such as those at Good Housekeeping and ConsumerReports.org, priorities in user reviews are quite different, with durability being the biggest concern. The vast majority of complaints we read for all irons involve leaks, drips and breakdowns rather than actual ironing performance.
Nowhere is this dichotomy more prevalent than with Rowenta irons. These steam irons are routinely recommended in professional publications, and they're some of the most expensive irons you'll see in stores. But regardless of model, users complain about Rowentas just as often as irons costing much less.
For example, the latest top-of-the-line Rowenta iron is the Steamium DW9080 (*Est. $140) . According to the manufacturer, the Steamium steams 30 percent more than previous models. It has 400 steam vents in the soleplate, variable steam and temperature settings, a burst-of-steam feature and three-way auto shutoff. (The iron shuts off after a period of inactivity, or when it's tipped over or left flat for too long.)
Real Simple picks the Rowenta Steamium as the best iron, praising its ability to obliterate wrinkles with its even heat distribution. The Steamium also scores well with a top-ranking subscription-only consumer site, where it rates "excellent" for steam output and "very good" for ease of use and adaptability to different fabrics. However, hundreds of owner-reviewers aren't so sure. Case in point, some of the 160-plus QVC users say it's their best iron ever, while a number of dissenters say it leaks brown water, it's too heavy (because of the larger water tank), and the auto-shutoff is annoying and comes on too quickly. Others complain of a faulty dial on their units.
Amazon.com posts are also mixed. Of the roughly 100 user reviews, quite a few praise the Steamium's burst-of-steam feature that permeates even dense fabrics. However, others grumble about brown water leaks and say this iron is unnecessarily heavy. Many complaints have to do with the Steamium breaking down sooner than expected; one user says hers burned out after 14 months.
Other Rowenta irons share a similar fate. In our last report we included the Rowenta Focus DZ5080, which has now been updated as the Focus DW5080 (*Est. $90) . Overall, the previous version of the Focus iron did a bit better overall than the more expensive Steamium. But again, while the Focus was highly rated in one professional review, a large percentage of owners posting comments to ConsumerReports.org say the Focus leaks and spits. A few users say their irons lasted up to the one-year warranty, then broke down completely.
The Focus DZ5080 fares better on Amazon.com; out of nearly 300 user reviews, the majority are enthusiastic, with posters saying the Rowenta erases wrinkles in just one pass. They also like the narrow tip for getting around buttons and into collar points. But as with the more expensive Steamium iron, the Focus leaks and drips, a number of owners say. We found fewer reviews for the newer DW5080, so it's hard to know if the problems have been -- ahem -- ironed out.
We found more consistent user reviews for a less expensive iron, the Black & Decker Digital Advantage D2030 (*Est. $50) . At first glance it might be considered a basic steam iron, but it shares several features with the two Rowenta units, including a burst-of-steam function and variable steam settings. It also has a digital temperature readout, stainless steel soleplate, soft grip handle, automatic cleaner and motion-sensitive automatic shutoff with audible alerts. In addition, a beeping light indicator lets you know when your preferred temperature has been reached when reducing settings.
The Digital Advantage ranks in the top three for Slate reviewer Tom Bartlett, who says the digital readout is "terrific," the burst of steam really bursts, and the design is sleek and attractive. He also likes that if you need to set the iron to a lower temperature while ironing (like when going from cotton to silk), the beeping light indicator alerts you when the lower temperature is reached.
The Digital Advantage gets more than 1,200 owner-written reviews at Amazon.com, with an overwhelming majority praising its wealth of functions offered at a fraction of the cost of a Rowenta. In fact, several posters say the Black & Decker iron is better than a Rowenta, hands down. They like the design and placement of the settings buttons, as well as the ability to fill the water tank vertically; they also say the Digital Advantage is easy to use, lightweight and doesn't spit. The small percentage of negative reviews comes from owners who received faulty units, and several users say the cover to the water reservoir snapped off.
For a bit less cash, the T-fal Ultraglide FV4379 (*Est. $40) also gets good reviews -- but not quite as good as the Black & Decker Digital Advantage. The T-fal iron has a burst-of-steam feature and a three-way automatic shutoff. According to editors at Real Simple, the Ultraglide is powerful, lightweight and effective, and they name it the best "topple-resistant" iron thanks to its wide base that keeps it steady when vertical. The Ultraglide is also evaluated by ConsumerReports.org, which tests irons for performance on a variety of fabrics, steaming rate and safety features.
While the Ultraglide doesn't have the digital controls of the Black & Decker Digital Advantage, users say the soleplate glides easily and the retractable cord stays nicely out of the way. The T-fal Ultraglide gets kudos from most of the 250-plus owner posts on Amazon.com; still, one user says it's awkward to fill the water tank (it must be filled horizontally), and a few say the iron spits and leaks.