Fast heat-up. Lots of steam thanks to 400 holes. Precision tip gets into nooks and crannies.
No indication that it has reached a particular temperature setting. Reservoir fill tube is awkward to use.
Extremely informative digital display lets you know when the iron is ready. Comfortable grip.
Leaks if the reservoir is full and iron is placed with the soleplate down.
Even temperature. Ceramic plate creates smooth feel. Highest temperature reading in the group.
Difficult to see water level in reservoir.
Handsome appliance. Precision tips lets you navigate around buttons. Lots of steam.
The "Ready" light goes on prematurely, so users should wait a few more seconds to begin. Lower temperature ceiling.
When you want to look sharp, you need crisp, wrinkle-free clothing. The best tool for that job is a steam iron. A steam iron could mean the difference between getting your dream job and just dreaming about getting a job. But only if you purchase a steam iron that has all the features you need to make a positive lasting impression.
You want a steam iron that can hold a consistent temperature and has a sizable tank so you don't have to keep adding water. Non-stick stainless steel is a stalwart option, but ceramic heats well and glides effortlessly across fabric. You will also want your steam iron to have variable controls and an automatic shutoff.
If you'd like to learn some interesting facts about the history of the steam iron and get insightful tips for the best ironing practices, keep reading. If you are ready to start looking your best, just pick one of the highly rated options that we've highlighted.
Steam is steam. It's water boiling at 100°C (212°F). No matter how powerful your steam iron is, you can’t make the steam hotter. So if even the cheapest steam irons make steam, why is power important? A few reasons:
A powerful steam iron is ready to use more quickly.
A more powerful device keeps the temperature constant at both high and low settings.
A powerful iron always has steam on tap, and if you need to refill, it's ready to use again faster.
To maintain a high volume of steam, you need a good-sized water tank. Top models hold 10 ounces (300 ml), so you won't have to add water every few minutes.
Once you've got heat and steam, you need to apply it to your fabric. The soleplate is the metal plate at the base of the iron. You want a soleplate that distributes steam effectively and glides smoothly when dry. Soleplates come in several different materials.
The most popular soleplate material, it’s bright, durable, and easy to clean. Stainless steel is prone to scratching, but all soleplates are, and minor marking won't affect performance.
Lighter than stainless steel, anodized aluminum is a cheaper option that distributes heat well but isn't as durable or easy to clean. Anodized aluminum can get sticky over time.
This type of soleplate is aluminum or plastic that has been coated with PTFE or a similar “non-stick” layer. It’s lightweight and often used for portable models. The coating is effective when in good condition, but it can chip or peel on more inexpensive steam irons.
This is also a coating, but modern ceramics are hard, excellent at heat distribution, easy to clean, and very smooth, so they glide well.
The size and shape of the holes on the soleplate affect how evenly steam is distributed. Some manufacturers use lots of small holes; others use shaped holes.
Because ceramics are naturally more slippery than other soleplate materials, these models usually have fewer holes than their stainless steel and aluminum competitors.
Not many of the items we iron are perfectly square, so soleplates are shaped to make it easier to get into pleats, collars, and cuffs. Many have grooves at the front to get in and around buttons.
Traditionally, the heel (or rear end) of the soleplate is flat so you can stand the iron up when you're not using it. But some manufacturers make both ends pointed, claiming better maneuverability. These irons have “outriggers” as stands.
Steam irons with variable controls dispense with traditional dials and sliders completely. Instead, they "sense" the fabric and adjust the iron’s settings automatically. They claim to be safe for any ironable garment, which is definitely a plus, but this new technology is expensive.
Whether variable settings are worth the extra money is very much a matter of individual preference.
Thick fabrics are best ironed from the inside first, and then the outside, so as to ensure they dry completely as well as get a good press.
A “pulse” of extra steam through the baseplate is a basic necessity, as is a fine spray. All but the very cheapest steam irons have them.
A few models also work upright, allowing you to steam curtains and clothes on hangers.
The overwhelming majority of steam irons have a cord. Some are retractable, though feedback tells us they're not always popular, with jamming a frequent problem.
There are also cordless irons available, but they need to be regularly reheated on bases — an unnecessary step for many users.
Automatic shut-off can switch off the iron if it's left alone for a certain period, if it's tipped over, or if the tank runs dry.
How many of these features you get varies from model to model.
A number of steam irons claim to have non-drip or anti-spitting functions, though effectiveness varies. The same is true of self-cleaning options.
Some also prevent the buildup of calcium, which can eventually block your iron. See-through tanks or water-level windows are useful visual aids.
You can find a steam iron for as little as $15. It will get hot, and it will turn water into steam, but in our experience, it won’t do so very effectively or for very long.
A good-quality steam iron can be yours for $25. Models with a digital readout or ceramic soleplate will cost more, but even at the high end, you're unlikely to spend more than $100.
If you start off by ironing garments needing the lowest heat and work your way up to those needing the most, you will be heating the iron gradually without having to fiddle with the temperature controls.
Always read your steam iron’s manual. Follow any steps suggested before first use.
Most steam irons work perfectly well with tap water. In fact, some say not to use distilled water at all — but it's important to check.
Avoid ironing over metal fastenings like zippers. Damage to some nonstick steam irons makes them all but unusable.
Never use laundry softeners in your iron.
Clean or drain your steam iron after use if recommended by the manufacturer.
If you use starch, don't allow residue to build up, as it will impair the effectiveness of your iron.
Clean following the manufacturer’s instructions. A warm, damp cloth with a dash of detergent is often sufficient. Never use abrasive creams or scouring pads.
The first electric steam iron was patented in the U.S. by Swiss inventor Otto Walker in December 1924. It went on sale in 1926 for $10.
Modern ironing boards and pads are designed to work with your iron, enhancing its performance. They help control reflected heat, are usually non-stick, and are often anti-static, making the whole process quicker and easier.
A wall-mounted ironing-board hanger and steam-iron rest lets you put your iron away while still hot.
As you iron, heat is absorbed by the material you're ironing, as well as the ironing board itself.
Steam irons are available with up to 2,300 watts of power, but some would argue that 1,500 watts is all you need.
Many steam irons offer a “burst of steam” option for extra wrinkle removal. This function works best when there are a lot of steam vents distributed in a wide pattern across the heater plate.
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