What the best steam iron has
- Fast, adjustable heat. The best irons can quickly get hot enough to tackle your toughest fabrics. However, they can also be dialed down to safely handle the most delicate silk.
- Smooth performance. The soleplate (the steel base of the iron) should heat up quickly and evenly and glide smoothly over fabric. ConsumerReports.org recommends irons with stainless steel or ceramic soleplates; irons with a "nonstick" finish are actually more likely to snag on fabric.
- Powerful steam. The best irons produce lots of steam, but can also switch it off entirely for the most delicate fabrics.
- A well-designed water tank. The water reservoir should be big, so you don't need to refill it often, and free of leaks. Ideally, it should also be translucent, so you can see how much water it has left. A removable reservoir is a nice bonus, as it makes filling and emptying the iron much easier.
- Safety features. These include indicator lights to tell you when the iron is up to temperature and an automatic shutoff. UL or ETL certification indicates that the iron has passed rigorous, independent safety tests.
- Convenience features. Burst of steam and spray mist help to remove even the most stubborn wrinkles or set permanent creases in pants or pleats. Vertical steaming allows you to use the iron to steam wrinkles out of hanging items from clothing to drapes. Anti-drip and anti-calc (anti-calcification) features make it possible to use the iron with tap water.
- A warranty. Look for a warranty of at least one year.
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 between 2 and 4 pounds. If you have any condition that makes it tiring to heft 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; for the latter, see our report on clothes steamers. 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. Jackie Reeve's report at TheSweethome.com notes that many reviewers on retail sites complain that irons designed for use with tap water "went kaput" after being filled with distilled water. Distilled water, Reeve 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.