best in class

The 7 Very Best Clothing Irons

“Most people who create irons understand that they really need to have a couple functions.”

Illustration: Hugo Yu
Illustration: Hugo Yu

In this article

A good iron can make the difference between a procrastination-inducing, monotonous task and entering a flow state while you sweep a well-calibrated machine over your clothing or sheets. As a textile nerd and amateur sewer, I’ve used a lot of irons in my day, from a gravity-fed model built like a tank to a dinky hand-me-down that permanently scorched a silk dress. These days, I use a standing garment steamer instead of an iron for an everyday, leaving-the-house-in-five-minutes de-wrinkling job. But there’s a time and place for irons: Unlike steamers, they apply heat directly to a textile, which lifts deep-set wrinkles more quickly, makes sharper creases, and creates a uniformly crisp surface.

“Fortunately at this point in our civilization, most people who create irons understand that they really need to have a couple functions,” says Zach Pozniak, a third-generation dry cleaner and the vice-president of operations at Jeeves New York. One of those is the ability to produce steam, which relaxes textile fibers, more quickly smoothing wrinkles with less risk of damaging clothing. All of the irons on this list have a steam function, and we’re noting which our experts have described as having especially fine, reliable, or powerful steam.

Another necessary function is a well-calibrated thermostat that consistently delivers the heat you specify. High heat is more of a problem than low heat — a cooler iron won’t be as effective, but a too-hot iron can scorch clothing on a setting that should be safe for the material. (If you’re not sure about the right setting or you don’t trust your iron, it’s best to start low and work your way up.) To find the best iron for everyone, I caucused Pozniak and nine other garment experts, from stylists to historical costumers, about their favorites and what to avoid. Then I tested the top picks at home.

What we’re looking for

Power

The power of an iron — measured in watts — determines how hot it can get and how much oomph is behind each puff of steam. Most options on this list are around 1,600 to 1,800 watts, with the exception of a 420-watt travel iron.

Mineralization management

Another necessary function for an iron, according to Pozniak, is a self-cleaning function, which removes the buildup of minerals that naturally occur in tap water. Mineralization can clog steam holes and “eject this gross white grainy sand, and if you iron it into your clothes, it’s stained,” says Pozniak. One way to avoid mineralization is to use distilled water, the practice of “true ironing fanatics,” per Pozniak. After a year of testing nearly a dozen irons and garment steamers, I switched over to distilled water — it is, in my experience, the most reliable way to eliminate grainy buildup and spitting, but it’s more of a hassle to refill than using the tap. So I’m favoring irons that have self-cleaning capabilities, assuming not everyone wants to buy and store a jug of special laundry water.

If you’re the most fanatical of ironing fanatics, laundry expert and host of the Laundry Guy Patric Richardson recommends using not distilled water but spring water. There’s some variation in the temperature at which water boils, depending on what minerals it contains — think of salted pasta water boiling hotter than unsalted water, for example. Richardson uses spring water because it contains some minerals, but less than tap water; that allows it to heat up slightly beyond the boiling point of distilled water for extra-hot steam.

Best iron overall

Power: 1,725 watts | Mineralization management: Designed to work with tap water

Among the experts I spoke to, German brand Rowenta came up most frequently. Its irons are beloved for durability; well-calibrated controls, including its temperature settings and steam trigger; and safety features. Illustrator Maira Kalman uses their Pro Master iron to press sheets, and Freer favors their irons for “very fine, very concentrated” steam.

Photo: Author

Although there are more expensive Rowenta irons (some of which are on this list), the Focus, its second-cheapest model, is powerful and reliable enough to make it our best-in-class pick. I’ve been using it for about six months for everything from ironing collared shirts to pressing four layers of denim into a tight, sewable stack while hemming a pair of jeans. The Focus could unwrinkle creases in one sweep that would take two or three passes with the ancient hand-me-down I’d used before. (Its pointed tip is also very useful on detail work, like collars and the space between buttons.) Graphic designer and home sewer Tracy Ma, a Focus owner, likes that it “exhales big ol’ puffs of steam exactly upon trigger and never before or after,” something I also noted and appreciated as an indicator of good engineering.

It also comes equipped with safety features to prevent scorching fabric or work surfaces: The iron turns off after 30 seconds if left facing down or tipped over, and after eight minutes if left standing up. I haven’t put it through a heavy-duty durability test yet, but take it from Strategist senior editor Crystal Martin, who has used her Focus for over ten years: “I tend to iron and dash out and leave the iron on the board,” she says, and although she’s knocked it onto the floor “more times than I can count,” her Focus is still going strong.

Best less-expensive iron

From $28

Power: 1,200 watts | Mineralization management: Auto-clean function

If you’re looking for a less-expensive iron with a little less power than the Rowenta Focus, Black and Decker’s Vitessa line is a good bet. I tested out the Vitessa on a cotton jacket that had gotten very wrinkled in the wash and a day of sewing and alteration projects — lifting wrinkles wasn’t as smooth or quick with the Vitessa as it was with the Rowenta Focus, but it performed consistently and expelled steam without any spitting or leaking. Pozniak calls it a “really solid” option that he’s used since college; it’s also a favorite of Marilee Nelson, a nontoxic consultant and co-founder of Branch Basics.

Best upgrade iron

Rowenta SteamForce Iron
$112
$112

Power: 1,800 watts | Mineralization management: Self-cleaning system

For a professional-quality iron with a more powerful steam setting than the Focus, I recommend Rowenta’s SteamForce model. Christine Millar, an anesthesiologist, historical costumer, and parent of a young child, uses the the iron, which she chose especially for its safety features. Although she says that many of her peers in the costuming community use a gravity-feed iron, “I can’t do that because this child will bump into this iron and hurt himself horribly.” She uses the Rowenta SteamForce iron instead, which “has every safety feature on the planet” — like the Focus, it turns off after 30 seconds if left facing down, and after eight minutes if left standing up.

(Editor’s note: The model Millar originally recommended, the SteamForce DW9280, is currently out of stock, but this model, the SteamForce DW9540U1, has most of the same specs, plus a slightly higher wattage.)

Best titanium-ceramic iron

Power: 1,700 watts | Mineralization management: Self-cleaning

All of the irons on this list have a steel soleplate — with the exception of this model by CHI, the maker of a cult-favorite hair straightener. Its steam iron’s soleplate is made of the same titanium-infused ceramic used in its hairstyling tools, which “makes it super-smooth and it glides really well,” says Pozniak.

Best cordless iron

Power: 1,500 watts | Mineralization management: Anti-calcium system

Most irons are powered by a cord that plugs into the wall, but in some cases, a cordless iron might be preferable. They’re useful for sewing or quilting projects, when you might want some extra mobility to spread out pattern pieces, prep larger pieces of fabric, or move between different workstations. This cordless Panasonic model is a favorite among sewers, including pattern designer Angela Wolf and Tracy DeChurch, who runs the Sewing Channel on YouTube. “Let’s face it, a cord gets in the way no matter what the project is,” DeChurch says. Even if you’re not a sewer or quilter, a cordless iron can still be useful for ironing sheets or other large jobs: “There’s nothing worse than being tethered to an outlet” when ironing something large, Pozniak says.

Best iron with water tank

$226

Power: 1,500 watts | Mineralization management: Anti-calcium flush system

One way to get the benefits of distilled water without the hassle of constant refills is to buy an iron with a large water tank. For long sessions of heavy-duty ironing and steaming, Gwen Whiting, the co-founder of the Laundress, recommends Rowenta’s power-steam iron, which holds 57 ounces of water, enough for nearly half an hour of continuous steam. “I turned my husband into an iron aficionado,” Whiting says. “He will only use this model because the powerful steam creates the best results.”

Best splurge iron

Power: 1,600 watts | Mineralization management: Includes anti-mineralization cartridge

The Laurastar system is a high-end combination iron and garment steamer that can be used as a replacement for dry cleaning. Richardson has had this iron for several years and swears by it. “The thing I love about the Laurastar is the steam is so hot,” says Richardson. “Their steam dries on contact. I can iron a shirt in 60 seconds with their iron because you only go over the area once and it’s completely dry, so you can just keep moving.”

Some more garment care tools we’ve written about

Our experts

• Tracy DeChurch, the Sewing Channel YouTuber
Alison Freer, costume designer and author of How to Get Dressed
• Maira Kalman, illustrator
Tracy Ma, graphic designer
Crystal Martin, Strategist senior editor
Christine Millar, historical costumer
• Marilee Nelson, co-founder of Branch Basics
• Zach Pozniak, vice-president of operations at Jeeves New York
• Patric Richardson, host of the Laundry Guy
• Gwen Whiting, co-founder of the Laundress

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The 7 Very Best Clothing Irons