All about the Iron

September 10, 2021

The iron. They are found in literally every hotel room and the homes of those who either A) have someone born before 1980 living in them or B) have someone who wears corporate attire regularly. At first I was going to say that they are in EVERY home but I feel like that just isn’t true anymore, there is a whole generation or two of folks who don’t know what it’s like to need pressed clothes everyday. (I lump myself in that category too even though I was born before 1980.)

Even if you don’t have one, yet, hopefully we all know what an iron is. It’s usually used in a home to get wrinkles out of clothes and linens. In my house, it’s only really used for sewing. 🤣 I don’t like ironing. I am a klutz, I have the burns to prove it. So I avoid it as much as possible. Hence lumping myself in the ‘no ironing clothes in this house’ group.


Let’s just look at the parts of a typical home iron.

Most of the names of the parts are self explanatory. Soleplate is probably the only term most non-sewists are NOT familiar with, the soleplate is what gets bloody hot. That’s the part that you DO NOT want touching any part of you.

The signal light on my iron is OFF when the iron is not plugged in (duh Marissa), ON when the iron is heating and BLINKING when it has been sitting in one position too long. This particular model, along with a lot of more modern irons will turn itself off if it is not used in a specific amount of time. This one is 8 minutes and it can tell time by a sensor that signals if the iron is vertical (safely on the heel) or horizonal (not so safe on the soleplate).

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What makes a good iron?

While I’m not iron expert, I have had a few varieties over the years and have a few pointers to finding a good iron.

1) I like a heavy iron. I am not very strong in the wrists, my wrists are the same size as my 9 years old daughter… I don’t like heavy things in general, but when it comes to an iron, I find that the heavier the iron, the easier and quicker it is to use. Sounds contradictory huh? The weight will do the work for you when both pressing and ironing fabric. I had a super light iron once that was miserable, I felt like I had to literally press down hard on the ironing board to get crisp lines. That’s not cool. Ha. I made an iron joke.

2) I like to use an iron that has a slightly smaller front tip instead of one that is just a typical iron shape. That little ‘tip’ really helps get into smaller spaces like between buttons on shirts and into the small areas of sewn projects that need pressing.

Those are the two that I suggest, otherwise go for it! I suggest the brand Rowenta, they are usually on the heavier side and a higher quality. I like that they have a great range of heat. I want to burn myself well. And I do, so please don’t be a klutz like me and be safe!

Keep your iron clean

Keep your iron clean. Best advice ever.

No really, this is important. Let’s say you used your iron to adhere some fusible interfacing to fabric for a project. Sometimes the adhesive from the interfacing gets on the iron and gums it up. That sticky stuck can either pick up fuzz or turn into a real gooey mess. You do not want that on the next project, a lovely light-colored skirt for an upcoming event! Here is a link to learn how to clean your iron.

Here is a great product for cleaning your iron, but the real trick is having an old piece of sturdy fabric that will not melt when you use the iron cleaning paste. I like to use an old 100% cotton terry cloth towel. It’s sturdy and since it’s cotton, it can withstand the hottest setting on your iron. They work well and if I use old ones, I do not feel guilty about throwing them out after… I DO NOT want that iron gunk in my washing machine.

Iron Settings & Fabric Type

Dial of an iron
The cooler side of the dial.
The hotter side of the dial.

All irons have different heat settings, and they all have recommendations for temperatures for specific fabric types. Most of them are accurate but the most accurate way to find out the right temperature for your fabric is to test, test, test. Yes, I know it’s annoying to find a scrap piece of fabric and test out the iron on it. But let me tell you, testing it will save your butt. This is another reason to have a little extra fabric on hand after cutting out your project. See this info here on fabric sizes. (You should be ironing the fabric before cutting it out, unless of course it is one of those fabrics you just shouldn’t iron, but we’ll get to that…)

Here are the categories found on my iron, shown above: from coolest to hottest temperature setting


Why do you need different temperatures based on fabric type?

Not all fabrics can withstand intense heat and not all fabrics will release their wrinkles on a low heat setting. Synthetic fabrics usually melt at high temps. Cotton and linen have stubborn wrinkles that will only come out with the hottest heat your iron can throw at it. Some fabrics require moisture, and some should never get wet.

Click here for your thread bunching solution guide

How do I determine the temperature for my fabric if I don’t know the fabric content?

Don’t have a label or bought the fabric so long ago you have no idea what it’s made out of? Don’t worry, it happens to all of us. This is a reason to keep a note about fibers and write all this important stuff down. But we will take about that another time. If we talked about everything that popped into my head, all these tangents… we would be here for a WHILE. Hold this thought while we talk about something important in the fabric temp testing world.

What is a pressing cloth?

It is a piece of fabric that you will lay on top of your fabric so that the iron’s soleplate does not come in direct contact with your fabric. This does lessen the amount of heat that gets to your fabric, but it is necessary especially if you are testing temperatures. Simple rule of thumb, the pressing material should be similar in weight and be able to withstand a similar temperature to the project fabric. There are some exceptions:

Velvet should never be ironed on directly or on the right side. Place a clean cotton bath towel on the ironing surface, then iron it with the velvet face down so the iron does not crush the nap of the fabric. (Nap is the vertical fibers coming out of the velvet fabric backing)

Testing fabric:

Start with your iron on the lowest temperature setting.

Bring out your test fabric scrape/sample and a pressing cloth.

Gently press the back side of the test fabric with a press cloth between the fabric and ironing plate.

Did the iron get the wrinkles out?

Did ironing the fabric make an unwanted marks?

Did ironing the fabric make any extra folds? If so, you’ll need to gently flatten out the fabric before trying again, possibly needing to tug gently on one side of the fabric as you set the iron on it.

Remember, do not hold an iron in one place for more that a couple seconds or else you’ll end up with the shape of an iron on your fabric, just like in the cartoons and commercials! HAHA. It does happen and it doesn’t take that long. So turn off any distractions so you don’t scorch the fabric.

See? It’s faint, this is a 100% cotton so it took a little longer to make a mark. Just get in the habit of setting the iron on it’s heel/bottom flat part EVERYTIME you set it down. This is ironing 101 right here…

fabric burnt by iron

Steam vs Spray Bottle for Moisture

Modern day irons have a tank that holds a small amount of water. The tank distributes water via two ways:

1) Through a itty bitty spray nozzle on the front of the iron to make the area wet as you move the iron over it, creating steam in the fabric itself.

2) To create steam by routing the water through the hot iron so it escapes the ironing plate as steam, on top of the fabric.

Although the tank exists, it doesn’t mean you need to use it! I personally have stopped using the tanks. They can create rust and mineral build up if you forget to remove all of the water after every use. And with how forgetful I am, you can see where I’m going with this. Soooo, I just don’t risk it. I employ other methods, depending on the situation and really my mood… I grew up using distilled water but have since heard many times that it just isn’t the case. Consumer Reports even says so. Good old tap water is recommended for most steam irons, but check your manual or google what your specific iron requires.

1) Spray water from a spray bottle on the fabric as you go, creating the same kind of steam as if you were spraying the fabric from the iron’s water tank.

2) I like to lightly wet the fabric using the spray bottle, evenly over the surface of the fabric. Then gently roll up the fabric so that the water has time to sink into the fabric and spread more evenly. I do this usually with cotton or heavy duty fabrics that I don’t think will wrinkle more due to this. Then after a few minutes start ironing or pressing.

3) Wet a pressing cloth by spraying it lightly and evenly, letting it sit to absorb the water. Then place it on the fabric and iron as usual. This is as close to steaming it directly as you can get without steam coming directly out of the iron.

Any questions? Did I forget something? 😬

Click here for your thread bunching solution guide


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