In a nutshell, an iron is a small, handheld appliance used to remove wrinkles and creases from fabric. That sounds simple enough, but finding an iron which you can rely on for years to come can quickly become a headache.
Irons are one of the most common household appliances in the UK, so we’ve put together this guide to help you choose the right one. Once you’ve taken the time to reflect on what you need from your ideal iron, choosing one will be much easier.
What do you need from your iron?
There’s no such thing as a single best iron that will suit everyone, so you need to think about what your particular requirements are when looking for an iron.
Maybe you’re a business executive and you need a quick, portable travel iron to make sure you look your best when visiting clients or attending meetings. Maybe you’re a busy parent with a seemingly endless pile of clothing that needs to be ironed.
As well as thinking about your lifestyle, you should consider the types of fabrics you will be working with. Will you mainly be ironing shirts, or do you have lots of delicate fabrics that need ironing? Purchasing an iron that works for you and your lifestyle is the first and most important step in making a worthwhile investment.
What of iron do you need?
Once you decide what sort of jobs your iron needs to be able to handle, you can make a decision as to what type of iron you need. There are 3 popular types typically found on the market nowadays:
A dry iron is a steam-free iron. It’s essentially a more old-fashioned kind of iron, and is becoming harder to find.
Dry irons are typically used for small wrinkles or to freshen up clothing, but they are also useful for ironing delicate materials such as silk, which might be damaged if you were to use a steam iron.
An example of a dry iron is the Philips GC160/02 Affinia Dry Iron.
Steam irons are the most common kind of iron nowadays as they are generally easier and quicker to use than dry irons. A steam iron uses steam to penetrate deeper into fabrics, tackling deeper wrinkles or heavier fabrics.
One of the most popular steam irons in the UK at the time of writing is the Morphy Richards Turbosteam Iron, which lets you adjust the amount of steam produced depending on how tough the creases you’re tackling are.
Steam Generated Iron
A steam generated iron is similar to a typical steam iron, but generates more steam for extra-tough jobs and larger loads. As you’d expect, steam generated irons are usually more expensive than regular steam irons.
There are two sub-types of steam generated irons:
- Pressurised: Pressurised steam generated irons provide a larger output of steam – around 100-120 grams of steam per minute. One example of a pressurised steam generated iron is the Morphy Richards 333005 Power Steam, which has 4.5 bar pump pressure to give 120g of constant steam output.
- Unpressurised: Unpressurised steam generated irons output anywhere from 80-180 grams of steam per minute.
Both pressurised and unpressurised steam generated irons are ideal for heavy fabrics or for quick results, as they generate steam to effectively surround each fibre in a fabric.
If you are having trouble choosing between a dry iron or a steam variety, it is important to remember that a steam iron can be used dry – but a dry iron only has one setting.
There are also other kinds of specialised irons such as travel irons, which are small, lightweight and portable and designed to be used while travelling.
For the average person, a steam iron will be best. Most irons sold in the UK these days are steam irons, and irons of other types are usually clearly marked.
Which features and specifications do you need?
Modern irons come with a wide array of specialised features to ensure quality results and safe usage. These features differ from iron to iron, so it is important to look for an appliance which fits the tasks it will be used for.
Wattage: Look for an iron with higher wattage if you are looking for more power and less heating time – so you can get the job done quickly. What is a higher wattage? Anything over 2500W should give you a good amount of power. One example of a powerful iron is the Bosch TDA5070GB Steam Iron, which offers 3050 watts of power.
Auto Shut-Off: Irons which come with auto shut-off will turn off after being left unused for a set period of time. This is a common safety precaution that most irons feature these days.
Capacity: This refers to the capacity of the water tank in a steam iron. The bigger the tank, the longer the iron will produce steam for before it needs to be refilled. Steam generator irons use more water to produce more steam, so a bigger tank is even more useful in this case.
The average capacity of a regular steam iron is around 300-400 ml, while steam generator irons tend to have a capacity of around a litre.
Anti-Drip: The anti-drip feature keeps water from dripping from the steam holes in the soleplate of an iron, to keep your work area and fabrics safe and clean.
Lengthy/Retractable Cord: Depending on the layout of your abode, having a longer cord could be of benefit – or necessary – while ironing for better manoeuvring. A retractable cord allows for easy storage and ease of use.
Continuous Filling: This feature allows you to refill the tank of your steam iron while it is still powered on, saving you the time of turning it off and allowing it to reheat after it is filled.
Anti-Limescale: Due to the high heat and moisture or due to using tap water in a hard water area, limescale can gradually build up over time in steam irons. An anti-limescale feature prevents and removes limescale as the iron works, so purchasing extra products to clean your iron is not necessary. An example of an anti-limescale iron is the Bosch TDA5070GB Steam Iron.
If you are worried about using hard water in your steam iron or steam generator iron, using distilled or specially purchased iron water instead should keep your appliance in great working shape and prevents build-up.
Steam Shot: A quick shot of extra steam is pressed through the soleplate, allowing for even deeper penetration into wrinkles and tough-to-deal-with fabrics. This is a common feature you will find in many steam irons.
Vertical Steam: Having a vertical steam feature on your iron allows it to perform much like a clothes steamer. It is best used on fabrics or garments that are hanging, to gradually remove wrinkles from more delicate fabrics. An example of an iron with a vertical steam feature is the Philips GC2040/20 Easy Speed Steam Iron.
Steam Output: The steam output is the amount of steam that your iron produces. The more steam produced, the better and faster wrinkles in garments can be removed. Steam generator irons produce more steam than regular steam irons, so if you want a job done quickly and efficiently, a steam generator iron may be your best option.
The importance of the soleplate
The soleplate of an iron is the metal base with which you glide over the fabrics you are ironing. There are four main types of soleplates:
Aluminium: Aluminium soleplates are susceptible to wear and tear quite quickly, and are not non-stick – which may cause ironing to become a hassle by sticking to the fabrics as you go. However, they do keep heat quite well and tend to be inexpensive if you are looking for a budget-friendly option.
Ceramic: These soleplates are non-stick and highly durable. Because they retain and spread heat quite well, they offer the best quality results while being user-friendly and easy to handle. One popular iron with a ceramic soleplate is the Russell Hobbs 21370 Steamglide Professional Iron.
Stainless Steel: Stainless steel is known to scratch quite easily if not used with care, but it does spread and keep heat quite well.
Coated Non-Stick: The non-stick coating on these soleplates allows them to effortlessly smooth wrinkles without getting caught. The coating is durable and holds heat very well. This isn’t exactly a different kind of soleplate, but rather a quality that soleplates made from different materials can have. For example, the Russell Hobbs 21370 mentioned above features a non-stick ceramic soleplate.
While you are considering what sort of soleplate would work best for your situation, also think about what you will be ironing. Bigger is usually better in the world of soleplates, as this allows more surface area to be covered with each stroke, lessening the time needed to complete a job.
It’s a great idea to look at user reviews and ratings when choosing an iron. Even when an iron has great features on paper, it doesn’t always perform well in practice. Here are five popular irons that have been well received by customers in the UK. These are some of the top-rated irons in 2017, listed in no particular order.
1. Morphy Richards 303113 Turbo Steam Pro Iron
This 2800 W steam iron from Morphy Richards lets you control the temperature precisely to avoid damaging fragile garments. It also has a 180g steam boost feature for deep creases and a 400 ml water tank, which means you can use it for a relatively long period of time without needing to refill it.
2. Russell Hobbs 22470 Steam Glide Travel Iron
This is one of the most popular travel irons in the UK at the time of writing. At 760 watts, it doesn’t offer much power for using at home, but it is very light and compact which makes it great for using when you’re on the road. Its 80 ml water tank lets you iron a few suits in one go—just what you need when you’re on a business trip or going to a wedding.
3. Philips GC4521/87 Azur Performer Plus
This steam iron can produce 50 grams of continuous steam and also has 200 g steam boost feature for tackling especially deep creases. It also has a vertical steam feature for using on hanging clothes and curtains, and heats up in just 2 minutes.
4. Morphy Richards 42244 Jet Steam Generator Iron
The Morphy Richards 42244 is a steam generator iron, so it has an extra-large water capacity of 1 litre. You can use it for a long time without needing to refill it, and it also has an anti-scale feature to prevent the buildup of limescale.
5. Russell Hobbs 21370 Steamglide Professional Iron
The 21370 Steamglide Professional is a well designed and affordable steam iron that would be ideal for most households. With a 300 ml water tank and 2600 watts of power, it works well for everyday family ironing. This iron features a ceramic soleplate and has an auto shut-off feature for optimum safety.
How do irons work?
The modern iron works as follows:
- Water is heated within a chamber
- When this water is heated into steam it moves to the plate
- Finally, the combination of steam escaping through an arrangement of holes on the underside of the plate (along with the heat of the plate and, to a lesser extent, the amount of pressure applied) causes the fibres of the fabric to moisten and relax.
The principle above provides the basic engineering of the conventional steam iron. This iron is recommended for the “iron as you go” user, who may only iron garments as and when required.
Some more info for choosing a steam iron
Here are some more things to consider when buying a steam iron:
- The time it takes to iron a garment (and therefore the efficiency of the iron) is largely correlated to the steam output. In short, the more steam, the quicker the ironing.
- Observations to consider when contemplating purchase of a steam iron should largely relate to the number of holes through which steam can escape. The more holes the steam can travel through, the quicker the relaxation of the garment fibres.
- It is fairly normal for steam irons to have a variety of settings which mainly determine the heat of the plate, however models exist which block or open certain steam holes giving the user great control over the amount of both steam and heat transfer.
- The accepted standard retail price of a steam iron is around £30.
High-pressure steam irons
In high-pressure steam irons, water is stored in a separate reservoir. It is then fed into a separate chamber where it is heated. When the trigger is pressed on the hand-held plate, steam from the hot water is fired out of the chamber, is forced down the connection to the hand held plate where it is then pressured through the holes on the underside of the plate.
This high pressure and high heat combination mean that garment fibres are penetrated deeply and aggressively. This has the benefit of making it significantly more efficient in terms of both speed and quality of ironing.
Most sources agree that an increase in >50% of ironing time is achieved with a high-pressure steam iron. In terms of maintenance there are no water filters or cartridges to replace, just a small-scale collector near the boiler which needs periodic rinsing (like the build-up of lime scale in a kettle).
Possible hindrances of the high-pressure steam irons are that they take up more space than the simple steam iron and that due to the aggressive heating technique, they can be less economical and use water more rapidly. This said, they are ideal for a user who has a large variety of garment types, whose volume of ironing demands and the regularity with which they are required are industrious.
These irons are ideal for families which may require a combination of uniforms, hard attire and denim clothing. The price tag attached to these irons is more often than not over £100. A good value model is the Russell Hobs 23391, while a more high-end and expensive iron is the BOSCH TDS6081GB.
Some final tips
If you’re still struggling to decide which iron is for you, have a scan through these top tips:
- The larger the plate, the more surface “ironed”. So bigger really is better.
- Buy for your ironing needs. The price will be appropriate.
- A retractable cord makes storage easier for those for whom storage is at a premium.
- Contrary to some logic, a heavier iron to move will in fact make your workload less as the weight of the iron will provide the pressure in weight that you would other use in downward force.
- More holes = more steam. It is generally accepted that the higher the percentage of plate area covered by steam holes, the higher the rate of efficiency.
- The more shine a plate has, the lower the chance of sticking to garments.
- The narrower the point at the end the better, as this will allow for more advanced handling around tricky areas such as buttons and collars
There you have it—our guide to choosing the perfect iron. For more suggestions, check out our roundup of the best steam irons under £50.
With the knowledge of the different styles of iron and seven rules of ironing purchasing, I hope that you can invest in an iron that is appropriate for your level of ironing demand in addition to being apt in pricing and storage compatibility.