Taking care of your clothes iron — How to keep your iron in good condition, including tips for getting that grubby soleplate clean

I love a new clothes iron. It’s not that I like fancy new settings (I almost always iron on the same setting, the hottest, with steam) or designs. I just love that perfectly clean, smooth plate! Since my budget and ideology don’t allow for a new iron every few weeks, I’m making an effort to maintain the iron I have for as long as possible. I’m also trying to avoid malfunctions such as unwanted drips (especially dirty ones!). 

Tips for keeping your clothes iron in top condition:

• Keep the water reservoir at least one-quarter full when you’re steam ironing. 

• Never iron over rough objects, like zippers and metal rivets. Even buttons can damage the soleplate. And if the soleplate is scratched, it’s likely to start dragging and pulling on fabrics as you iron. 

• Use a pressing cloth when ironing items that might melt, like plastics on t-shirts or very fine, lightweight fabrics. (Because I like to use a very hot iron, I often rely on my pressing cloth to keep myself from melting fabrics.)

• After you’ve finished ironing, unplug and empty the water out of the iron so it will dry out between ironing sessions. 

• Store your iron upright on its base.

What kind of water should I use in my steam iron?

It depends (my least favorite answer to any question, but there it is). You’ll need to read your manual, because some irons are made for using tap water and others require half tap and half distilled water. Some even say—if you have very hard water—to use bottled spring water. 

I always used distilled water, until I learned that using straight distilled water can cause the iron to leak and spit on your clothes. So I found the manual (online; I didn’t save it), and what do you know, tap water is apparently better for my model. 

So the best bet is to follow the instructions in the manual for your specific iron.

BTW, using the wrong water can void your warranty, if you keep track of such things. 

How can I get my iron clean?

• To clean the water reservoir occasionally, fill it with white vinegar and turn the iron on high. Let it sit for 5 minutes, then turn it off, unplug it, and drain the vinegar out. Once it’s cool, refill it with plain, clean water and drain to rinse. 

• If the steam vents seem to be clogged (this can happen with mineral buildup, for example), use damp cotton swabs to clean them out. (Don’t dig with sharp instruments, like paper clips or wire hangers, because you can easily scratch the plate.) 

• To use a self-cleaning feature, consult the manual. This generally involves filling the water tank and placing the iron on the highest setting. Once hot, unplug and hold over a sink (carefully!), with the setting set to self-clean. Once the water and steam are emptied, set the steam level at zero. Plug the iron back in and heat to dry the plate. Unplug and let cool. Dry with a clean, dry cloth. (Some irons have a calc-clean option, to rinse out and flush away calcium deposits. Follow the instructions in your manual, if your iron has this feature.)

Of course, the main challenge when it comes to cleaning irons is getting that soleplate clean. If you’ve melted something onto your iron, or it’s accumulated fuzzies or gunk from any number of clothes, here are some things to try to get that soleplate smooth and sparkling again. (I have not tried all of these; let us know what works for you!)

To clean the soleplate of your iron

This is the part that saves having to buy a new iron.

For regular maintenance of the soleplate, wipe it with water and a mild liquid detergent on a soft, clean cloth. Wipe to rinse with a clean, damp cloth, then dry. 

If there’s dirt or other residue caked on the plate:

• Make a paste of baking soda and water and rub it onto the soleplate. This is akin to a soft-scrub cleanser that will rub out messes without scratching surfaces. Wipe off with a clean, wet cloth and let air dry. (I’ve had success with this method, as long as the mess isn’t too baked-on the soleplate.)

• Heat the iron and don a pair of oven mitts. Rub the soleplate with scrunched-up newspaper. I haven’t tried this method but plan to next time my soleplate needs attention.  (I’ll update you!)

• Soak a clean towel in white vinegar OR a solution of soapy water. Lay the towel over the soleplate of the iron. Leave it for about half an hour, then wipe it off. Follow with a clean wet cloth, then a dry one. This is the method I use most often.

• Set your iron on warm. Sprinkle salt on paper, then iron over it. Let your iron cool, then wipe with a dry, soft cloth. 

• Rub white toothpaste on the soleplate, then wipe it off with a damp cloth. Dry well. 

Here’s a good article on ironing like a pro.

How do you keep your clothes iron in top shape? And how do you get that soleplate looking like new?

You might also like:  How to take good care of and refurbish stainless steel flatware

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