How to buy the best steam iron
By Rebecca Duff
Considering that all irons are designed to do the same basic job, there's a huge variety to choose from. From cheap no-frills models to pricier irons adorned with advanced technology and hi-tech soleplates.
The good news is that our tests prove you don't necessarily have to spend a lot to get a great-quality model - and fancier features don't always mean quicker, easier ironing.
Want to know which model you should buy right now? Take a look at our best steam irons.
In this article:
There are two main types of iron to choose from: steam irons – including cordless steam irons – and steam generators.
These differ in features and performance, but also in price, so the amount you want to spend may well influence your decision.
You'll also want to consider where you plan on storing your iron, as steam generators are considerably more bulky than traditional steam irons.
Regular steam irons use a combination of steam and heat to smooth out creases. Prices range from less than £10 to more than £100 – more expensive irons tend to have fancier features and higher steam power.
An ordinary iron will suit you if you mainly iron smaller loads of laundry, purely because the water tanks tend to be on the small side.
They're a little heavier when in use than steam generators, but most are still light enough that you shouldn't have any issues and small enough that they're easy to store.
The one major downside of steam irons is that they generally produce significantly less steam than the larger generators, so you may have to work harder to get the creases out of your clothes.
Steam iron pros
- Far cheaper than steam generators
- Easy to store and carry
- Can be used on a normal ironing board
- Very quiet during use
Steam iron cons
- Produce less steam than a steam generator
- Will need refilling more often
- Can be heavy with a full water tank
Cordless steam irons
Cordless steam irons are still a relatively new concept, but we're starting to see more and more pop up as they increase in popularity.
They're designed to make ironing quicker and easier thanks to the lack of a restrictive power cord, giving you more freedom to move around the ironing board.
Cordless irons come with a baseplate that has to be plugged in during use. You need to periodically place the iron back on the baseplate while ironing to keep it hot and steamy.
Unfortunately, most cordless models use non-replaceable lithium-ion batteries. Once yours gets to the point where it no longer recharges properly between uses, you'll need to buy a new iron.
Cordless steam iron pros
- Freedom to move round the ironing board
- No power cord to snag your freshly ironed clothes
- Tend to be lighter than corded irons
Cordless steam iron cons
- Gradually lose heat during use
- Batteries can't be replaced
- Not many models to choose from
If you want to find out if making the move to a cordless iron is right for you, check out our top cordless irons for 2020.
Steam generator irons
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, so you won't have to stop to refill as often. They're also lighter to hold when you're at the ironing board because the water is held in a separate tank,
The best steam generators undoubtedly make the ironing experience faster and easier, and will leave you with flawlessly smooth clothes. However, they are expensive and won’t be right for everyone.
Steam generator pros
- Produce much more steam than a regular iron
- Smooth creases quickly and effortlessly
- Lighter than most irons
- Won't need refilling as often
Steam generator cons
- More expensive than a standard iron
- Bulky to store and heavy to carry
- Some are too heavy to sit on a normal ironing board
It’s worth investing in a steam generator if you regularly iron big piles of laundry and large items, such as duvet covers and sheets, and if your priority is to get through the ironing as quickly as possible.
But there are big differences between the best and 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.
You can buy a steam iron fairly cheaply these days. Prices for basic models start at less than £10 and go up to more than £100 for top-of-the-range ones.
Our tough tests have uncovered fantastic Best Buy models for less than £30. But we've found there are also a lot of dud models at the cheaper end of the market, too.
So you need to use our steam iron reviews and shop carefully.
Are steam generator irons better?
A steam generator iron will produce lots more steam for you to work with, but comes at a price – a top-end steam generator iron could set you back more than £300.
We've also come across premium irons which have an internal pump for producing pressurised steam, giving you extra oomph to get through tough creases. They can be a good compromise if you don’t have the space or budget for a full-on steam generator.
These premium irons tend to be bulky and expensive compared with traditional irons, though. And we've found some traditional irons that can deliver just as much steam power.
You can find out whether a steam generator is right for you, go to our steam generator guide.
Pressurised vs non-pressurised steam generators
There are two basic types of steam generator to choose between:
Non-pressurised steam generator
These are typically the cheapest type of steam generator. They work in a similar way to standard irons, but produce more steam.
The large separate water tank means you won't have to refill it as often.
Pressurised steam generator
These blast high-pressure steam deep into fabrics, making it even easier to smooth creases. They're more expensive than non-pressured generators.
A pressurised generator could be a good investment if you regularly iron lots of laundry, as a good one will whizz through your pile of ironing quicker than any other type of iron.
We've tested all the top steam irons, ranging from budget supermarket models to pricier steam irons with extra tech.
Below, we've listed the key specs and features for some of the more popular steam irons.
Alternatively, head straight to the best steam irons to see which models we recommend.
Morphy Richards Turbosteam Pro 303131, £45
- Auto shut-off
This all-in-one steam iron uses the same low temperature to iron everything - so you don't ever need to change the setting, unless you want to.
The long, 3.1-metre cord means you can set your board up well away from the plug socket, which is handy if you like to watch TV while you iron.
But before you buy, there's something you need to know about this iron - see our Morphy Richards Turbosteam Pro 303131 review.
Tesco IR2016, £11
- No auto shut-off
Steam irons don't come much cheaper than this. For your money you get vertical steaming to help freshen up curtains and a self-clean setting.
It's very light, too - 1.7kg is the average weight of the steam irons we've tested.
Can an iron this cheap be any good? Find out in our expert Tesco IR2016 steam iron review.
Philips GC4526/87 Azur Performer Plus, £45
- Auto shut-off
- 2.5-metre power cord
The Philips’ Azur iron range is generally powerful and steamy, costing upwards of around £50.
This Philips GC4526/87 Azur Performer Plus comes with premium features, such as an ionic titanium dioxide coated T-ionicGlide soleplate – Philips says this is its best-gliding and most scratch resistant.
This Philips Azur iron also has an extra-long 2.5-metre power cord, so you’ll have more freedom over where you set up your ironing board.
Models from the Philips Azur range have had mixed results in our tests. Can this iron easily get creases out of your clothes? See our Philips GC4526/87 Azur Performer Plus review to find out.
What are the key steam iron brands?
Click to see our reviews from each key brand:
- Bosch stream iron reviews
- Braun steam iron reviews
- Breville steam iron reviews
- Morphy Richards steam iron reviews
- Philips steam iron reviews
- Russell Hobbs steam iron reviews
- Tefal steam iron reviews
You'll also find own-brand steam iron models available from big supermarkets, such as Asda, Sainsbury's and Tesco. Plus stores including Argos and John Lewis & Partners.
You can find out more about the models on offer from these brands - go to the best iron brands.
- Limescale filter It's worth checking whether an iron has a scale filter before you buy it. The amount of steam your iron produces can be severely hampered by the build up of limescale over time, which is why you need to clean your iron.
- Self-cleaning system This helps you get rid of any limescale that does form. But we've found some systems take lots of time and effort, such as soaking the filter in lemon juice for four hours, so check our reviews.
- Comfy handle The best handles are soft or smooth and not too wide. Some handles can rub uncomfortably after you've been ironing for a while.
- Thin, tapered soleplate This type of soleplate is easy to slide under buttons and into tight pleats. Chunky soleplates tend to snag on buttons and zips.
- Auto shut-off This turns off your iron if it's not used for a while, which is handy if you're ever worried about whether you've forgotten to switch it off.
- Easy-to-fill tank Look for a wide filler hole. Also check it has clear maximum fill markings – otherwise water will glug back out.
Our tough tests reveal the irons that will help make ironing a breeze and those that don't, so check our steam iron reviews before you buy.