How to Clean an Iron for Perfectly Pressed Clothes and Linens

If your iron sticks to clothes, sputters steam, or simply isn't performing its best, it might be time for a good scrub.

iron and white shorts
Photo: Jay Wilde

Does gummy buildup on the bottom soleplate of your iron pull at the fabric, rather than glide across smoothly? Instead of emitting steam, do mineral deposits spurt out (or nothing appears at all)? Your iron is likely overdue for a refresh. Here's how to clean an iron with natural, readily available ingredients. Different methods work best depending on the type of buildup—hard water stains, scorch marks, mineral deposits, rust, melted plastic, and more—so experiment with one or all to see which works best for your needs.

iron and white shorts
Jay Wilde

Before Getting Started

Before cleaning an iron, make sure the device is unplugged and cool to the touch, and the water reservoir is empty. Check the manual of your device to determine what material your iron is made of (ceramic, stainless steel, non-stick, etc.) and any recommended care instructions.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Towels
  • Old toothbrush


  • Cotton swabs
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Liquid dish detergent
  • Paper towel or soft rag
  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Coarse salt


How to Clean an Iron

Learn how to clean an iron, both inside and out, to rescue your appliance from burn marks, hard water stains, and clogged steam vents.

  1. Prep the soleplate.

    The metal base of an iron is called a soleplate. Scrub the soleplate with an old toothbrush to loosen and remove residue or use it to clean deposits (or remaining baking soda or salt) from the vents. Cotton swabs and pipe cleaners work well for removing deposits from steam vents, too.

  2. Wash with dish detergent.

    If you have an iron soleplate with a nonstick coating, it's especially important to avoid damage to the surface. Skip any harsh chemicals and put a few drops of liquid dish detergent into a bowl of warm water. Mix until suds appear. Use a paper towel or a soft rag dipped in the sudsy water to wipe away residue. Wipe away any remaining suds or moisture with a clean towel.

  3. Clean with distilled white vinegar.

    Here's another good option that won't scratch the base of your iron. Dampen a paper towel or soft rag with distilled white vinegar, and wipe the soleplate to remove the gunk. If residue remains, soak a clean paper towel or rag in distilled white vinegar, lay the cool iron soleplate on the towel, and let soak for 15-30 minutes. Wipe away the remainder with a clean towel.

    For tough stains, such as hard water, rust, melted plastic, or craft residue on your iron's base, you might need to do a bit more scrubbing. Dampen a paper towel or rag with water or distilled white vinegar and dip a corner in baking soda or coarse salt. Baking soda is less likely to scratch your iron than coarse salt. Buff the soleplate clean. Wipe clean with a damp rag or paper towel.

  4. Clean the steam vents.

    To get rid of stale smells and clogged iron steam vents, first, empty your iron's reservoir of water and refill it with distilled water. Set the iron on high heat and full steam and stand it upright. (Some irons have a "steam clean" setting.) Let your iron set, allowing it to emit steam and clear the vents. You can also iron an old towel for several minutes so steam flushes the debris onto the towel.

  5. Remove deposits from the vents.

    Once cool, empty any remaining water from the reservoir. If needed, use a cotton swab or toothbrush to gently dislodge deposits from the steam vents. Avoid putting vinegar in the water reservoir.

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