Innovations in ironing technology deliver performance and convenience features that almost make pressing pleats and smoothing shirts fun. With advances like “vertical steam” and hassle-saving perks like retractable cords, you may find yourself skipping trips to the dry-cleaners in favor of doing the job at home for a fraction of the cost. Whether you like to face each day looking crisp and professional or just need to de-crease your denim for that big date, Pronto’s Iron Buying Guide will help you choose an iron that fits your lifestyle and budget without getting you hot under the collar.
The more steam an iron produces, the faster and more easily it gets rid of wrinkles. Frequent ironers should invest in high-end irons that steam more effectively, while occasional users can get by with basic steam irons. Look for a “burst of steam” feature for stubborn creases and “vertical steam” to smooth curtains or hanging garments.
Irons weigh anywhere from 1 ¼ to 4 pounds when empty. Add water and the heftiest irons tip the scales at five pounds. Choose a weight you know will be comfortable for you. Nonstick or enamel-coated soleplates will “glide” more easily over fabric. For more control over your iron, choose one with a stainless-steel soleplate.
Your iron’s water tank should be easy to fill, big enough so you don’t have to constantly refill it, and work with tap water. Cordless irons sound great, but recharging them every few minutes is more of a hassle than the cord. Choose an iron with a cord that pivots or retracts for the most convenience. More wattage means faster heating and less variation in heat while you’re ironing.
Most irons come with an auto-shutoff feature that powers down the iron after 8 to 15 minutes of inactivity. A three-way auto-shutoff offers even more protection, switching the iron off in as little as 30 seconds if it tips over or is left sitting on the soleplate.
Irons typically last just two to three years, so base your spending on what you think is reasonable. High-end irons break as often as inexpensive ones, but durability increases with self-cleaning and anticalcium features. Nonstick soleplates are more vulnerable to nicks and scratches than their stainless-steel cousins.
This feature, found on high-end irons, increases durability by removing minerals from water, preventing buildup that can clog the steam holes.
A safety feature that automatically turns an iron off after 8 to 15 minutes of inactivity. Some irons offer three-way auto-shutoff that switches the iron off in less than a minute if it’s left sitting horizontally or gets knocked over.
An iron feature that delivers an extra blast of steam for use on particularly tough creases.
The flat metal surface on an iron that glides over fabrics. Some soleplates are stainless steel or aluminum, while others are coated with a nonstick material.
This feature automatically adjusts the volume of steam to match the iron’s selected heat setting, so delicate garments won’t get oversteamed.
A feature that lets you generate steam while holding your iron upright, so you can remove wrinkles from drapes or hanging garments.
A measure of an iron’s power, with most falling within a range of 1100-1800 watts. The higher the wattage, the faster the iron will heat up and the less the temperature will fluctuate while you iron.
Steam is the ultimate wrinkle-buster. While every iron will eventually press creases out of your garments, irons that produce more steam will do it faster and with less effort. More money generally buys you more steam, and pricier irons distribute that steam more effectively.
While basic irons have just 10-20 steam holes, midrange models often add extra holes at the tip of the soleplate (the surface that contacts fabrics) to tackle tough spots like shirt collars. The top-of-the-line Rowenta Advancer DZ9080 iron has a whopping 400 tiny steam holes for superior steam distribution. If you iron frequently and need to tame tough fabrics like linen and denim, paying for better steam makes sense. If you just need to press a few shirts once a week, an inexpensive iron will deliver plenty of steam for the job.
Mid- to high-end irons offer useful features that make steam work harder for you. Look for a “burst of steam” option to give an extra blast to stubborn wrinkles. Variable steam automatically tailors the amount of steam to the iron’s heat setting, so you don’t oversteam delicate fabrics. Increasingly popular is vertical steam, which lets you use your iron upright, like a steamer, to banish wrinkles from drapes or hanging garments.
Irons weigh anywhere from 1 ½ to 4 pounds, but remember that they’ll be several ounces heavier when you add water. If you have limited arm strength, definitely opt for a lightweight iron. If your biceps can take it, a hefty iron is good on heavy fabrics and quilts and gives a stable feel. Steam will affect performance more than weight, so go with an iron you can easily manage.
Look for a comfortable handle with enough clearance, especially if you have larger hands, and heat-setting and steam controls that are well-placed and easy to operate. You’ll also want to consider the iron’s “glide,” or how it moves. Irons with nonstick or enamel-coated soleplates move more easily over fabric. Some users love the effortless feel, but others find fast-gliding irons unstable and difficult to control. If you want a steadier feel, choose an iron with a stainless-steel soleplate. Stainless-steel soleplates are also more durable than those with nonstick coatings, which are vulnerable to scratches and nicks.
Will having the right features on your iron magically make getting creases out of linen fun? Probably not, but when you’re shopping, pay attention to these details that can make ironing less of a chore:
The water tank – Bigger is usually better. Inexpensive irons often have small tanks, meaning you’ll need to stop and refill frequently. Look for a tank that’s easy to refill and avoid designs that require the iron to sit flat or be turned upside down to add water. A removable tank is easier to fill. Make sure the iron you choose uses tap water; most do, but a few still require distilled water.
The power cord – Cordless irons may seem convenient, but they lack the power of corded irons, and it’s a nuisance to reheat them in the base every few minutes. Stick with a corded iron with a cord that pivots out of the way. Retractable cords keep things neat and convenient, but add a bit to the iron’s cost.
The wattage – Hate waiting for the little light to tell you your iron has reached the right temperature? Compare iron wattages. The higher the wattage, the faster the iron will heat up and the less the temperature will fluctuate during use. The average range is around 1100-1800 watts, with more watts costing more money.
We’ve all been there – standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, sitting in a budget meeting at work, or on a plane halfway across the Atlantic – when we suddenly wonder, “Did I turn off the iron?”
An unattended hot iron can certainly cause a fire, but most irons now have an auto-shutoff feature and you shouldn’t buy an iron without one. With auto-shutoff, if the iron sits without moving for a preset amount of time (usually 8-15 minutes), it automatically powers off and cools down. Many mid- to high-end irons have a three-way auto shutoff that sticks to the 8- to 15-minute limit if the iron is sitting vertically, but switches off the heat in as little as 30 seconds if the iron is knocked over or left sitting horizontally on the soleplate.
If you’re a quilter or sewing enthusiast, you may get frustrated with an iron that shuts off every 10 minutes while you’re working. You can choose from a few iron models without auto-shutoff, or ones that offer an optional “always on” setting. Just remember to turn your iron off!
The typical lifespan for irons is two to three years. After this the iron tends to start leaking or stops working altogether. Top-of-the-line irons don’t fare much better than inexpensive ones, so ask yourself how much you think is reasonable to spend. If you iron a lot, a high-end iron’s performance and features may be worth extra cash to you, even if it gives out in a couple of years. But if you’re an occasional presser, a cheaper iron may get the job done. If it breaks in a year, you’re only out about $30.
Self-cleaning irons have longer life spans. Self-cleaning irons blast air through steam vents to clean out mineral deposits that can cause clogging and leaks. If you’re investing in a high-end iron, make sure it has an anticalcium feature, which removes the minerals from water before they can muck up the steam holes.