What to Know When Buying an Iron

Learn how to select the best clothes iron to suit your household's laundry and ironing needs. Check out an iron's features to ensure its qualities make your ironing tasks easy.


Clothes-Iron Basics

Want that crisp, clean, pressed look at a moment's notice? Invest in an iron to give yourself the ability to smooth out wrinkles from dress shirts, blouses, uniforms, dresses, and other garments.

Bonus: Ironing will also save you money over the long haul when compared to taking garments to a professional laundry or dry cleaner.

Getting Started

The cost of an iron can range from $10 to more than $100 for top-of-the-line, handheld, cordless steam irons. The number and quality of features and the amount of wattage -- a high-wattage clothes iron heats fast and maintains its temperature -- influences the cost.

Aside from cost, you might want to test-drive an iron before buying it to determine whether it will be comfortable to use. An iron's handle might be too big for small hands, for example, or the appliance might be too heavy to use for any length of time. Also check to make sure that the controls (especially the fabric settings) are easy to see and adjust.

The most basic iron, called a dry iron, features a flat soleplate (the bottom of the iron) with a heat-generating electrical element. You might need to keep a spray bottle of water handy to add moisture to fabrics when ironing.

A steam iron makes it easier to smooth out wrinkles. The ideal steam iron should include an option for ironing with or without steam to give you the versatility to handle most fabrics.  

Iron Features

Here are some features you might want to explore when choosing a steam iron.

  • Variable heat settings: Basic irons generally feature low, medium, and hot settings. Top-of-the-line irons include many more temperature settings to suit a wider variety of fabrics.
  • Variable steam gauge: This gauge adjusts the amount of steam released, which you'll want to control according to the fabric you're ironing. It can also turn the steam off. Many irons include a no-drip feature to prevent dribbles when ironing with steam at lower temperatures.
  • Spray: This basic feature mists clothes with a fine water spray -- a must for most ironing chores.
  • Burst of steam: This feature produces a concentrated outflow of steam that works well for ironing natural fabrics, such as linen, or heavy ones, such as denim. The burst of steam is also good for subduing stubborn wrinkles and for cleaning the vents on the iron's soleplate.
  • Vertical steam: Some models produce steam while the iron is upright, allowing you to use it as a steamer to remove wrinkles from draperies, clothes on hangers, or silk garments that need special care.
  • Transparent water reservoir: Whether a simple tube or a large chamber under the handle, this feature makes it easy to determine the available water level.
  • Removable water reservoir: Being able to remove the reservoir makes it easy to fill. Plus, it prevents accidental spills or overflow when adding water.
  • Water fill-hole cover: Many irons include a cover on the water-hole (hinged or sliding) to help prevent leakage.
  • Anticalcium system: Such a mechanism reduces sediment buildup, which helps to prevent clogged steam vents.
  • Automatic shut-off: With this feature, a timer turns the appliance off when it remains motionless for a preset period of time. This is especially helpful if you're likely to get distracted while ironing or if you're suddenly called away. No need to worry about the iron being left on.
  • Cord swivel: Some units include a mechanism on the cord that allows 360-degree swivel in any direction. This feature reduces wire stress within the cord as well as the nuisance caused by the cord getting in the way.
  • Retractable cord: This feature is a plus when the iron is being stored.
  • Cordless function: Some cordless irons warm on heat plates, allowing free movement while ironing. They retain heat levels for about five minutes, then need to be returned to a hot plate for reheating.
  • Self-cleaning system: This feature is designed to flush mineral deposits from the vents on the iron's soleplate.
  • Nonstick soleplate:  A nonstick surface makes it easier to clean starch buildup from the soleplate. But it does not affect how smoothly the iron glides over fabrics; a regular soleplate – as long as it's clean – glides just as easily. 

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