An essential household appliance, the typical iron does more than simply flatten creases. The type of iron you buy will probably depend on how often you use it. If you only iron occasionally, a cheap one should do the job. If, on the other hand, you have a growing family and lots of clothing, it could be well worth the money to invest in a more upmarket product, with some useful features. This guide gives you an idea of what to look out for when buying an iron, as well as looking at a few alternatives, such as steam generators, which could save you time.
The good, old-fashioned steam iron now comes with a host of features to help get the creases out. Basically, more steam means easier ironing, but there's a lot more to an iron than its power. The following features, suitable for different types of clothing, can be found in most steam irons:
Vertical: ideal for suits, dresses and other delicate fabrics. Especially useful as it removes creases and wrinkles from your curtains without you having to take them down first.
Variable: a control system which allows you to vary steam to the appropriate level for most fabrics.
Steam burst: a sudden burst of power that is ideal for getting rid of particularly stubborn creases.
Continuous output: this makes it easier to do your ironing, as more pressure is put on textile fibres.
A soleplate could perhaps be described as the face of the iron. It is, the area which actually glides across the clothing. Therefore, it's important to get the right kind of plate depending on what you plan to use your iron for. There are 5 different types:
Aluminium: conducts heat well, but is hard to clean and scratches easily.
Non-stick: glides better than aluminium, but also scratches easily.
Stainless steel: hard-wearing, and also glides well.
Ceramic: glides excellently over clothes, distributes heat well, is very hard-wearing and easy to clean.
Palladium: glides better than aluminium, but also scratches easily.
Other features to look out for
Continuous fill: allows you to top up the water tank without having to turn off the iron.
Automatic switch off: the ultimate safety feature, the iron will turn itself off if it isn't being used.
Pressurised steam: penetrates fabric deeply to remove creases quicker.
Pre-set ironing programmes: no need to guess which temperature you should be using; simply tell the iron which fabric you're ironing and it'll do the rest.
Anti-scale: stops limescale from building up, thereby preventing damage to your iron.
These are smaller versions of the conventional iron, ideal if you travel around a lot. They can often be folded away easily, and some models even come with a handy travel pouch. They are generally less powerful and generate less heat, so they may not be a suitable option if you have a lot of ironing to do.
There are a number of alternatives to the conventional iron, which could save you time and energy.
The steam generator is the latest evolution of the household iron, and can do everything your old iron does far more efficiently and in a fraction of the time. Here are some of the advantages of having a steam generator:
Steam pressure: steam generators are constantly steaming your clothes as you iron, making the fabric softer and far easier to smooth than with a traditional iron. Steam pressure is measured in bar - the higher the bar, the faster your creases will be removed.
Anti-scale system: the build-up of scale can affect steam generators as well as irons, so anti-scale devices prevent it from accumulating, thereby increasing the life of your steam generator.
Presses: these basically comprise two metal plates which, when closed together by a handle, apply a high level of pressure to clothing. They have the advantage of reducing ironing time by up to 50%, but the drawback that they can take up a lot of space when in use.
Trouser presses: ideal for getting the creases out of trousers, especially those annoying wrinkles behind the knees. Keep in mind that some man-made fibres may require extra pressure.