Is Ironing Bad for Clothes?

While it’s understood that repeated wearing, washing and drying can cause clothes to look worn out, what about ironing? Just how good is it to apply scalding hot temperatures to your clothing? Could it be damaging and reduce the natural life of our clothes? These are fair questions that we have uncovered the answer to.

Is ironing bad for clothes? Ironing itself is not bad for clothes, especially when done correctly. An iron is an effective tool designed to help maintain the optimum shape and appearance of your clothing. As long as you use the correct temperature and your iron is clean, it will not cause damage.

But Then, Why Exactly Does Ironing Get a Bad Rep?

Ironing has unfairly gained a bad reputation because of two main factors. The first is an incorrect use of the appliance. The second is the result of irons that are faulty or poorly maintained.

It may come as a surprise to some that an iron needs to be cared for, but let’s consider its makeup and how it should be looked after.

How To Maintain An Iron To Avoid Damage To Clothing

An iron is made up primarily of metal and plastic. The metal, which we are most interested in here, makes up the soleplate, thermostat, and other working parts.

For the iron to work, you need to put water in it and this comes into contact with the metal parts of the machine. The thermostat heats up the iron to an average of about 350° to 420° Fahrenheit (180° to 220° Celsius).

Empty Your Irons Water Tank After Use

Empty your irons water tank when you’re done using it. Metal corrodes when exposed to moisture and high temperatures. Although steam iron manufacturers design their appliances to avoid this, you can help reduce the exposure and keep your iron working optimally.

The corrosion causes rust and this can be the cause of stains that marks clothing while you are ironing.

Use the Correct Water

Use 50% tap water and 50% distilled water in your iron. If you can’t find distilled water, store-bought bottled water will do. Some areas have “hard water” which means the tap water is high in minerals like calcium.

These minerals build up in your iron and create limescale. This can cause the steam holes to block and as a result, your iron will not work as well. It can also cause your iron to spit, leak or leave marks on your clothing.

Avoid adding fragrances or other chemicals to your iron unless your steam irons user manual marks them safe. Some products have salt or other chemicals in them which could corrode the working parts of the iron.

Some irons have an Anti-Calc system built in that is self-cleaning and help rid the machine of mineral deposits.

Clean The Soleplate

While ironing, tiny clothing fibers can stick to the soleplate and build up over time. This is what causes a brown burn mark on the soleplate of the iron.

Clean this regularly. If you allow the area to grow, it becomes harder to remove and could damage the soleplate. The build-up also reduces the smooth glide of the iron and causes snagging of more delicate fabrics.

A quality stainless steel soleplate is easy to clean and will not chip or crack over time as is the case with some coated products.

How to Avoid Damaging Your Clothes When Ironing

What Materials Should Not be Ironed?

Delicate fabrics such as silk, chiffon, wool, or velvet should not be exposed to the heat of an iron plate. In these cases, hang the garment and use the iron’s vertical steaming feature to remove wrinkles. The fabrics should not come in contact with the soleplate.

Other materials that should not be ironed or steamed include leather, suede, or synthetic fabrics that could melt. Following your garment’s care instructions is the best way to make sure the item lasts.

Do Not Iron Over Stains

If you have a stain on an item of clothing, do not iron it until it is clean. The heat may “set” the stain making it more difficult to remove. If you are using your iron to freshen up a garment that has a mark on it, spot clean that area first.

Use the Right Temperature for Different Fabrics

If the temperature setting is too hot for the material you are working with, you could scorch or burn your clothing. See below to ensure you’re using the appropriate heat for the fabric you’re working with. If you are unsure, start with a low heat setting and work your way up. Iron more delicate items first when the iron is cooler and leaving tougher fabrics for last when the iron has heated up.

Some complain that their iron leaves a “shine”, especially on seams. Shine can be caused by compression of fibers or a light burn, it is noticeable on darker-colored garments.  In the case of compression on natural fibers, the shine can sometimes be removed.

To avoid this problem completely, use an ironing or pressing cloth. The cloth will take most of the heat and prevent shine from damaging expensive clothing.

Safe Ironing Tips

These tips will help protect both your clothing and your iron so they last longer.

  • Prevent “shine” by using an ironing cloth between the iron and the garment. Alternatively, iron the garment inside out.
  • Don’t over-dry your clothes. Ironing when clothing is still damp protects the fabric and also makes getting rid ow wrinkles and creases much easier.
  • Protect details on the garment like buttons, zippers, and badges when ironing. You don’t want your iron to melt anything it shouldn’t and you don’t want metal zippers scratching the soleplate. Scratches on the soleplate can cause snagging and uneven heat distribution. Ironing with a damaged soleplate will damage clothing.
  • Make sure your iron, as well as your ironing board, is clean before using it.  You can test the iron on an ironing cloth.
  • Don’t leave your iron face down or unattended on any surface, always rest it on its heel.

In Conclusion

Ironing is not to blame for damage to clothing, but the misuse of the appliance is. Avoiding simple mistakes will mean your steam iron and clothes remain in perfect shape. If you need to replace a faulty iron, check out our review of the best steam irons for clothing where you can see a side by side comparison of the top performers available.

Normal wear and tear of clothing is to be expected, no one thinks their favorite t-shirt will last forever, but taking proper care of your clothes will make them last longer. Simply care for your steam iron so it remains in perfect working order and use it correctly there’s no chance of it burning or marking your favorite outfit.

Play your strengths. If you doubt your ironing skills, phone a friend… or get in contact with your local laundry service.