What the best steam iron has

  • Adjustable heat and steam settings. A range of fabric settings can safely and effectively handle the most delicate silk or the toughest linens.
  • Smooth performance. The soleplate (the steel base of the iron) should heat up quickly and maintain an even temperature, and the reservoir should not leak.
  • Powerful steam. The best irons produce lots of steam, but can also switch it off entirely for the most delicate fabrics.
  • Safety features. These include indicator lights to tell you when the iron is up to temperature and an automatic shutoff.
  • Convenience features. Burst of steam and spray mist help to remove even the most stubborn wrinkles or set permanent creases in pants or pleats, while vertical steaming allows you to use steam wrinkles out of hanging items from clothing to drapes.

Know before you go

What type of fabrics do you iron? If you press fabrics with difficult-to-remove wrinkles such as linen, denim or cotton, make sure your iron has burst-of-steam and spray-mist features.

How much weight can you wrangle? Most irons weigh no more than 4 pounds or so. However, if you have any condition that makes it tiring to heft even that much weight, you need to buy the lightest iron that will do the job. You may even want to consider a compact travel iron or vertical steamer. Weight is also important if you plan to take the iron with you on the go, either for travel or to craft shows and meetings.

Can you see the controls easily? Irons have different types of controls, including dials, buttons and digital screens. Make sure you can read them easily. The same goes for the marker that indicates the water reservoir is full.

Do you need additional features? Features such as burst of steam, spray mist, vertical steaming, and auto shutoff are pretty standard these days. However, some irons have extra features that can come in handy. A self-cleaning system, for instance, clears mineral deposits from the steam vents as you iron, though ConsumerReports.org warns that these systems don't always work with hard water or prolonged use. Retractable cords pull the cord out of the way for storage, while cordless irons do away with it entirely so it can't get in your way as you work. A relatively new feature is the self-lifting iron, which automatically props itself up when not in use — a nice feature for those who tend to burn clothing by forgetting to stand the iron upright.

Caring for your steam iron

Even the best iron can't do its job if you don't treat it right. A clear example appears in Eric Hansen's report at TheSweethome.com, which notes that many reviewers on retail sites complain that irons designed for use with hard water "went kaput" after being filled with distilled water. Distilled water, Hansen explains, "strips essential minerals from internal bits designed for hard water." By contrast, using hard water with an iron meant for soft or distilled water leaves calcium deposits on valves and other materials.

So how can you tell which type of water is right for your iron? The obvious answer is to read the manual. Pat Slaven, an engineer for ConsumerReports.org interviewed by TheSweethome.com, claims that failure to do this is the main reason for spitting, dripping, and premature breakdowns. Here are some other tips ConsumerReports.org offers for maintaining your iron:

Empty the water reservoir when you're done ironing. The residual heat will evaporate any leftover moisture. This reduces the chance of drips next time you iron, and it prevents water from leaving deposits on the soleplate.

Clean the iron, including the soleplate. Your manual should tell you how often to do this. Cleaning the soleplate is especially important if you use starch, which can leave residue. You can also run the self-clean setting, if your iron has one.

Iron delicates first. Leaking is most likely to occur at low temperatures, so press your delicate fabrics first, without water. After that, add water to iron your woolens on medium and finish with cottons and linens on high, giving the iron plenty of time to come up to temperature.

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Steam Irons | Best Cordless Irons | Best Travel Irons | Our Sources

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