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Choosing the best steam generator iron

By Christina Woodger

Use our Which? guide to find out everything you need to know about buying the right steam generator iron for you.

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As our video above shows, a great steam generator pumps out lots more steam than a standard iron, making it quicker and easier to use. 

But steam generator irons are also much more expensive and bulky than a regular iron - and not all models deliver the superior ironing power that the manufacturer claims. Read on to find out more about the pros and cons of steam generator irons, how much to spend on one and how to ensure you wind up with a high quality model that makes ironing much less of a chore.

If you're ready to choose a model, skip straight to our Best Buy steam generator iron reviews

How much should I spend on a steam generator iron?

Steam generator irons can range in price from around £50 to more than £300, with most models costing more than £100. In general, the more you pay the more steam your iron will likely produce for you to work with, and the more extra features it will come with. But price isn't the best indicator of how quickly a generator can banish creases. 

Many of the big iron brands have produced steam generator irons for less than £200 that we've ranked as Best Buy steam generators, and there are very occasional Best Buys for less than £100. Stores such as Argos, Currys, Homebase or John Lewis tend to stock steam generators and there are plenty available on Amazon. You can compare features, scores and prices for steam generator irons using our steam irons review page. 

Prices tend to fluctuate too - so, if you're prepared to wait, you'll probably be able to snap up a good one on sale. 

Is a steam generator iron right for me?

Steam generators are designed to produce vast amounts of steam for longer, to make light work of large piles of ironing. They're typically able to hold around three times as much water as a regular steam iron, which means you won't have to stop to refill as often. And because the water is held in a separate tank, they're lighter to hold when you're at the ironing board.

The best steam generators undoubtedly make the ironing experience faster and easier, and will leave you with flawlessly smooth clothes. But they’re expensive and won’t be right for everyone. Here are the pros and cons to help you choose.

Pros

  • Produces much more steam than a regular iron.
  • Smoothes creases quickly and effortlessly.
  • Good at getting rid of deep creases.
  • Lighter than most irons, as water is held separately.
  • Won't need refilling with water as often as a regular iron, so you can get through more laundry in one go.

Cons

  • Much more expensive than a standard iron.
  • Heavy to carry and bulky to store.
  • Some are too heavy to sit on a normal ironing board.
  • Noisy.
  • Some involve lengthy waiting times before you can start ironing and/or refill the water tank.

It’s worth investing in a steam generator if you regularly iron a lot of laundry and large items, such as duvet covers and sheets. They’re also worth considering if your priority is to get through the ironing as quickly as possible.

But there are big differences between the best and the worst steam generators. Our tests show that some are actually less steamy than the best regular irons, so check out our steam generator reviews before you buy.

Which type of steam generator iron is right for me?

There are two basic types of steam generator to choose between:

Non-pressurised
These are typically the cheapest type of steam generator. They work in a similar way to standard irons, but produce larger quantities of steam. The large separate water tank means you won’t have to refill it as often.

Pressurised
These blast high-pressure steam deep into fabrics, making it even easier to smooth creases.

They’re more expensive than non-pressurised generators. A pressurised generator could be a good investment if you regularly iron a lot of laundry, as a good one will whizz through your ironing pile faster than any other type of iron.

Will I have to wait long before I can start ironing?

The best steam generators are ready to go in two minutes, but with some you have to wait for pressure to build before you can start ironing, which can take more than 10 minutes. These models usually have to cool and depressurise before you can refill the water tank – and if you need more than one tank of water to get through your laundry pile, this will really add to the time it will take to finish the job.

It’s worth finding out whether you'll have to wait for steam to form and/or depressurise with the steam generator you have your eye on, before you buy it. 

Is limescale a problem for steam generator irons?

The amount of steam your generator produces can seriously tail off if limescale builds up inside.

Some steam generators come with antiscale cartridges that prevent limescale forming and should keep steam powerful. These cartridges need replacing every few months and cost around £5 each. Some models won’t function if the cartridge needs replacing. If you don’t have a replacement to hand, you should be able to iron with distilled water in place of tap water, but you might find this a hassle that gets in the way of your ironing routine.

Steam generators without cartridges have to be cleaned manually. The cleaning process ranges from a few simple steps, to a complicated procedure involving removing and cleaning a calc-collector and shaking the boiler over the sink. 

We test each steam generator on how easy it is to clean and whether cleaning returns steam levels to full power. You can see which are the best for this in our steam generator iron reviews.  

Which steam generator iron features should I choose?

Whichever type of steam generator you want, here's our pick of the top features to look out for.

Thin, tapered soleplate
Look for a thin soleplate that will slide under buttons easily, as thicker ones tend to catch. A soleplate that narrows at the nose will be easier to slide into pleats.

Large, clear and easy-to-fill water tank
The larger the water tank the more steam time you'll get, so choose one which will hold a lot of water – provided you have the room to store it.

Some tanks are removable so they're easy to fill at the tap. Others are filled in-situ with a separate jug, so look to see whether the filler hole is large and accessible.

And check whether the tank is clear enough to see the water level, both as you're filling it and as you're ironing. Some of the darker tanks make it difficult to see when you've filled the tank to maximum and when you're about to run out of steam.

Iron lock
Some irons lock to the generator base, which makes them much easier to carry.

Auto shut-off safety feature
Steam generators with this feature will switch off automatically if they're not used for a while. This is a really handy feature that provides peace of mind if you worry about whether you've remembered to turn the iron off.

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