How to Use a Steam Iron

One of the most basic lessons of adulthood is learning how to arrive somewhere without looking like you’ve slept in your clothes.

For those of us who don’t dry clean everything from our shirts to our socks, that means learning how to use an iron.

Ironing is a basic task that eludes many people, but it’s simpler than you might think.

Once you have the appropriate equipment, it’s a matter of technique, which is easily learned.

Are you new to the world of wrinkle-free clothing? Here’s how to use a steam iron to look stylish, even if you don’t feel that way.

1. Steam Iron vs Dry Iron: What You Need to Know

An iron is an iron, right?

Not quite. There are a few key differences you need to know to understand how to use a steam iron properly.

A steam iron is similar to a dry iron. The key difference is the water tank added to the design. With the addition of the water tank, the heat of the iron can be used to generate steam, which is then released through the steam holes on the flat side of the iron.

Steam irons take the ironing experience further because the steam helps get rid of deep wrinkles and creases on your clothing. A dry iron does this, too, but you’ll spend much more time working on problem spots with a dry iron.

Do you need both a steam iron and a dry iron? No. You can convert a steam iron into a dry one simply by leaving the water tank empty and not using the steam functions.

2. Prepare Your Steam Iron

Prepare for ironing by setting up your appliance. If you’re using the steam function, you’ll need to fill the water tank first.

Water tanks should always be filled when the iron is unplugged and cold. Remember, this is an electrical appliance and water and electricity don’t mix.

You don’t need to fill the tank all the way if you’re only using the steam function on a few shirts. The only hard and fast rule for this step is to avoid filling it past the maximum fill line.

If you have questions about the water reservoir, refer to your owner’s manual or the manufacturer’s website.

Once filled, place the tank securely back into the iron. Then, plug it in and turn it on.

3. Choose the Right Setting

Your iron is heating up, but you’re not ready to go yet.

Some fabrics require certain settings on the iron. These settings typically relate to the temperature the clothes should be ironed at. Failure to adhere to these instructions will often result in more work or worse - a ruined shirt or pair of trousers.

You’ll find ironing instructions on the same label containing washing information. Match the instructions to the correct setting on your iron.

Did you remove the tag or can’t find the right instructions? Here’s what you need to know about most major fabrics:

Acetate and beaded fabrics can be ironed on the lowest setting (1). To iron acetate, iron the opposite side of the fabric while it’s still wet. For beaded fabrics, place a towel between the iron and the fabric and use a pressing cloth to iron the wrong side of the fabric.

Cashmere cannot be pressed – it can only be steamed. You’ll need a steamer for this. If you’re trying to get rid of set wrinkles, press on the wrong side and use a pressing cloth.

Cotton can be ironed on one of two settings. Light cotton should be ironed on a 5 and heavy cotton needs a 7. If you’re ironing heavyweight cotton, do it while the fabric is still a bit damp.

Corduroy can be ironed on the wrong side on the 7 setting. If you need to get rid of piles on the front, use steam.

Linin should be ironed on a 5 on the wrong side of the fabric.

Polyester, rayon, and synthetic blends can always be ironed on the 3 setting.

Ironing silk or satin? These can be ironed on a 3 as well. Do NOT use steam on either.

Finally, if you’re a velvet lover, try to only steam it. If you have to iron it, do so on a 3 setting and use a towel between the iron and the fabric. Iron lightly.

4. Start Ironing

You’re all set up and are turned to the right setting, now it’s all about technique.

Spread your garment on an ironing board and iron it according to best practices regarding pressure, pressing clothes, or settings. Move along the grain of the clothing’s fabric for best results.

If your steam feature is switched on, the steam will be released automatically. Don’t iron towards yourself to avoid inadvertently burning yourself.

As you iron, don’t lay on one section for a long time. Only iron it long enough to remove the wrinkles – an iron is not a replacement for a tumble dryer. In fact, it should still be a little bit damp when you’re done.

5. Get Rid of Deep Wrinkles

The main benefit of a steam iron is to get rid of deep wrinkles without hurting the fabric.

If you’ve encountered part of the garment that resists pressing, use the spray function. Only use the spray function if the fabric is suited for it. Silk or satin should never be sprayed or steamed.

Once you’ve hit the spray button, iron over the affected part of the clothing to relax them.

After your wrinkles are out, you’re finished. Remember, the clothing should still be damp. Then, unplug the iron and remove the water reservoir. Let the iron cool down completely before you put it away.

Show Up Looking Like an Adult

Ironing looks difficult if you’ve never done it, and there’s a knack for getting it right. But like any skill, having the right information and a bit of patience will allow you to master the steam iron quickly.

Once you’ve learned to steam iron your clothes, you’ll start to appreciate the benefits of a freshly ironed shirt and you’ll never leave the house looking like you’re wearing a trash bag again.

Have any tips or tricks for ironing everyday or specialty items? Share them in the comments below.

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