Buying a new iron? 3 things you need to knowWhich features don't matter, plus the one that does
17 August 2016
Have you ever set out to buy a steam iron, then stood in the shop scratching your head, wondering how on earth they ever got so complicated? Irons are a basic household appliance, but many now come with a bewildering array of features.
The marketing blurb may try to convince you that a super high-powered iron is the answer to all your laundry woes, or that an exclusive soleplate made from hi-tech material will help you to achieve perfect pleats, but our tests shows that isn't always the case.
Find out which steam iron features really make a difference to how fast you get through your ironing pile, and which ones you don't need to worry about.
Alternatively, you can jump straight to our list of Best Buy irons to see our top picks.
More power doesn't always mean better ironing
The higher the wattage the faster your iron will heat up, the more powerfully it’ll pump out steam, and the easier you’ll find it to smooth out wrinkles and get back on the sofa watching Corrie - or so you're led to think. But you can’t judge an iron by wattage alone.
There are other factors that affect how good an iron is, not just how much juice it's got. We've found irons boasting a power rating of 2400W or higher that scored so poorly in our tests we’ve labelled them Don’t Buys.
Verdict: a higher wattage is no guarantee that an iron will perform better across the board.
A high-end soleplate won't guarantee smooth results
Forget the iron your granny had: today’s models have increasingly advanced-sounding soleplates; from Ultraglide Diffusion to Ceranium Glissée, Saphir, and even Diamond. But while the names sound enticing, it's hard to know the facts behind the marketing hype.
A good soleplate is important for easy ironing, but our tests haven’t found that any one material - be it ceramic, stainless steel or coated - comes out on top, so there's no need to get too concerned about which type to go for.
It's worth looking for one that is tapered at the nose, as this should make navigating pleats, buttons and tricky details easier. Our tough tests also check that each iron has a smooth-gliding and sturdy soleplate - something you won't be able to check for yourself in the shops.
Verdict: Don't be swayed by fancy names - our tests show no one soleplate material rules the roost when it comes to irons.
Steam is king when it comes to ironing power
Steam really does make all the difference between easy ironing and frustrating crease-busting. It penetrates fabrics, moistening and relaxing the fibres and helping to speed up the whole process. The more steam you've got to work with, the easier ironing will be. That's why heavy ironers may find switching to a steam generator iron beneficial.
Unfortunately, you can’t always take an iron’s claimed steam output at face value. We’ve found some irons churn out much less steam than claimed, or start out strong then quickly get clogged with limescale.
We hook each iron up to a custom-built rig in our test lab, where we simulate ironing for two hours a week for around 18 weeks. A first-rate iron will be as steamy at the end as it was at the beginning, or will be easily restored to it's full glory with a quick clean.
Verdict: Powerful steam output is the number one feature you need from an iron if you want to whiz through your laundry. See our pick of the best steam irons.
Buying the best iron - three more features to look out for
If you're in the market for a new iron, it's also worth thinking about these three useful options before you buy:
- Cord length - the power cords on the irons we’ve tested range from 1.4m at their smallest to over 3m. We recommend buying one with a longer cord if you possibly can, as this will give you more flexibility over where you set up your ironing board.
- Temperature settings - some premium irons have just one setting designed to work well across all fabrics. This can save you time faffing about switching between settings if you've got a mixed load to iron.
- Steam Generator - if you regularly have large piles of laundry to get through, it could be worth trading up to a steam generator for extra steam power.
You can use the specification and test information in our detailed steam iron reviews to find an iron to suit you, or to find out more about different iron features check our advice on how to buy the best steam iron.