High-Tech Irons: Advanced Electronic Controls · Easier to Clean · Slicker Soleplates

Plus: Best Buys in Garment Steamers

From more-advanced electronic controls to even easier cleaning, today’s technology-enhanced irons take the “chore” out of ironing.

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If you rated household chores on a popularity scale, ironing likely wouldn’t make your top 10. Nonetheless, whether you occasionally unearth your iron from the dark recesses of your linen closet or you aim to break the world ironing record (2,100 garments in 101 hours, anyone?), you might be surprised at the technologically advanced and easy-to-use features that emerged in the past 2 years.

Irons boast new types of soleplate finishes that allow for superslick gliding over any fabric type, innovative ways for you to keep an iron’s water reservoir free of mineral buildup, and easy-to-read electronic controls that take the guesswork out of heat and steam selections. A single-setting iron even was introduced for those who want to tackle stubborn wrinkles and creases quickly.

What’s even better is that advancements span the entire price range of irons, so you won’t have to pay top dollar to get the latest technologies. Iron prices have remained steady over the past 2 years, and the new advances that we uncovered start on irons that are as low as $40.

SOLE MATTERS. An iron that drags causes more wrinkles than what it eliminates, so the soleplate affects an iron’s quality more than do any of its other features, according to Andrew Rivkin, who is the president of dry-cleaning-service chain Embassy Cleaners. “A good soleplate is most important; otherwise, you’re defeating the purpose of ironing altogether.”

To eliminate an iron’s drag, manufacturers upped the ante in the past 2 years by introducing specialty finishes to standard stainless steel or ceramic soleplates. These finishes, which include a titanium-infused coating on ceramic soleplates, can be found on irons that cost as low as $40. Nearly every manufacturer claims that its soleplate is tops in “glideability,” and a specialty soleplate finish is standard on all irons except for a few economy models. So how do you sort out what really works?

The new specialty stainless steel soleplates are noticeably better than are the stainless steel soleplates of 2 years ago. We were hard-pressed, however, to find much difference in our hands-on evaluations between the specialty stainless steel and the ceramic soleplates in terms of how smoothly that they glide or even what they cost. We noticed that the stainless steel models are heftier and produce crisper pleats on thicker fabrics. Their ceramic counterparts are easier to clean when it comes to stuck-on starch, but the iron also has to be held more firmly to keep it steady when you use the steam-burst feature.

KEEP IT CLEAN. “If cared for and cleaned regularly, an iron will last for many years, but when the steam vents become clogged, the problems begin,” says Mary Marlowe Leverette of Thespruce.com, which specializes in home tips. Most irons today are claimed to be “self-cleaning” or “anti-calc,” but we found these terms to be misleading, because the self-cleaning process doesn’t happen automatically.

To rid your “self-cleaning” iron of calc, or limescale/calcium deposits that form over time on the soleplate, you have to heat the iron to its highest setting, unplug it, engage the self-clean button/lever and hold it horizontally over a sink for at least 60 seconds. After you allow the iron to cool completely, you wipe off the soleplate to remove any remaining residue. Manufacturers suggest that you clean the iron this way every 2 weeks if you use it regularly.

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However, T-fal’s Powerglide Steam Iron ($50) and Rowenta’s Everlast Anticalc ($200) iron have anti-calc technology that makes the iron easier to clean. When the iron is set upright, loosened calc particles collect in a tray that’s located in the iron’s heel. Rowenta says lab tests showed that the tray captures up to a spoonful of calc particles from the steam chamber every 3 months, which prevents the particles from clogging the holes that are in the soleplate. You simply remove the tray, rinse it and replace it to keep the iron clean.

T-fal says the calc is collected before it reaches the iron’s soleplate, so you don’t have to worry about loose white, chalky particles being smeared onto your clothes. We found that the collection tray was easy to remove, rinse and reinsert, and the iron also easily eliminated wrinkles from delicate fabrics as well as set-in wrinkles through two layers of denim. Laure Reina of T-fal says the company will include the calc collector on other models in the future.

ELECTRO DISPLAY. Seven iron-makers ditched the dial in favor of a digital LED display or push-button controls on their irons. Irons that have electronic controls aren’t new, but manufacturers tell Consumers Digest that more of these irons will be available in the near future.

CHI and Rowenta, for example, have irons that still have a dial, but they also have an LED display that indicates when the iron reaches the heat setting that you select, so you don’t have to guess when the iron is at the correct temperature. The CHI Electronic Retractable Cord iron ($100), which launched in April 2017, is the only iron that we found that has the LED display on the tank’s swivel water cap, although other digital models have an LED display that’s at the top end of the handle. We believe that such a placement makes it easier for you to view the setting selections compared with digital irons that have the display located underneath the handle, where most dials are situated.

Rowenta got rid of temperature selections altogether with its Steam Care DW3180 iron ($70), which was introduced in 2016. According to Michele Lupton of Groupe SEB, which is Rowenta’s parent company, the iron’s single-heat-setting, plug-it-in-and-go design generates steam at 350 degrees Fahrenheit and filters it through an isolation panel to the outer soleplate, which operates at a fixed temperature of 260 degrees F. We hadn’t evaluated this model at press time, and we didn’t find anyone who has. Rowenta is the only company that we found that has or plans to have mono-setting irons, and Rowenta tells us that it plans to introduce more such models in 2018. 

Gena Koning is a regular contributor to Consumers Digest and is a former editor for Sew News magazine. As an avid seamstress, costumer and sewing instructor, she uses irons as a primary tool.

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