Selecting an Iron

The right iron can help make ironing faster and easier.


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Even with the rise of cotton-blend and synthetic fabrics, typical households still have ironing chores. If you or your family members wear dress shirts or uniforms to work or to school, ironing them yourself, at least some of the time, is a money saver.

The cost of an iron can range from $10 to $100 or more for top-of-the-line, handheld, cordless steam irons. European manufacturers design and market expensive specialty irons, yet their lines often include a few moderately priced models sold in discount stores.

Though rarely used anymore, the most basic iron, called a dry iron, has a flat soleplate with a heat-generating electrical element.

The most common and versatile iron, and the one you will no doubt want to buy, is a steam iron. Usually the more features your steam iron has, the easier your ironing task will be.

See page 2 for a list of steam iron features.

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  • Spray: Mists clothes with a fine water spray. This basic feature really is a must for most ironing chores, including dry cotton clothing.
  • Automatic shutoff: Some units have timers that turn off the iron when it remains horizontal for a specified period. This can be a good safety feature if you get called away from your task for a length of time or inadvertently forget to turn the iron off when you're done.
  • Variable steam: Adjusts the amount of steam released. Different fabrics can require different amounts of steam.
  • Burst/surge of steam: Produces a concentrated outflow. This is good for those tricky wrinkled spots.
  • Nonstick soleplate: This has little to do with how smoothly the iron glides over fabrics; a clean stainless-steel soleplate glides just as easily. A nonstick surface makes cleaning starch buildup easier.
  • Vertical steam: Some models produce steam while the iron is upright, allowing use as a steamer for clothes on hangers.
  • Variable heat settings: Basic irons generally have low, medium, and hot controls; top-of-the-line irons include many more temperature settings for a wide variety of fabrics.
  • Cord swivel: Some units have a mechanism that allows cord movement in any position, reducing wire stress within the cord and the nuisance of the cord getting in the way.
  • Cordless: 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.
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  • As with any appliance, the better care you take of it, the longer it will last and the better it will perform.
  • If you have a care booklet with your iron, read it carefully.
  • Before using a new steam iron, clean the vents according to the care booklet. This usually involves the following process: 1. Fill the water well. 2. Plug in the iron. 3. Set it on the highest temperature (typically linen). 4. Allow it to sit upright for about three minutes to build up steam. 5. Turn off and unplug the iron. 6. Drain the reservoir by pouring the water down the sink drain. If you iron has a "self-clean" setting, switch to it before draining.
  • During regular use of your iron, drain well after each use.
  • Types of water to use: Unless otherwise stated, use ordinary tap water rather than distilled water in steam irons.
  • Hard water: If you live in an area with extremely hard water caused by mineral deposits, use bottled spring water or a half-and-half mix of untreated tap water and distilled water.
  • Never use 100-percent distilled water unless the care label recommends otherwise.
  • Don't use household water softeners in the iron; they may cause the iron to leak or spit.
  • Commercially available scented linen water is safe, but test it first to be sure it doesn't stain the fabric you're ironing.
  • See more below for soleplate saver tips.

Soleplate Saver Tips

  1. Do not iron over metal zippers, snaps, hooks, or pins.
  2. Occasionally rinse with a damp cloth that's been dipped in mild soapy water; dry with a soft cloth.
  3. Never use abrasives such as scouring pads.
  4. Always store upright on the heel plate.
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Choosing a good ironing board can make a big difference in the finished product when you iron. Depending on the size and location of your laundry area, a built-in version with a pull-down board may be a convenient feature. These can be easily hidden in a wall cabinet when not in use.

For free-standing ironing boards look for adjustable models that are easy to fold for setup and storage and that allow comfortable use either when sitting or standing.

Ideally, the ironing surface should be at hip level for ease of use.

Here are some additional features to look for:

- Cord holders that prevent tangles

- Iron rests that prevent scorching the cover

- Racks for hanging clothes

Ironing board pads: Although some ironing boards come with pads, they may not be as thick as you'd like. When you buy pads and covers, select thick cotton padding to reduce overheating from beneath and to reduce wrinkling. Pad covers come in many colors and patterns, in plain cotton, and with nonstick coatings to make starch or sizing cleanup easy.

If you frequently iron garments with puffed sleeves or special detailing, or if you sew, a sleeve board is a helpful tool that folds away when not in use.

Selecting a Washer

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