Pressing Matters: New Wrinkles in Irons

Iron manufacturers steam forward on making their products easier to use and better performing than ever before. And they’re smoothing out a few kinks to make their products even safer.

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There’s ironing-lovers and ironing-haters, but when it comes to selecting a new or replacement steam iron, everyone agrees: It has to be easy to operate and comfortable to maneuver.

If you haven’t ventured into the iron market lately, you’re in for a surprise. A wide selection of models not only are easy to operate and comfortable to maneuver, but they also sport new designs, safety features, performance enhancements and even color combinations (floral prints, anyone?). But be careful about the bells and whistles, experts warn Consumers Digest. You could scorch your wallet—and clothes—if you pay too much attention to certain features.

STEAM AHEAD. For example, several irons now tout their high wattage right on the product, like blow dryers have done for years. The high now is 1,800 watts on models that are from DeLonghi, Oliso, Reliable and Rowenta, up from 1,700 watts 6 years ago. These superpowered irons cost at least $100.

Now that you know that, forget it. The consumer has been overwhelmed by the power issue, says Ed Lieber, who is a longtime housewares author. “Higher power does not equal a better performance.”

Instead, the number of steam vents, which also has increased over the same time period, can be a meaningful difference: the more steam holes that you find on the soleplate, or bottom, of an iron, the more steam that’s delivered. But manufacturers also are concentrating on the position of the steam holes, experts say, because more holes merely can result in less intensity of steam. We found that irons that have more rows of holes—the current high is 14 by Oliso models—produce steam that’s delivered more evenly over garments, which makes wrinkle removal a much easier chore.

Meanwhile, you’ll find more models of irons that have a sharper pointed tip that includes steam jets. This produces more precise control of the distribution of steam in awkward spots, such as around buttons or collars. The good news is that you now can find this design feature on economy models that cost as little as $35.

And when it comes to the steam that’s produced, vertical steaming is the latest feature to appear almost universally. Vertical steaming is great for taking creases out of curtains, draperies or clothes that are on a hanger. You now can find this feature even on bargain-basement irons that cost less than $20. (Just remember that vertical steaming shouldn’t be confused with vertical ironing. You shouldn’t touch the clothes with the iron when you vertically steam, experts say, because you can burn the clothes.) And even a few of these lowest priced models now include anti-drip sensor technology, which prevents the flow of water from the reservoir when the iron becomes cool.

SAFETY FEATURED. Today’s irons not only perform better than their predecessors did, they also are safer to use. Auto shut-off, which automatically cuts the heat on an iron when it’s knocked over or even left on in one position for too long, has become a near-universal—and much-appreciated—safety feature on new irons.

However, two irons by Reliable, which start at $100, paradoxically now let you manually override the automatic shut-off feature to keep the iron hot indefinitely. This override is beneficial if you create sewing or quilting projects, which require steam or heat periodically during the creation process, and you don’t want to wait for the iron to reheat. Because it isn’t for everyone—even Reliable warns about overusing the override function—we don’t expect that you’ll see this feature become more widespread or trickle down to low-priced irons.

Instead, you likely will see more new safety features. Lately, we’ve seen an increasing number of irons that have a larger or more-stable heel design, which makes them more difficult to topple, and nearly all irons have cords that swivel or retract, so they’re less likely to ensnare pets or children.

One particularly interesting new safety feature is Oliso’s iTouch technology, which made its debut in 2006. It automatically raises and lowers the iron in the horizontal position by sensing your hand on the handle. When you let go of the handle of the iron, front and back legs automatically extend and lift the iron off the fabric or ironing board. A press of the handle releases the legs, and you can begin to iron in one smooth motion. Cool, but you’ll pay at least $130 for an iron that has this feature. Hamilton Beach brought out a $70 mechanical version in 2009, but that model has been discontinued, so we doubt that other manufacturers will press ahead with similar technology.

Gale C. Steves is the former editor-in-chief of Home Magazine and has reported about housewares and small electrics for 30 years.

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