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Steam irons

Steam iron buying guide

Last updated: February 2013

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Getting started

The newest steam irons might make you reconsider sending your clothes to the local dry cleaner for a fresh press. Many new irons are safer, easier to use and release enough steam to smooth dry cotton and linen. Our latest tests show that even budget-friendly models can make your casual-Friday chinos look their best.

To get that crisp, pressed look, you don't need to drop a bundle on an iron. Manufacturers are offering drudgery-cutting features like digital displays, retractable cords, and drip-free steaming. Souped-up models cost more than $100, but one of our recommended irons can be had for $75 or less. And we found cordless models and nonstick bottoms to be of dubious value. This steam iron guide will help you choose.

Consider your clothing

If you often press natural fibers such as linen, or heavy ones like denim, choose irons that have burst-of-steam and spray features and steam that can be turned off.

Test-drive before buying

Make sure the iron is comfortable to hold. Some irons we tested were too small for big hands. Others were too heavy to maneuver easily. Imagine it filled with water, and then decide.

Look at the controls

Different irons have different types of controls: dials, slides, or even digital readouts. Make sure controls are easy to see and adjust, and that fabric settings are clearly marked.

After you buy your iron, there are a few things you can do to make it last longer and easier to use.

Use tap water

Nearly all irons work fine with tap water, unless your water is very hard. Your manual will indicate what's best.

Clean the surface occasionally

To remove residue, clean the iron's heating plate every once in a while, especially if you use starch. Follow the manufacturer's directions.

Minimize leaking

Leaking can occur when you press at lower temperatures. To prevent dribbles, press delicate fabrics first before you add water. After ironing items requiring steam, empty the water chamber. This will reduce the chance of drips the next time and gives you another benefit: the heat will evaporate remaining moisture, so it won't leave deposits on the heating plate. When you're done ironing empty the excess water and put the iron on a solid surface. It's convenient to leave it on the ironing board, but it's also easy to knock it off.

Press hanging fabrics

With some irons you can use the "burst of steam" function for vertical steaming to remove wrinkles from hanging items such as clothing and curtains.

Types

Irons differ in a number of ways, including soleplate material, size, weight, and features. Virtually all of the irons we tested were equal to the task of removing wrinkles from a range of fabrics. And you don't have to spend a lot to get very good performance. Here are the types of steam irons to consider.

Steam iron


These allow a small amount of hot steam to be applied to clothes when they are being ironed, making creases disappear faster and reducing the time spent ironing. Features like auto shutoff, self-cleaning, separate controls that let you set the amount of steaming, and vertical steaming capabilities, that were once available only on fairly expensive irons are now standard on less-expensive models. Also, most new models can use water from the tap, thanks to an anti-calcium valve or a resin filters.

Steam ironing systems

This type of iron allows you to apply a constant flow of high-pressure steam while ironing. They take up a lot more space than conventional steam irons and should be placed on a chair or on a rack at the end of the ironing board (a common feature on European ironing boards). They also take longer to heat up and some don't automatically turn off if you leave them unattended. The steam production speeds ironing and will easily remove wrinkles from even dry linen. Generators have a delay between pressing the button for more steam and getting it, and lack a spray function, but that is irrelevant if the steam flow is high enough.

Cordless irons


These resemble conventional steam irons but do not have a power cord. While more maneuverable, the models we've tested have been unimpressive.

Features


Features that were once available only on fairly expensive irons are now standard on less-expensive models. For example, auto shutoff, a safety feature that turns the iron off if you have not moved it for a preset period of time, comes on models that sell for as little as $25. Other features trickling down include self-cleaning (now on nearly all new irons), separate controls that let you set the amount of steaming, and vertical steaming. Here are the steam iron features to consider.

Auto shut-off


If you're forgetful, this is a must. Most irons available today have this feature and will turn off the power if the iron is left motionless while laid flat or propped up. Some irons will also shut off when left on their side. One caveat: Auto shutoff can prevent a fire, but stored heat will still scorch fabric if the iron is left face down.

Burst-of-steam button

This button delivers an extra blast of steam to subdue stubborn wrinkles.

Steam gauge


This lets you adjust the amount of steam or shut the steam off. An anti-drip feature, found on most irons, is designed to prevent leaks when you steam at lower settings.

Convenient controls

The fabric guide, with a list of settings for common fabrics, should be easy to see and effective. A temperature control that's clearly marked and easily accessible, preferably on the front of the handle, is a plus. Most irons have an indicator light to show that the power is on.

Transparent water reservoir


Some reservoirs are a small, vertical tube; others are a large chamber under the handle. A transparent chamber makes it easy to see the water level.

Removable water reservoir

This is easiest to fill, and you don't end up dripping water all over the iron when you pour water in.

Self-cleaning system

These flush mineral deposits from vents. But they're not always effective with prolonged use or with very hard water. Try the burst-of-steam feature to clean vents.

Retractable cord


This can keep the cord out of the way when you're using the iron or when storing it, but make sure the cord doesn't whip when it retracts.

Cordless

The ones we've tested were only fair in performance and needed to be reheated in the base every few moments.

Water fill-hole cover


A growing number of irons have a hinged or sliding cover on the water-fill hole. This is supposed to prevent leaking, but it doesn't always work. Also, the cover can get in the way during filling or can be awkward to open or close.

Nonstick surface

Many irons have a bottom described as "nonstick." Some are stainless steel, while some budget models have aluminum. We found no significant difference between the two materials when ironing with steam. Nonstick models generally scored lower overall than models with other soleplate materials.

Brands


Familiar names such as Black & Decker, Hamilton Beach, and Sunbeam still sell a lot of irons but you can also find models from T-Fal, Panasonic, and Rowenta. These profiles will help you to compare steam irons by brand.

Black & Decker

The major brand in the category, Black & Decker offers a wide range of irons with varying types of sole plates, including stainless steel, nonstick, and the newly introduced ceramic. New technology from the brand is the availability of steam on all temperature settings, including at low temperatures. They are sold at department stores, Target, Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, and through online retailers. Prices range from $20 to $80.

Euro-Pro Shark

This is a mid-market brand whose products have a retro look or stainless-steel styling. Euro-Pro irons are sold at appliance stores, Sears, Target, Best Buy, Kohl's, and Macy's, and at online retailers. Prices range from $30 to $100.

GE

GE steam irons are a value brand with basic features. They're sold at Walmart, and cost $20 to $30.

Hamilton Beach

Hamilton Beach, a major brand, makes irons that are a bit more upscale and expensive than those from its sibling brand Proctor Silex. They are sold at department stores, Bed Bath & Beyond, appliance stores, and online retailers. Prices range from $30 to $80.

Panasonic

Panasonic irons are in the mid-market range. The brand offers models both with stainless-steel or ceramic soleplates. Cordless models are also available. Panasonic irons are sold at Walmart, Target, Sears, and appliance stores, and on Amazon.com and other online retailers. Prices range from $40 to $120.

Rowenta

This European brand is positioned as a premium brand. The models include either stainless-steel or nonstick soleplates. These irons have many features. They're are sold at department stores, Bed Bath & Beyond, Sears, Target, specialty stores, and online. Prices range from $50 to $150.

Sunbeam

This brand sells products in the lower to midrange category, both nonstick and stainless-steel soleplates. They are sold at a range of retailers, including department stores, Target, Walmart, and Bed Bath & Beyond. Prices range from $20 to $60.

T-Fal

T-Fal irons have a nonstick soleplate, They're sold at most major retailers, including Walmart, Target, and Kohl's, and at Amazon.com and other online retailers. Prices range from $30 to $90.

   

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