It's rarely considered anything other than a chore, but ironing doesn't have to be stressful or time consuming when you've found the best iron for your needs.
Your iron should be able to:
- reliably control its temperature to handle different fabrics
- produce a useful amount of steam without dribbling or sputtering water
- glide effortlessly over your garments.
If you find yourself doing a lot of ironing, a steam station iron can be handy. While they generally take up more space, they tend to be a superior product that produces a lot of steam and gets the job done quickly and with minimal fuss. If that sounds more like what you're after, check out our steam station buying guide.
Automatic shut-off is a vital safety feature to look for when buying a steam iron. It doesn't take much to forget to turn one off when you're in a rush, and this feature cuts off the power to the iron if it's been left idle for too long.
We've come across irons that not only lack automatic shut-off but also don't have a power-on light. In this case the only way to tell the iron has been left on would be to feel the heat. Most irons we've tested have automatic shut-off and we've made it a necessity when recommending steam irons – we won't recommend an iron without it.
Variable steam allows you to control the amount of steam produced while you iron, so you can turn it up to get creases out of linen, and turn it down for more sensitive fabrics. Vertical steam allows you to iron heavy items like curtains while they're hanging up. Shot-of-steam functions give you an extra burst of steam at the push of a button to help subdue stubborn wrinkles.
Look for an iron that has reliable and precise control over the soleplate temperature so you can tackle a wide range of fabrics to put your new steam iron to work for the whole family. The controls should also be easy to see and adjust so you can get on with the task at hand.
A lightweight iron is easy to move but needs more downward pressure when you're using it, while a heavier one needs less pressure but can put a new spin on the term 'pumping iron'.
A non-stick soleplate is usually easier to keep clean than a stainless steel one, but you need to be careful not to scratch it, as this can cause the iron to drag over time. Polished stainless steel can work well, but is also susceptible to scratching and staining.
This prevents water from dripping through the soleplate and potentially staining fabrics, particularly at low temperatures.
Transparent water reservoir
This makes it easier to see the water level in your steam iron when you're filling it up, and when it's getting low.
This function allows you to set the iron to remove scale deposits that could clog the steam valve and soleplate holes.
Look for a specially-designed heel to wrap the cord around, and a clip to secure it.
This cuts off power to the iron after it's been left immobile for a certain period of time. Most give an audible signal when they shut off, so you'll hear it if you've gone and left the iron on (again).
This safety feature lets you know the iron's on, and therefore hot.
A gap between the iron body and the soleplate makes it easier to navigate around shirt buttons, and helps novices to avoid melting them. Always a good thing.
So which iron brand should you buy? We've tested irons for decades in the CHOICE labs, and we can draw on years of data along with real member feedback about how reliable their irons and steam stations are over time.
In the past six years alone, we've reviewed more than 100 irons and steam stations.
Best iron brand for 2023: Philips
Philips is the best iron and steam station brand for 2023. Philips irons have performed well in our labs over this period, and people who own a Philips iron are very satisfied according to our CHOICE Product Reliability Survey.
Tefal was the next best brand and although it didn't have as high a proportion of recommended models as Philips did, its reliability and satisfaction scores are above average. Sunbeam also scores well in our tests but is below average for reliability and satisfaction.
Best iron brand 2023 scores
1. Philips – 87%
2. Tefal – 82%
3. Sunbeam – 81%
It's important to note that the performance of specific product models may vary quite significantly, so don't assume that one brand's products are the best across the many different features, functions and price points.
The models in our most recent steam irons review cost between $14 and $300, but our lab test results show that price isn't always an indicator of performance. Several of the irons our experts recommend cost under $100.
Most irons we've tested take care of the cleaning for you with self-cleaning functions that remove scale deposits. If your iron doesn't come with a self-cleaning function, check the manufacturer's instructions for their recommendations. As a general rule, you can clean the exterior with a soft, damp cloth and wipe dry.
How to clean an iron's steam holes
If your iron doesn't have a self-cleaning function, some manufacturers recommend cleaning the steam holes with a cotton wool tip dipped in methylated spirits. Check the instructions first for any specific recommendations.
If you're looking to upgrade your iron and want to get rid of your old one in a sustainable way, the good news is that irons contain many recyclable materials such as aluminium and steel. For this reason you shouldn't dispose of them in your regular household waste.
It's worth getting in touch with your local council to find about its next e-waste collection. It may also be worth looking into the cost of repair. Tefal is one manufacturer that's started to guarantee repairability and parts "at the right price" for 15 years for some of its irons.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.