Whether completing the weekly chores including getting the laundry done or being a road warrior during the week and needing to pack an iron for the hotel room, an effective steam iron is a portable solution to remove wrinkles from any garment.
Modern irons typically hold their own small reservoir of water to help with steam production adding moisture to successfully iron dress shirts, blouses, and pants that need distinctive presentation.
Not every steam iron performs well. Holes in the soleplate on the underside sometimes experience water leakage that deposits small puddles throughout a dress shirt that you just finished ironing. With other products, the temperatures are uneven across the soleplate making for unpredictable results and sometimes a garment with a burn that cannot be removed.
Here we run through the different types of steam irons, what factors to consider ahead of purchase, features to look for, the best brands, and a few observations by other consumers.
Types of Steam Irons
Irons are available in a mixture of designs, soleplate materials, weights and product features. Most irons successfully get rid of wrinkles when they’re hot enough, but the volume (and heat level) of the steam varies from product to product. With more steam, the person ironing makes swift work of the pile of clothes to meticulously iron with the proper creases for an attractive final appearance. While soleplate materials vary widely, the most useful are either ceramic or stainless steel. There are three types of steam irons worth consideration:
- Conventional steam irons
- Constant steam systems
- Cordless irons
Let’s look a little deeper at these types.
Conventional steam irons
Conventional steam irons are typically triangular in shape ending with a dulled tip at the front which lets it be maneuvered beneath collars and around tricky buttons.
Tap water is most often used (rather than filtered water) thanks to the utilization of either resin filters or an anti-calcium valve that stops unwanted contaminants or deposits getting through. When the iron heats up the water, steam is available and once activated by the user, is pushed through steam vents on the baseplate underside.
As these products have advanced, the steam feature which was once only available on pricier models is now a standard feature across almost all irons in a brand’s range.
Constant steam systems
The less well-known are the regular steam systems which use continual steam, at a high-pressure level. The constant steam system is most often positioned on a rack or another surface because it takes up significantly more space than a conventional steam iron.
The time it takes for this type of iron to heat up is quite a bit longer making them less convenient when needing to iron a single white dress shirt for work. There is also no automatic safety power off feature, so more care must be taken when using this type of iron.
The advantage of the continuous steam system is greater material coverage area, a higher steam production which speeds up ironing, and its ability to even iron dry linen which more basic irons usually cannot. There is no water spray function. However, the steam is voluminous enough not to need it.
The constant steam system is an unusual choice, and so we don’t go into depth about features with products in this category. However, we do mention it for completeness.
The cordless iron is much the same as the conventional steam iron, but without the twisting power cord that tends to get caught up.
Cordless models certainly have their place for people who need to iron clothes in a place that lacks a direct source of energy. With that said, this type of iron tends to operate on lower power, may be less effective, and risks losing power before finishing ironing the load of washing which is less than ideal.
Factors to Consider When Purchasing a Steam Iron
When selecting a new steam iron, the number of factors to consider are not numerous. We all wish for an iron that heats up quickly, holds sufficient water and emits enough hot steam to enable the perfect ironing of clothing without the need to use itchy starch.
Here are a few of the factors that play along with that.
Steam generation is key to successful ironing, especially when wanting to complete a pile of ironing in record time. Consistency with steam generation also matters because not every product is too reliable in this regard. Too much steam in one location but too little in another is just as problematic as an iron that doesn’t produce enough steam at all.
The underside of an iron is made from a variety of materials. Mostly it is a choice between ceramic and stainless steel. Some products are also made from a non-stick surface or anodized aluminum. Both ceramic and stainless steel tend to perform better than other surfaces because they glide more easily over fabric.
An iron that has a thick handle is hard to hold for people with small hands. Maneuvering a heavy iron across fabric is equally difficult when ironing for a significant period. Both issues in combination makes the ironing task a chore rather than something to breeze through. Choosing an iron that is the right size and has a handle that suits the size of your hand makes things much easier.
Every iron has its own set of controls. The upmarket ones tend to have digital controls whereas the more affordable models still use dials and slides to control their features. Whatever system is employed, ensure the controls are easy to reach (a person with large hands trying to reach between the main body and the handle to access a small dial isn’t going to be ideal). Heat levels and fabric settings are two of the most important ones for easy access. Any water spray option to add droplets of water across the garment being ironed needs to be quickly accessible to avoid interrupting the ironing process too.
Maintaining Your Iron:
Be sure to remove any residue left on the soleplate to avoid it staining or sticking to the surface. When using starch, this is doubly important. Follow the instructions from the manufacturer for successful maintenance of the product.
Less Water Leakage
To avoid unnecessary water leaking from the water reservoir onto the garment, iron the clothes that require steam, first. Once these items have been completed, empty the tank to avoid water drips when ironing items that do not require steam.
Use Tap Water
Whether to use tap water depends on two things. Firstly, is the iron designed to handle tap water? Does it have a valve or filter to manage tap water and strip out certain deposits that will impede the iron’s performance? Some local tap water is quite hard, and won’t treat the iron kindly, so one should also consider that factor too. Outside of tap water, one doesn’t need to spend up for the premium water brands; any decent one will do.
Features of Steam Irons
Several features with a steam iron are essential, and others are less so. Please review the information below to consider which features matter to you.
Perhaps the most important feature is the auto shut-off one which potentially could prevent a fire in the home from starting. Anyone who is in a rush to get to work and quickly ironing their dress shift for the office runs the risk of forgetting to turn off or unplug the iron from the wall socket.
The shut-off feature works by sensing when the iron hasn’t moved for a set period of time, either when it is laid down flat or when sitting up. Depending on the make and model, a few irons are also smart enough to shut off automatically when left on their side (sometimes referred to as 3-in-1 shut-off).
When an iron is left face down on fabric, there is still the risk that the iron doesn’t auto shut-off soon enough to either prevent the material from becoming scorched or creating a flammable event with the fabric. The auto shut-off feature is one that comes with almost all new steam irons, and we consider it essential.
The temperature control system should be easy to see, read and adjust. A few irons position these controls on the handle; others don’t. Fabric selection is important too, and these are usually selectable within a limited list. A power indicator light is also provided in most cases to confirm that the iron is still receiving a flow of juice.
Depending on the water source, it is possible for an iron to develop a build-up of limescale inside that hampers its ability to still function. A limescale filter built into the product is the best solution here. Some models have other filters or a valve that helps remove different unwanted elements from the water.
The temperature on the soleplate often reaches over 400-degrees Fahrenheit during operation. The fabric setting does also have a significant bearing on the temperature setting with wool usually being below 300-degrees. An iron that doesn’t get hot enough won’t function well.
Water Spray Button
A water spray/spritz button near the top of the handle is an ideal location for this feature. Reaching over with a thumb and pushing down on the button causes some of the water reservoir to be diverted to the front spray nozzle to shoot droplets of water across the fabric in front of the iron. A poorly-chosen location for the spray button is annoying!
Steam Turbo Button
The steam button comes under various names and guises. It is essentially a button that provides an extra burst of steam through the numerous holes in the soleplate to help remove wrinkles in fabric that just won’t budge. Denim, linen, and other fabrics pose the most problem here, so anyone who regularly irons many garments of this type might want to look for a new steam iron with this feature.
The total size of the water tank is a controversial thing. Some top iron models feature 13- to 14-ounce water reservoirs whereas lesser model may only store up to 7-ounces. The larger water container means needing to stop ironing less frequently to go fill up the iron with more water. While a greater water storage capacity is generally better here, it does add to the overall weight of the iron to push and lift it, which is a concern for people with smaller hands.
The reservoir may or may not be removable. The advantage of the removable versions is that there is no need to pour water directly into the iron and risk it dripping or running down the side or over the soleplate. When choosing a product without a removable water reservoir, models with a wider filler hole are preferable. These models also usually have markings to indicate the correct water levels as a guide.
Water tanks that are either transparent or use light colors allow the user to see when the water is running low.
A soleplate that is thin and comes to a point at its nose is easier to iron between pleats and around buttons. Larger soleplates make tough work of the corners and little areas that are difficult to access.
The design of the handle actually matters too. Some are thicker than a small hand is comfortable using. Other handles cause irritation from prolonged use on the palm of the hand. A well-designed handle is fairly slimline with a grip that’s soft and also smooth. Avoid any handle that has ill-placed seams partway down the plastic surface.
A retractable cord on wired steam irons are a bit of a gimmick (we’re not talking vacuum cleaners here). Occasionally, they will whip too hard when retracting too, so when opting for a product with this feature, be careful it doesn’t pull the cord in too quickly. Most cords are 7-feet or longer.
The steam controls let the user adjust how much steam is generated or to turn off steam entirely, as required. Many irons now come with an anti-drip feature that tries to manage the release of water from tanks when the water is limited, and steam is being generated.
A vertical steaming option is useful to encourage the removal of wrinkles from clothes already hanging up.
Some of the top models now include a digital display. For people who prefer to go all-digital all the time, this will feel welcome. For other people, it may seem like overkill and one more device to re-learn how to use.
A self-cleaning feature is useful to expel deposits collected from the water fed into the iron. The deposits come out through the vents, so these must be cleaned afterward. The steam burst option present in many models is also useful to help clean the vents, though care must be taken with heat levels.
Best Steam Iron Brands
The number of manufacturers producing steam irons today is impressive. With that said, there are only a few brands offering best-in-class models with the latest features and benefits.
Rowenta is a German manufacturer that displays this information proudly. Their micro steam feature with hundreds of tiny holes in the soleplate for steam to escape is impressive and patented.
Black + Decker
Black + Decker has been around for many years producing quality home goods. Their irons are no exception. Affordable and with some models enjoying a digital display no less.
Panasonic has its fingers into many home product pies, including steam irons. Some of their models have ceramic soleplates which exempt them from the buildup of calcium. Multi-directional steam is also a nice trick that some of their irons offer.
Shark are big in the vacuum cleaner market, and now they’re involved with steam irons too. Their products have yet to reach the top echelon in features and performance, but for their price they pack a punch.
Steamfast is a good option for people looking for smaller irons that weigh less than 1 pound before water is added.
What Consumers Say
Distilled water does not steam as well as tap water. The reason is that the minerals present in tap water help to destabilize the water molecules allowing them to reach a boiling point sooner. It is also possible for distilled water to go beyond the boiling point where it fails to produce reliable steam and then creates a rush of steam unexpectedly which might be dangerous.
An iron with a LED display doesn’t suit everyone. Occasionally, a digital model has a failed display unit after a period, and the model isn’t usable after that. It is up to the consumer whether they want a digital iron or not.
Irons can weigh up to 3 pounds when filled to the brim of a 14-ounce water tank. Consider how much the iron will weigh with water added before choosing the right model for your hand, wrist, and arm.