For those who don't iron very often or just don't want to spend much, we checked out irons costing less than $30. The problem in this price range is durability; in general, we found greater numbers of complaints about leaks, spills and breakdowns. And a no-frills iron probably won't have a burst-of-steam feature, which lets you shoot extra steam into particularly troublesome wrinkles.
Especially with budget-friendly irons, we found wide discrepancies when comparing professional reviews to user ratings. For example, the Shark Lightweight Professional GI462 (*Est. $30) is a top low-cost pick in reviews at both Real Simple and Good Housekeeping magazines. (Both test it as the Shark Rapido Electronic GI468.) Testers appreciate the iron's light weight, although Good Housekeeping editors say it has a tendency to tip over. Owner posts at Amazon.com, however, are dreadful; in about 50 reviews, fully half are 1-star ratings out of 5. Leaks and total breakdowns are the biggest gripes.
The Black & Decker First Impressions IRC515 (*Est. $30) is another winner in the Real Simple review, where editors like the retractable cord. This iron doesn't get a lot of feedback at Amazon.com, but most of the handful of user reviews so far aren't happy with it.
Another Black & Decker iron, the SteamAdvantage F1060 (*Est. $25) , gets better reviews in this price range. In roughly 70 reviews at Amazon.com, it averages 3.5 stars out of 5. This steam iron includes a heat-number setting dial, burst-of-steam and mist buttons, a transparent water tank and a pivoting cord (not retractable). One subscription-only site gives it scorecard ratings of "excellent" for ease of use, and "very good" for steaming rate and ability to iron a variety of fabrics. User complaints echo those for pretty much every iron: leaks and durability. But given the SteamAdvantage's price, we found fewer grumbles compared to other low-cost irons.
The Panasonic NI-C78SR (*Est. $40) is another budget option; this steam iron costs a bit more than the Black & Decker F1060 but offers a few more features. In addition to vertical, burst-of-steam and adjustable-steam functions and a safety shutoff sensor, it has a retractable cord and a detachable water tank. The Panasonic gets nearly 300 user reviews on Amazon.com. Owners like its retractable cord, steam production and easy-to-fill water tank, all at an affordable price. However, some users say it leaks and spits, while others say the iron lasted only a few months before it stopped working altogether.
Overall, the Black & Decker Digital Advantage D2030 (*Est. $50) gets vastly better reviews and looks like a better choice (it's discussed in our Best Steam Irons section). But if you don't want to spend $50 on an appliance you might use once a week or less, the Black & Decker SteamAdvantage F1060 costs half as much -- but does get lower ratings for durability.
We're surprised there aren't more expert review sources for portable travel irons; we suspect this is because so many hotels and motels now offer compact irons in their guestrooms. However, it seems a good many business travelers still like to bring along their own travel irons, judging by the large numbers of user reviews we found for travel irons on retail sites like Amazon.com. We also found that many quilters and hobbyists prefer small irons for piecing quilts or for making children's clothing.
The Rowenta First Class Travel Compact Steam Iron (*Est. $40) is praised in the review at Real Simple thanks to its powerful burst-of-steam button, vertical steaming function and compact design, which allows it to fold flat and fit in a carry pouch. Eight out of nine user posters on the Williams-Sonoma website also highly recommend this 1,000-watt travel iron; one owner says it works great for quilting projects; others say it heats up fast and produces a lot of steam for a compact iron. Several even say it's powerful enough to replace the iron they use at home. The one negative review says the First Class doesn't really do the job of a home model but would probably work well on the road.
On Amazon.com, the vast majority of the 45-odd user reviews for this Rowenta travel iron are enthusiastic, saying it has a nice steam output (from 200 holes in the soleplate), and works especially well for quilters and seamstresses. They like its dual-voltage function and light weight. However, several users say this model's housing is rather fragile and one owner says the water plug broke off. In the end, a number of reviewers say they still prefer to use a full steam iron for everyday and would use this travel model only for trips.
A less expensive option, the SteamFast SF-717 Home-and-Away Mini Steam Iron (*Est. $25) gets more reviews at Amazon.com and a higher overall rating than the Rowenta First Class. Of the 90 owner-written reviews, just one gives the iron a score of 1 star out of 5. The overwhelming majority of reviewers like this 420-watt mini steam iron, which weighs only 1 pound and fits in the palm of your hand. The SteamFast takes 15 seconds to heat up, and has variable temperature settings, a nonstick soleplate and dual voltage. Amazon.com users call it "amazing," with one owner saying it works well on everything from denim to silk and wool; another says it does the job admirably at quilting class.
Reviews for both travel irons are very good. We include the Rowenta in our Best Reviewed section since it was tested in a professional review in addition to user reviews, but we would call either travel iron a good choice.