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How to iron different fabrics

By Georgia Wilson

Careless ironing could ruin your favourite silk blouse or linen trousers. Here's how to iron different fabrics properly and get your garments looking their best. 

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Getting your iron settings right keeps clothes looking good and makes sure they last. But ironing symbols on care labels can be confusing, so we've explained everything you need to know in this handy guide. 

Click to find out how to iron these fabrics:

Before you start

When you do your laundry, leave room in the washing machine or dryer for the clothes to tumble around freely. Overloading can cause clothes to wrinkle. Using a fabric conditioner can help reduce wrinkles, too.

Always check the instructions on the care label. When in doubt – if you’ve cut the label out, for example – always iron on the lowest setting and test your iron on a small area first. You can ramp the heat up later if you’re getting nowhere.

Our steam iron reviews reveal which models will make the job easy for you, and which may sabotage even the best ironing efforts.

Ironing different fabrics

Acetate 

Acetate is a synthetic fabric, made from cellulose or wood pulp. Being soft, smooth and silky, it’s often used for wedding dresses and occasion wear. Acetate can go shiny if not ironed properly. At worst, it can melt. Iron acetate on the inside, while damp, on low heat.

Acrylic 

This manmade fibre is often used to make jumpers, socks and hats.

Ironing acrylic directly could melt it. Lay it face down, and cover with a press cloth - something like a clean pillow case or tea towel. Make sure your press cloth is white or cream, so you don’t transfer another colour onto your garment. Use the lowest setting. Press your iron down gently, rather than moving it back and forth.

Iron acrylic when it’s completely dry, so that you don’t stretch it. Don’t use steam.

Cashmere 

Cashmere comes from goats and is finer and softer than sheep's wool. Cashmere jumpers, scarves and other garments often need special care.

Don’t twist or wring cashmere after washing it. Smooth it out on a flat surface and leave it to air dry. That could eliminate the need to iron. If it’s still wrinkled when it's dry, iron on the reverse. Use the lowest heat and steam settings. Move in gentle strokes, never lingering on any one spot.

Never iron dirty or stained cashmere - you risk the dirt setting in permanently. 

Fold your cashmere garment after ironing, as hanging could cause it to droop.

Corduroy 

This seventies fabric has made a comeback. For corduroy to keep its distinctive texture, you need to make sure you don’t flatten its raised ribs (known as its wale) or end up with a shiny finish.

Lay your garment inside out on the ironing board, and smooth it first with your hands. Use steam and the coolest setting. Press the iron down gently rather than sliding it. After ironing, brush it down with your hands, in the direction of the pile, and hang it up immediately.

Cotton and cotton blends 

Iron cotton on the right side, while it’s still damp. If it’s already dry and creased, wet it again with a spray bottle. Use a high temperature setting and plenty of steam on the worst creases. Cotton blends, on the other hand, should be ironed on low or medium heat.

Denim 

Denim is a tough fabric, so use the highest steam and temperature settings. If you want a crease in your jeans, set this in first. Use starch for an even crisper look. Leave jeans to dry before hanging them up so the hanger doesn't leave an indentation.

Embroidery and lace 

Vintage-style clothes and accessories are back in vogue, but they need special care.

When ironing embroidery, lay a plush towel down on the board. This will cushion the design and stop it being crushed by the iron. If you forget to do this, try spraying water onto the embroidered area to plump it up again.

Iron lace and embroidery face down. If you’re not sure which side is which, look for small tails of loose thread. Use a press cloth and a low setting. Press down rather than moving back and forth so you don’t pull at the stitches.

Store lace flat, if you can, to avoid needing to iron it. You can also use starch to make it stiff.

Linen 

Linen won’t always need to be ironed - some linen clothes are designed to look relaxed and crumpled. It becomes softer and suppler the more times it’s washed, so you might be able to get away with hanging your garment up immediately after washing and pulling at the seams so that it dries straight.

If you do need to iron linen, use a high heat setting. Start with shirt collars, cuffs and other thick areas. Iron darker colours on the reverse to avoid shine.

Nylon and polyester 

Nylons and polyesters are synthetic materials made from plastic. They’re strong, lightweight and quick-drying, so they’re often used for sports clothes and outdoor wear.

Use the lowest temperature setting and a press cloth. Iron them on the reverse side, when nearly dry.

Polyester is sometimes mixed with cotton, making it less likely to cause static. Iron cotton-polyester blends on a medium heat setting.

Rayon 

Rayon is another synthetic fabric made from cellulose or wood pulp. It can be made to feel like silk, cotton, wool and linen. Rayon can easily be damaged and stretched if ironed incorrectly. Iron rayon on a low heat, on the reverse. Don't use steam, as moisture can make it more vulnerable to damage. Allow it to cool before taking it off the board.

Silk 

Regular ironing helps preserve silk’s distinctive sheen.

Lay a large white sheet over your ironing board. Lay the silk down on it and then put a press cloth - something like a white pillow case or tea towel will do the trick - over the top. Iron the silk on the reverse, with the matte finish facing up. Use a low setting. Don’t hover for too long over any one place. Iron silk when slightly damp. Don’t twist it to wring out excess water.

Velvet and velveteen 

Nowadays, velvet is often made from acetate, rayon or nylon fibre. Velveteen is often made from cotton fibre.

Velvet shouldn’t really be ironed. Use the vertical steam function on your iron (most steam irons have this) or a garment steamer to freshen it up while it's still on its hanger. Don’t hold the steamer too close to the fabric or focus too much on any one spot. 

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Use a soft brush afterwards to revive the pile. 

Hang velvet clothes from a padded hanger so they don’t lose their shape. Folding will create creases that are hard to shift. If you do need to fold them, place tissue paper between the folds.

Viscose 

Viscose is a semi-synthetic fibre made from wood pulp. It shares qualities with both cotton and polyester. Viscose clothes are soft, smooth and drape well. Iron viscose when it’s still damp, or wet it with a spray bottle if it’s already dry. Use a press cloth to prevent shine. Iron it quickly, checking creases frequently to make sure you don’t overdo it. Don’t use steam.

Wool and wool blends

Iron wool and wool blends on the reverse side. Use steam, as ironing wool when dry can damage it. Use a low heat.

More ironing tips

Separate your fabrics by type. Don’t chop and change between them. Start with the thin, silky fabrics and work up to the thicker ones. If you've missed an item out, and need to drop back down a setting, let your iron cool for at least five minutes. Don’t just lower the temperature and set straight to work, as this could scorch delicate clothes.

Many irons come with preset steam and temperature settings. Some have a single setting that claims to be suitable for all ironable fabrics. This doesn’t necessarily make them better, but it does save you the hassle of having to adjust the controls or sort your clothes by fabric type. 

If you’re stuck without an iron (on holiday, for example), or you're really unsure how to iron a particular garment, hang clothes in a steamy bathroom. This won’t give you the nice crispness that you'd get from ironing, but your clothes will be a little less crinkled than they were before.

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