The Best Clothes Iron

If I were buying an iron to smooth wrinkled clothes or fabrics a few times a month, then I would pick up the new T-fal Ultraglide Easycord FV4495. It produces 35 percent more steam than any other similarly priced iron, which means it can flatten everything from a silk blouse to heavy denim jeans in just one pass. It also comes with perks like a long cord and a large, easy-to-fill reservoir, which are (surprisingly) not always common in irons. It’s not quite built like a $90 iron, but it performs like one, which makes it a steal for $45.

Last Updated: October 31, 2014
We've added our long-term testing notes from using the T-Fal weekly for the last six months. We have had no problems with it at all, and it's still our favorite iron. However, we did notice that some Amazon reviewers were having problems with leaking or dripping, which a T-Fal customer service rep said is usually due to customers using the wrong kind of water (it requires unfiltered tap water) or storing the iron with water inside of it. We have a maintenance section below with more details on how to properly use and care for your iron.
Expand Previous Updates
September 11, 2014: The price of the T-fal has fluctuated dramatically since it was introduced with an MSRP of $45, which made it a screaming deal and an easy best pick. While writing the review, the price climbed into the $60 range, which was and is still an OK value. But if you see it priced much above $60, we strongly urge readers to consider our alternatives. The Singer and Black & Decker irons are great if budget is a concern. The Rowenta is great one to get if premium quality is a concern.
April 7, 2014: The T-fal Ultraglide Easycord FV4495 is our new favorite clothes iron and it produces 35 percent more steam per minute than our previous pick.
April 3, 2014: We're about to switch up our pick, so this guide is set to wait status while we put the finishing touches on the new guide.
October 10, 2013: For those who don't iron that often or are just looking to spend a little less, we've added a budget pick below, the $45 Black & Decker D2030.

Reaching this conclusion might sound easy, but it wasn’t. We sifted through a handful of newer irons, a bunch that were widely lauded, and plenty that proved to be dogs. I spent roughly 19 hours researching more than 100 models, manhandled 30 in stores, and interviewed half a dozen experts. I built a spreadsheet comparing 24 key traits of 27 noteworthy models. We then spent 12 hours familiarizing ourselves with—and testing—eight of those models.

Irons priced below $40 worked far slower than the Ultraglide. Irons priced $80 and up commanded their premiums by offering features aimed at quilters and pros, such as massive 13-ounce reservoirs, geyser-like bursts of steam, and electronic legs that automatically raise the iron off the fabric. There was stiff competition in the mid-priced category, but the Ultraglide clearly outshined the others.

An iron is a simple thing

An iron needs only two things to transform a crumpled heap into a natty buttondown: heat and pressure. 400 degrees Fahrenheit relax cotton’s fibers, for example, then the weight of the iron pushes yarns into place. Steam accelerates the process. Drying and cooling leave the fabric semi-rigid. For touch-ups or full pressings, used between dry cleanings or after launderings, a good iron restores a proper fit and a crisp look to clothes. It helps us walk a little taller.

Of course it also sucks to use before rushing out the door, so we want it to work fast. The key to speedy ironing? Watts. How quickly the iron heats up, how hot it gets and how evenly it holds its temperature over time are all suggested by an iron’s wattage, which is commonly advertised. 1,800 watts is the upper limit for an iron. Irons costing less than $40 have around 1,300 watts. 1,600 watts is typical for a mid-priced iron.

The amount of steam wooshing out of an iron’s flat bottom, called the soleplate, also affects speed, especially with heavier fabrics. A cheap iron will exhale just a couple grams of water vapor per minute. A premium or mid-priced iron will spew closer to 30.

Frustratingly, many manufacturers won’t claim a steam rate, but both these specs really matter. “A good iron can cut ironing time in half,” said Pat Slaven, an engineer with a masters in textile chemistry and the project lead on Consumer Reports’ annual iron tests. “With a good iron, you could knock out a 60-inch by 90-inch linen table cloth in 12 minutes. With a not-so-good iron, 20 to 25 minutes.” Our tests support her conclusion. With a good iron, we were able to iron two dress shirts in 12 minutes. With a $20 iron, we needed 19 minutes to get the shirts looking new-ish.

An iron is a complex thing

Aside from watts and steam rate, virtually all mid-priced irons have the same basic features, as revealed by extensive shopping and spreadsheeting:

  • stainless-steel soleplates
  • a “burst of steam” option to flatten Himalayan wrinkles
  • vertical steaming ability to relax drapes or clothes on a hanger
  • water reservoirs that hold about eight ounces
  • anti-drip and anti-calcification mechanisms that allow the use of tap water
  • lights to signal the iron has reached its temperature
  • automatic shut offs for safety
  • an 8-foot-long cord
  • inspection stamps such as “UL” or “ETL” that signify the manufacturer opted to pay for, and passed, rigorous third-party iron-safety tests
  • a one-year warranty

Some mid-priced irons add features like…

  • digital displays
  • hind legs that cause the iron to automatically rear up like a bear when not in use (thus saving the ironer the effort of standing up the iron)
  • exotic soleplate materials, unconventional soleplate shapes, and atypical steam-hole patterns
  • retractable cords or cordless battery power
  • removable water reservoirs
  • self-cleaning capabilities

What’s important and who you gonna trust?

It turns out that many people have strong opinions about irons and some even have educated ones. Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Slate.com, and others have all tested or rounded up models from class-leading brands like Rowenta, Black & Decker, Hamilton Beach, T-fal, and Panasonic. Consumer Reports reigns, however.

They performed roughly a dozen blind tests on each of 63 models in their National Testing and Research Center. For example: “We’ve got a Rube Goldberg contraption that moves the iron back and forth about a foot and a half over the ironing board, and we’ve got it hooked up to a data collection system with a thermocouple built into the ironing board,” said Slaven. “We let an iron rip and I drop all the data into Excel graph and grab temp highs and lows at each fabric setting. We also use this gizmo to get steaming rate, which we can measure down to 1/10th of a gram.” In my quest to find the perfect iron, I figured CR’s meticulous tests were the best starting point.

It turns out that many people have strong opinions about irons and some even have educated ones.

The first thing CR helped appraise was those titillating bonus features. A cordless model? “The ones we’ve tested were only fair in performance and needed to be reheated in the base every few moments,” CR said. Ditto soleplates described as nonstick. “Nonstick models generally scored lower overall than models with other soleplate materials,” CR said. Even self-cleaning features, which are designed to flush out the waterborne gunk that builds up inside an iron, fell under suspicion. “They’re not always effective with prolonged use or with very hard water,” writes CR. “Try the burst-of-steam feature to clean vents.”

Reading expert feedback like this, I chose to focus on the basics. Most important to me was that the iron came with all the standard features and produced enough heat and steam to work excellently. Cost was important, partly because I asked a barista and a millionaire homemaker “What’s a reasonable amount to spend on an iron?” and both replied “$30.” But it wasn’t paramount. Given that professionally laundering a shirt costs about $2 and dry cleaning a shirt costs $5, a slightly higher upfront cost can be recouped over time.

A quick note on maintenance

I can’t believe I’m about to write something as pedantic as this, but here goes: whatever iron you end up with, take a minute to read the manual. According to Slaven, lots of frustration could be prevented if people emptied the water reservoirs when finished or used the burst-of-steam function to flush mineral deposits once a month (or otherwise followed the instructions). Failing to read the manual, Slaven insists, is why so many irons end up dripping, spitting, or broken.

Water seems to cause most of the problems. Hard water leaves damaging calcium deposits on valves and materials intended for use with soft or distilled water, while distilled water strips essential minerals from internal bits designed for hard water. So if a manual asks about the mineral richness of your water and you don’t know, find out. (Here is a loose guide. This will test your tap water.) Then follow the instructions. Doing so could add years to the iron’s lifespan.

Irons drip, spit, and break because their owners don’t read the manuals.

How many? Unfortunately no one tests longevity. And it was difficult to decipher the credibility of user posts about durability. More than one well-intentioned ironer griped when after using distilled water, his iron, designed for hard water, went kaput. My general sense was that an iron used according to its instructions should last about six years…and that warranties and reputation were also important criteria to consider.

A quick note on garment steamers

Home garment steamers are seductive. You just plug in a durable little base reservoir full of water and then use a hose to bathe your clothes in a hot cloud. Presto! Wrinkles gone.

But steamer are not always that useful. “For maintenance of my suits, which I wear every day, I would never ever use a steamer,” saID Jeffery Diduch, a bespoke tailor and director of technical design at men’s clothier Hart Schaffner Marx. “People who don’t know what goes into making a suit will recommend a steamer, but the crease down the front of your trousers—if you steam that, it will go away. If you steam the seams, they’re going to puff up and look ugly. We don’t use two identical lengths of cloth in some places, so if you steam, you’ll get a pucker. A shirt is just not going to look crisp. And any kind of woolen garment—you’ll lose the form.” In other words, steamers are probably not what most people need most of the time.

So if you’ve already got an iron and are happy with it, great! Maybe you want a steamer for your luau attire. If you’re frustrated with your iron or don’t have one, then read on.

Our tests

As mentioned, CR has performed thorough testing, most recently in December 2012. They ranked each iron with “poor” to “excellent” scores in three categories: “ease of use,” which assessed traits like leaking; “steaming rate,” which calculated how much steam the iron puts out over ten minutes; and “ironing fabric,” which focused on the heat of the soleplate.

Richard Baguley, a tech writer who has been designing test protocols for some 20 years, created our test as a light fact check and supplement—to get a feel for irons that weren’t in CR’s test, to make sure that our idea of “ease of use” matched CR’s, to put supposedly “excellent” and “poor” performance in our own perspective. Our 12 tests focused on questions related to setting up the iron, ironing a cotton sheet, ironing a delicate dress shirt and a thick dress shirt, vertical steaming, and safety.

Over 12 hours, we noted qualitative answers to questions to questions like “How easy is it to fill the reservoir?” and “How easy is it to change temperature settings?” and quantitative answers to questions like “How long before the iron reaches maximum temperature?” and “How much steam does the iron put out?”

Our pick

The T-fal produces 35% more steam per minute than our previous pick. It can flatten a silk blouse or a pair of jeans with just one pass. The cord is long and the reservoir is large and easy to fill, both surprisingly uncommon for irons.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $65.
In the war on wrinkles, the 1,725-watt Ultraglide is the iron I want on my side. Let me be clear: The Ultraglide, our two step-down picks, and our step-up pick essentially perform equally well for a typical ironer on a typical day. In testing, all four of them could easily smooth out two button-down shirts in 12 minutes from heat-up to completion, give or take a handful of seconds.

This is far better than dozens of irons at any price. (A $20, 1,200-watt Black & Decker Light N Easy, for example, took 18:58. A $30, 1,400-watt Sunbeam 4268 took 15:45.) What sets the Ultraglide apart from the step-down picks is that it comes with serious headroom. If you decide to do something atypical like flatten a big, crumpled linen tablecloth, it’s up to the task.

The key to the Ultraglide’s flattening prowess is its exceptionally high steam rate. In our tests, it produced 27 grams of steam per minute—that’s 35 percent higher than our previous pick and Consumer Reports’ third place pick, the Singer EF.

Granted, that figure is noticeably lower than T-fal’s claim of 35 grams per minute, but it’s still impressive. The only iron we tested that produced more steam was the $80 Rowenta Focus, which measured 30 grams per minute. You can throw anything at this iron, from silk scarves to thick placemats.

In addition to producing an exceptional amount of steam, the Ultraglide also comes with an abnormally long 12-foot cord.
In addition to producing an exceptional amount of steam, the Ultraglide also comes with an abnormally long 12-foot cord. That’s much longer than the typical mid-priced iron’s 8-foot cord, which gives you a bit more flexibility in where you put your ironing board and how much room you have to work with.

The 9-ounce reservoir, slightly bigger than the median 8 ounces for a sub-$90 iron, matches the higher-than-normal steam rate. It’ll run for more than six minutes at full steam before going dry, which is plenty. (Bigger reservoirs, like the Rowenta Pro Master’s 12.7-ounce, mean you refill the iron less often during long ironing sessions but you push a heavier iron. Small reservoirs, ironically, often last long because they’re usually used in irons with weak steam. A sorry little $20 Black & Decker Light N Easy, for example, put out steam for more than 15 minutes because its steam rate was a wheezy 12.5 grams per minute, one-third of the Ultraglide’s.)

For what it’s worth, we found that the much-touted ceramic soleplate did make it glide ever so slightly more smoothly over some fabrics, but not enough to make a big difference. We could take it or leave it, really.

As far as controls go, if you’ve used an iron, you’ve used the Ultraglide. Spray and steam buttons and a steam-level slider were easily reached with a thumb. The iron rests on a large stable base when not in use, and the temperature setting adjusts via a standard, spinning rheostat under the handle. The rheostat was slightly less idiot-proof than a digital display like the one found on the EF and 2030, but anyone who has ironed in the last fifty years shouldn’t have a problem. The best perk of all: easy filling. A spring holds the sturdy water-reservoir hatch open, a quarter-sized opening easily accepts water straight from the faucet, and I could clearly see the water level rising through the tinted plastic.

The warranty is a standard one-year affair.

As far as the brand goes, T-fal, or Tefal in Europe, is best known for non-stick teflon-coated aluminum cookware, which it claims to have invented in the ’50s. But its kitchen appliances and irons, usually pretty good for the dollar, have also earned a good reputation in recent years.

Who else likes it

It was released in March, so few testers or users have put it through the paces. But its specs are fantastic and Consumer Reports ranked its weaker predecessor, the FV4379, an impressive seventh place overall out of a field of 63. We’d be surprised if this model didn’t score highly in future CR rankings.

Early Amazon reviews are highly flattering. Eleven Vine Program reviewers gave it 4.6 stars out of five.

Said one: “I’ve tried three different irons over the last year, prices ranging from $50 to $120 and I can honestly say that considering the price and overall quality, the Ultraglide wins my heart.”

“My old iron just doesn’t make enough steam so I spend a lot of precious time each morning trying to iron my clothes,” said another. “This iron heats up very quickly, cranks out a lot of steam and has a super slippery ironing surface. I can iron my clothes in 1/4 the time.”

Another summed it up: “With the FV4495, T-Fal has made a better iron in the low end price range than many premium irons.”

Flaws but not dealbreakers

It’s not perfect. Your hand can cover the Auto Off light at the front of the grip. This wasn’t a problem in testing, but if you iron for more than a minute without flipping the iron upright, you might not see that the light has started flashing red and the iron has turned itself off as a standard safety precaution.

The rheostat also leaves something to be desired. It’s only about an inch in diameter and tucked up toward the bow of the iron, and you have to bend down and look under the handle to see the selected temperature setting. And it has a lot of play in it, like the steering wheel of an old car, which undermines the overall impression of a high-quality product.

But those are quibbles. Unless you’re a quilter or laundress, there’s probably no iron at any price that does a better job at de-rumpling fabric.

Long-term test notes

I have continued to use the T-fal at least once a week in the six months since we made it our pick. I have no complaints. It hasn’t broken, spit, or dribbled, and it works just as great as it did the first day. That said, the T-fal’s Amazon user rating has slipped from an average of 4.6 stars when it debuted to 4.1 stars today, mostly thanks to angry complaints about dripping and broken heating elements. Again, mine works perfectly, but we checked in with the company to see if this was a known quality issue, and a customer service representative told us that was not the case. She did say that the No. 1 thing that causes the T-fal to leak or drip is using the wrong type of water (it requires unfiltered tap water) or storing the iron with water still inside. Be sure to scroll back up to care and maintenance section above for the proper way to care for the T-fal.

The step up

Also Great
*At the time of publishing, the price was $80.
If you use an iron each morning before work, the better build quality, larger reservoir, and more powerful steam of the Rowenta may appeal to you.
If I needed to flatten wrinkles more often—say, before work each morning—then I would pony up for the German-made, recently redesigned, 1,700-watt Rowenta Focus. In many cases, it won’t outperform the Ultraglide—for example, it ironed the two shirts only seconds faster—but its higher build quality, bigger reservoir, more powerful steam, and larger rheostat add up to a significantly more refined iron, the kind of product people take pride in owning.

Experts love the brand. Diduch uses a Rowenta at home. “One of New York’s premiere butlers” uses a Rowenta. A call placed to an arbitrary sewing superstore in the Midwest put me in touch with a randomly assigned customer service rep named Natalie M. who uses a Rowenta. Of the irons tested by CR, only Rowenta ended up with more than one iron in the top ten. Indeed, fully four out of Rowenta’s five models made the cut. Good Housekeeping chose a Rowenta as one of its three best irons. And Real Simple named a Rowenta “Best All-Around.”

It glided over a cotton sheet, ironed two shirts in an impressive 12 minutes (and 11 seconds) and prompted no safety concerns.
In my hands, the Focus exhibited the kind of refinement you’d expect from a 129-year-old company (albeit one now part of a multinational conglomerate). It glided over a cotton sheet, ironed two shirts in an impressive 12 minutes (and 11 seconds), and prompted no safety concerns. It heated up from plug-in to linen setting in 1:20, as fast as or faster than other mid- and premium-priced irons. Most notably, the soleplate kicked out heaps of steam—30 grams per minute, the most of irons we tested. (The Panasonic came in third in our steam test, with 24.6 grams per minute, followed by the Singer and Black & Decker with 20.) Drenching a buttondown in this much steam just meant I had to wait longer for the thing to dry. But subjecting a pair of jeans to the hot fog saved real time and effort.

Features and ergonomics followed the tried-and-true iron design. Burst-of-steam and spray buttons sit at the front of the handle, where I easily thumbed them and blasted away persnickety creases. The steam-volume slider is just in front of the buttons and I had no problem using my thumb to adjust it up and down. At the bow of the iron is the hatch to the reservoir, which stayed open during filling thanks to a little spring—a nice touch. Below the handle, on top of the reservoir, lies the large metal temperature-setting dial. It clicked easily through clear labels for the typical settings—Min, Nylon, Silk, Wool, Cotton, and Linen. Because more steam requires more water, Rowenta also thoughtfully outfitted the Focus with a generous ten-ounce reservoir. (For those who care about such things, the Focus was re-worked by Faltazi, a French design firm known for creating a modular kitchen that produces no trash or waste water.) The iron arrived packaged in recyclable cardboard instead of the more common styrofoam, the cord clipped to itself when not in use, and customer service answered my call within two minutes.

The cord stayed out of the way during ironing sessions thanks to the sturdiest swiveling attachment found on any iron. And a large orange light let me know when the iron had reached the desired temperature setting, while a conspicuous red one indicated that the iron had shut off automatically because I’d left it standing on its stable haunches for eight minutes. No beeps or surprise auto-shutoffs interrupted my work. Overall, ironing with the Focus felt less like painting and more like waving a wand over clothes.

Others agreed. 427 Amazon customers gave it an average score of 4.3. Calling the 5-star reviews enthusiastic would be an understatement.

“I have been sewing for 65 years and this is the best iron I have EVER had,” said one.

“I had to turn the steam down because it was obscuring my view of the ironing board!” said another.

“I have been using the Rowenta Irons since 1994,” said a third. “The one I just purchased is my third. The first one lasted 10 years, the second one 8 because I dropped it, not once, but twice before it gave out. Never have I had an iron last that long before replacing it. Never have I had the results I get with the Rowenta with any other iron.”

Lastly, I liked the Focus’s provenance. Knowing that Rowenta paid a living wage to workers in a humane factory in a country with a tradition of quality craftsmanship gave me peace of mind. I thought of that as a bonus feature.

A word of caution: Though CR ranked its predecessor fifth overall, this particular model doesn’t have any editorial reviews in its favor yet and has yet to be tested by CR. It also comes with only a typical one-year warranty. Anyone anxious about dropping roughly $80 on a small appliance that combines water and electricity might want to wait for more feedback.

In case our main pick sells out

Also Great
*At the time of publishing, the price was $52.
The Singer is a good alternative to our main pick if it's unavailable and you are prioritizing performance.
If the price of our main pick spikes past $60 or so, then we recommend two alternatives with nearly identical designs: the 1,700-watt Singer Expert Finish, which shines for its performance, and the 1,500-watt Black & Decker 2030, which users laud for its reliability. Both come with rare two-year warranties.

Few professional reviewers mention the Expert Finish (EF), but CR ranked it third out of the 63 irons tested, making it their “Best Buy.” (As mentioned, CR has yet to review the Ultraglide.) It scored excellently in “steaming rate” and “ironing fabric” and was very good in “ease of use.” Slaven said it ends up a CR top pick year after year. 

In summary, it performed just slightly worse than the best in each test.
Our tests agreed. The EF reached “linen” temperature in a super fast 45 seconds, glided over a cotton sheet, ironed two shirts in 12 minutes and 20 seconds, prompted no safety concerns, and exhaled an impressive 20 grams of steam per minute. In summary, it performed just slightly worse than the best in each test.

313 Amazonians gave the EF an average score of four out of five. Many described almost religious conversions.

“I iron (for my small business) everyday and have killed three cheaper irons in the last year. I decided to spend the extra money on a nice iron this time,” recounted one review. “I was prepared to spend much more than I did for this one, but the reviews and warranty made me give it a shot. I am so glad I did. I just love it!”

“I am a sewer and quilter,” reads another. “This iron beats the pants off my two previous expensive German brand irons!”

However, Singer doesn’t appear to be quite on its game as a company. The newer $67 Singer Expert Finish II looks like a lemon, with 15 Amazon reviewers scoring it 2.2 out of five, and my experience with customer service was flat-out horrible. I emailed a question and got no reply for two weeks. So I called, only to wait 40 minutes to speak with a (friendly and helpful) representative. Hopefully that’s not typical. But whatever these potential annoyances amount to is diminished when considering the EF’s excellent performance and the peace of mind that comes from a rare two-year warranty.

Also Great
*At the time of publishing, the price was $45.
If our main pick is unavailable, the Black & Decker is well-known for its reliability and did well in our tests.
The 1,500-watt Black & Decker 2030 ranks 11th on CR. Good Housekeeping, which has not reviewed the Ultraglide, named it their “best bargain steam iron,” saying, “The Black & Decker Digital Advantage D2030 was the second-least expensive iron in our test group, but you wouldn’t know it. This capable iron performed as well as others more than triple its price, getting even tough wrinkles out of synthetics and wool.”

More uniquely, 2,311 Amazonians gave it an average of 4.4 stars. A reviewer who has used it for four years wrote, “I LOVE to iron. I know that’s sickness but I don’t care…. People, the reviews just don’t lie. B&D made a brilliant iron when they made the D2030.” (Incidentally, B&D does not make the iron; a conglomerate called Spectrum Home Appliances does and B&D grants them a license to use the B&D name.)

Seventy reviewers at Bed Bath & Beyond also scored it 4.4 stars, saying things like this when comparing it to their old iron: “not only was the time it took to iron a shirt substantially reduced, I finally achieved that ‘crisp’ look–even on linen!!! I am thrilled!”

Our tests agreed. The 2030 reached “linen” temperature in a standard 1:20, but otherwise performed just as well as the EF, which is to say, slightly worse than the best in each test.

Both irons used bright LCDs to show the temperature and steam level, which offered three tiny improvements over the typical temperature-adjustment dial. The LCD location on the top of the handle makes it easier to read than under-handle dials, the buttons that adjust the temperature were easy to reach, and the irons beeped and flashed whenever they achieved the selected temperature. Starting with cooler settings is the way to iron, since irons heat up faster than they cool down, so a smart ironer doesn’t need all those alerts, but the display was a convenient addition nonetheless.

The 2030 isn’t without its drawbacks. Our two test samples didn’t exhibit the celebrated reliability. One sample smoked for a minute when first turned on, and the other seemed to have a faulty water reservoir. No matter how slowly we poured water into the reservoir, it backed up in the opening (the width of a pinky finger) and bubbled over, splashing onto the ironing board. Also, the 2030 has roughly 200 watts less power than the EF, Ultraglide, and Focus. For longer ironing sessions—like one required to get a batch of button-downs ready for the work week or to get a family ready for a Sunday service—the 2030 might lag. But all in all, this is a great performer, with easily the biggest crowd of online fans and a rare two-year warranty.

The competition

There is plenty of close competition, but it is not too close to call.

Irons with innovative features rarely justify their high prices during typical use.

CR’s number one pick, the $160 Panasonic W950A, bested the runner-up by an unprecedented five points in CR’s tests. “The Panasonic is whizbang,” said Slaven. The most obvious improvement was the slightly convex, double-bowed soleplate. The two pointy ends prevented me, an easily distracted ironer, from pressing in lots of wrinkles. But I wouldn’t pay $100 extra for the feature no matter its brilliance.

The two pointy ends prevented me, an easily distracted ironer, from pressing in lots of wrinkles.
CR’s ninth place Reliable V50 is terrific for ironing batches of delicate silks or acrylics because a dedicate steamer pumps vapor into the clothes even at low temps. In our tests, the V50 ironed the delicate shirt some 20 percent (or one minute) faster than the Ultraglide. But the Reliable didn’t prove very reliable. A temperature-display light broke roughly 10 minutes into testing, a nonsensical downward-facing reservoir hatch made adding water difficult, heat-up time lagged, and the steam had to be switched off each time I sat it upright, unlike other irons which stopped automatically. It also requires distilled water, which is a bit of a pain.

Rowenta’s $105 Eco-Intelligence uses 25 percent less electricity than a typical iron, which is super for quilters and costumers, but not such a boon to the rest of us. Used for an hour a week, it’ll save only about $10 per year. (The energy-cost estimate was calculated with this formula.)

The $76.15 Maytag Premium Analog claims to heat up very quickly but scored 25th on CR’s test, thanks primarily to a “fair” score on CR’s steam test. So any time saved is probably spent ironing.

The Oliso was a joy to use.

The unranked Oliso TG1050 was a joy to use, primarily because it has a touch-sensitive handle that triggers retractable feet in the soleplate that remove the need to tip the iron upright. Let go and the iron raises a safe distance off the fabric. Grab the handle and it drops down. This proved surprisingly reliable—not once did it raise or lower at the wrong time—and genuinely fun. When switching between shirt sleeves I could just slide the iron off to the side without taking my eyes off the shirt. The TG1050 also has really nice build quality and a 15-month warranty. Unfortunately, none of this comes free. The TG1050 has a hefty price tag, steam power closer to that of a low-priced iron (12 grams per minute) and shirt-ironing time that merely matched the Ultraglide, EF, 2030, and Focus.

Dismissing others in CR’s test is easy.

The second-ranked, $72 Kenmore 80598 does many things right but didn’t score as well in “ironing fabric” and costs $20 more.

The $104.50 DeLonghi Easy Turbo, which originally tied with the EF for third overall, has since been discontinued.

The number four, made-in-China Rowenta Effective Comfort scores lower than the EF, and therefore the Ultraglide, 2030, and Focus, too. $48.45.

The number five was the old version of the Focus. In CR’s rankings, it lost ground in “ease of use,” but the new version improves markedly in that area. Specifically, it has bigger, clearer temperature and auto-shut-off lights; a water reservoir hatch that flips open and stays open instead of a sliding door; a temperature-select wheel that clicks helpfully when rotated instead of rotating silently; larger, more ergonomic burst-of-steam and spray buttons; and a cord that clips to itself.

Looking at Amazon, the $32, number-one-rated Panasonic is probably a good little iron but the 1,200 watts of power won’t produce the steam or consistent temps of the Ultraglide, EF, 2030, or Focus.

And so on. Both Slaven and the Midwestern customer service rep agreed that there are no great surprises in the iron world. Paraphrasing: “You pretty much get what you pay for these days.”

Wrapping it up

Early reviews and T-fal’s past performance in Consumer Reports rankings suggest that the recently released $45 T-fal Ultraglide Easycord FV4495 is a terrific iron. Our tests say it’s the best iron you can buy for less than $75.

If the price of the Ultraglide climbs, then the Singer Expert Finish and Black & Decker 2030 are the best-performing mid-priced alternatives.

If design details, pedigree, and maximum steam matter to you, then opt for the Rowenta Focus. You’ll pay a bit more, but no iron is as refined and consistently satisfying.

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Sources

  1. Brian Johnson, Director of education and analysis at the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute trade association, Telephone Interview, 5/17/2013
    “When a garment’s fabric gets damp, the fibers get very flexible and pliable. Then the heat dries that moisture, and whatever shape they dry in, that’s the shape they stay in. Heat will soften it, too. Cause in theory, the fabric is going to be cooler than the iron, so you get condensation of air, which will get a little water in the fabric.”
  2. James Watson, Associate director of textile programs at North Carolina State University, Telephone Interview, 5/22/2013
    “What happens is the fabric becomes deformed and certain styles of fabrics don’t allow the yarns to move back to their original state. Moisture and heat tends to let the yarns and twists in the yarns relax, which gives them more freedom to move and return to their natural state.”
  3. Michael Wilson, The Butler's Way: Just So, The New York Times, 3/28/2011
    "He begins with his favorite iron, a Rowenta Pro Master DW-8080, which retails for about $100. He prefers a Teflon ironing board, rather than one with a cloth cover. He learned to iron from Mark Fairweather, a former footman who worked with Mr. Ely at Buckingham Palace, who himself learned from the great Stanley Ager, author of 'The Butler’s Guide to Clothes Care, Managing the Table, Running the Home, and Other Graces,' a bible for traditional butlers since 1981."
  4. Pat Slaven, Project lead on Consumer Reports’ iron test, Telephone Interview, 5/3/2013
    "I’ve run this project three times and at least one of the Rowentas is always in the lead pack. Folks that do a lot of ironing often use Rowentas. They do make decent irons. Every once in awhile they make something that doesn’t do too well and they have the good sense to pull it off market. Generally they have something that does real well and ends up at or near the top.”
  5. The editors, Road Test: The Best Irons, Real Simple
    Re: the Rowenta Steamium: "Best All-Around. Obliterates wrinkles with its 400 steam holes (other irons tested had from 30 to 100), spread across an extra-broad surface."
  6. The Good Housekeeping Research Institute, Steam Irons: Best of the Test, Good Housekeeping
    Re: the Rowenta Advancer: "Sure, it's pricy, but this Rowenta model is the closest we've seen to hiring someone else to do the ironing for you. At the highest setting, an internal pump emits regular bursts of pressurized steam (you don't even have to press the button!). In our tests, it blasted away the competition, especially on cotton. All that power adds a bit to the weight, but the iron is easy to maneuver, and the controls are easy to access. Also, we liked the red, yellow, and green "traffic" lights that very clearly communicate whether or not the iron has reached a safe temperature for your fabric."
  7. Various, web research
    "Minimum wages in China are set by province. According to the country’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security website, a typical minimum wage is the equivalent of $.80 per hour. No law protects a worker’s right to strike and unions are illegal. By contrast, more than half of the German workforce is paid wages set by collective bargaining agreements, according to the U.S. State Department’s Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2012. Though no nationwide minimum wage exists in Germany, recent parliamentary proposals call for the equivalent of $11 per hour."

Originally published: April 7, 2014

  • ae2

    What’s the best ironing board to go with it?

    • Eric Hansen

      Good question!

      Everyone I talked to said that you want an ironing board—ironing on a wide kitchen table creates wrinkles as fast as you can erase them—but then disagreed on pretty much everything else, starting with how much you should spend.

      Slaven and the customer service rep were happy with what they called “cheap” boards. Diduch said you should peel off a cool $100. The customer service rep liked a teflon-coated pad because she thought it reflected heat back into the garment, thus smoothing the fabric more quickly. Diduch preferred wool. He thought it sucked moisture away from clothes, thus locking the smoothed fibers in place more quickly.

      I’m not sure what to make of any of this except that ironing boards are a tricky subject.

      • John123John

        I just got a cheap ironing board and it is definitely not the business. If i press hard enough (not super hard), the metal mesh will show up on the clothes so i suggest thick pads..

  • Guest

    This model looked interesting on Amazon, but I haven’t purchased yet due to reports of shipping problems.

    http://www.amazon.com/Household-Essentials-Fibertech-Pressing-Station/dp/B0048F5GXO/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1373916495&sr=8-2&keywords=IRON+BOARD

    Does anyone have any other model to recommend?

  • HepCatV

    I got this iron 5 days ago as a replacement for my newly broken Black & Decker D02030. However, I’m returning it. Not only did it get a buildup on the soleplate in just 5 days (something not even my cheap, decade-old backup Sunbeam iron has), it spit water and lackadaisically sighed steam out on my wool pants. In fact, the steam was maddeningly inconsistent; the first day, it worked fine, then hardly at all after that.

    I understand CR has some authority, but did you consider irons they didn’t review? For instance, the Singer has a 4 out of 5 on 250 reviews. However, the B&D D02030 has a 4.2 out of 5 on an astounding 1900 reviews! I had the B&D for 6 long years of daily use, and after dropping it over a half-dozen times, it finally kicked the bucket. But for the money, I can’t think of a better iron (and I’ve tried at least 8, including the Oliso you mentioned).

    Sorry, Sweethome, you really dropped the ball on this one.

    • Eric Hansen

      Hey Hepcat,

      That sucks. It sounds like you got a lemon. I hope the warranty department does right by you, and I hope you have better luck with your next iron.

      We took a look at the B&D 2030 in a store, read its rankings in CR (it scores 74 points to the EF’s 86), and acknowledged its terrific Amazon ratings. Obviously we preferred the EF. The 2030 is “virtually identical to the EF but with 200 fewer watts, less steam, and a shorter, one-year warranty,” as I wrote. But hey, if the 2030 is your karmic companion, I say stick with it.

      Incidentally, the CR rankings are pretty thorough, but yes, we did consider about a dozen irons not included in their tests, including the Oliso TG1050, for example.

  • Abelard

    This iron is crap. Got it after reading this review. Leaked water all over my clothes, steam came out of only half the holes, felt really light.
    I want something that will press a crease with authoratay! It’s going back to Amazon.

  • Stephen

    It appears that this model is no longer available at Target or Amazon. Amazon has other models listed: Singer Expert Finish II (but with a 2 star rating), Singer Perfect Finish, Singer Classic Finish… I can’t figure out the difference. Can you recommend at 1700 watt iron in the $45-60 price range?

  • Hminus

    I’ve done a lot of ironing and got my first cordless. I won’t go back to corded. The Panasonic NI-L70SR is not only a solid iron, but every little design feature was well thought out.

    As an iron, I love the weight, the iron surface is smooth and glides very well, and it heats up relatively quickly. It has a nice assortment of features expected of irons. Some complain about the cable length but I have no issues. It has a built in auto rewinder that is slick and works well. It makes putting away iron a snap.

    But what makes cleanup so wonderful is that it comes with a well designed cover that can be used even when iron is hot. It does a great job shielding heat and you don’t have to wait until iron is cool to put things away.

    From quick setup, solid ironing performance, no cord getting in the way, to immediate clean up and storing, this is my favorite iron of all time. I’ve had this 2.5 years and it is still perfect.

    Some are worried about iron losing heat during long use. It’s nothing with very easy habit change. Iron gets set down during use no matter what iron you use. Simply put it in base. It keeps iron hot. It is much safer than setting it down on ironing board. It is just as quick.

    Oh yes, water compartment is removable – easy refill with no fuss and iron keeps heating up in base.

    I love everything about this iron!

    This is currently $65 on Amazon.

  • tangtangdance

    I’ve read some complaints on Amazon and around the internet about the Rowenta leaking after one year. Have you read anything about that?

  • Jon Hewitt

    Have you looked at Steam Generators like this: http://www.amazon.com/Rowenta-DG5030-Station-Stainless-Soleplate/dp/B000MT519O/ref=sr_1_8?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1392755437&sr=1-8&keywords=steam+generator ?

    Once you’ve used one you’ll never want a plain iron again.

  • Mike N.

    I bought a Rowenta Focus after my older Rowenta of over 15 years finally bit the dust after being dropped onto a hard floor one too many times. A fantastic purchase and well worth the money.

  • Brian

    I’m feeling confused. Right now, the prices for the budget, best, and step up irons listed here are $44.99, $37.99, and $64.99. (Yes, the best is $7 cheaper than the budget one.) But all-in-all, there’s only a $27 spread between the highest and lowest prices. $27 isn’t a lot of money to me, so I’m wondering why I wouldn’t just spend the extra money and get the best of the best? Honestly, I will probably iron once a month at the most. (I don’t have an iron now, so I never iron my clothes, haha.) Is there something about the Rowenta that would make it harder for an “infrequent ironer” to iron? Are there some advanced features I’d never take advantage of, or not know how to use? (I’m thinking of the fictionally analogous $100 point and shoot vs the $150 top of the line DSLR.) Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Hi Brian. The prices fluctuate rapidly sometimes. Also, we like to stick to things guaranteed/fulfilled by Amazon. I noticed one seller of our ‘step up’ iron was named ‘Dealsforyou2014′. The prices I checked on include things like $41 for the product, $7.49 for shipping (roughly $50, what Amazon sells for with free shipping), and also “New
      DW5090 BOX HAS WEAR AND TEAR PRODUCT IS BRAND NEW”.

      The prices above are correct, but some products are available for cheaper with strings attached (like shipping costs, 92% ratings, or without being fulfilled by Amazon – which /can/ make returns & refunds a nightmare).

      As for decision making, we did the research and found the Singer to be great and our top pick. Here is an example paragraph on the ‘step up’ iron that should be helpful for you:

      “If I needed to flatten wrinkles more often—say, before work each morning—then I would pony up for the German-made, recently redesigned, 1,700-watt Rowenta Focus. In many cases, it won’t outperform the Singer—for example, it ironed the two shirts only seconds faster—but its higher build quality, bigger reservoir and more powerful steam add up to a significantly more refined iron, the kind of product people take pride in owning.”

      I noticed you said you don’t iron often, so that info might be of help to you. Aside from that, our guides feature everything you need to make an informed decision. Hope this helps!

      • Brian

        Tony, thanks for the quick reply. I totally understand the price fluctuations on Amazon. I guess what I’m trying to qualify is are there some advanced features in the Rowenta I’d never take advantage of, or not know how to use? (I’m thinking of the fictionally analogous $100 point and shoot vs the $150 top of the line DSLR.) In other words, is there something about this iron that is incredibly useful and functional for a world-class butler, but would befuddle me, an infrequent user? Otherwise, it seems to me that for $27 more, I can get the best iron out there. Another analogy would be, why by a Toyota Camry for $25,000 when you could get a Ferrari for $25,100? Some example answers would be higher cost of fuel, you have to know how to drive stick, and insurance would probably be prohibitive to the average Camry owner. Make sense?

        • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

          OK I talked to our editor of this piece (Eric) and here is what he had to say (direct quote):

          “The Rowenta doesn’t have any advanced features, and it performs only slightly better than the Singer and B&D. The Rowenta’s 10-percent boost in power and 30-percent increase in steam only matter when ironing for about a half hour at a time or when ironing heavy fabrics like denim or linen. They both work /great/ and are /terrific/ values.

          That said, the fit and finish of the Rowenta is light years beyond virtually every iron out there. The thermostat clicks smoothly between temperatures. The hatch to the water reservoir is made of sturdy plastic and mounted on a strong hinge. The tip is metal. Etc. The best analogy would be not Camry-Ferrari, but V8 Hyundai-V8 Mercedes.

          Personally, I’m broke but would still save up for the Rowenta. Using it now, a year later, all its nice touches still make it pleasantly apparent that the iron was created by actual product designers and built by fairly paid workers with the expectation that the thing will be enjoyed for a decade or more. The Singer and B&D, great as they are, feel like they were made by people with an eye focused on the factory clock. We’re in the middle of testing a new iron from T-fal, the 4495, and it looks like it might perform better than the Singer and B&D. But the price has been fluctuating, so we’re not sure if it’ll end up being a better value. And again, it doesn’t perform better than the Rowenta and the fit and finish doesn’t measure up either, so it definitely won’t become our step-up pick.”

          Hope this helps!

          • Brian

            Thanks, Tony! That answers my question. You guys are the best! :-) Have a great one.

          • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

            Glad to help! Eric is pretty great!

  • Dan Hoffman

    Wondering when the iron recommendation will be updated?

  • John123John

    so.. what is the difference between ironing and pressing and which is “better”?

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Pressing is when you put the iron down and press hard to create or reinforce the folds of hems, pleats etc (i.e. to create creases) and is an essential part of the making clothes.

      Ironing involves sliding an iron back and forth to remove wrinkles and is normally only done to finished garments.

      • John123John

        I see. So when you are ironing, technically you are or can be pressing (and steaming) as well.

        I’ve been ironing the past month or so and tbh, it’s a bit brutal. Wrinkles everywhere and takes way too much time. Actually it’s not that bad (lol) but i’m not really doing as good a job as I would like. I supposed practice makes perfect.
        I was considering washing my clothes at home and just getting them pressed at the dry cleaners plus starch for that crisp clean look.

        I heard that press is better because there is no metal to cloth contact(?).

        Anyways, keep up the great reviews. I check this site (and Wirecutter) daily~ for some reason…

  • Dan Hoffman

    Given the amount of ironing I do (mostly dress shirts), I decided to go with the Rowenta Focus. I’ve used it regularly for about three weeks. I am very happy. Build quality is high. There are no leaks. It’s a solid device that weighs just the right amount to “assist” with ironing. Wrinkles be gone. Thanks for the great reviews. I value this service.

    • MabelLucy

      I was seriously considering the Focus. But the number of reviews that said it leaks scared me away.

      I called the Rowenta company and they said I absolutely could not let water sit in the iron as this causes it to leak. The materials they are use are not meant to STORE water only CONVERT it to steam. They first person said if the iron is not used for 20 minutes you must empty the water. The second person said if it is not used for 2hrs you must empty the iron.
      Are you doing this and is your iron still not leaking?

      • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

        Read this part above. It doesn’t matter which iron you get, make sure to read the manual and not store water in it for extended periods of time. The water you put in it is intended for use, not for storing.

        A quick note on maintenance:

        I can’t believe I’m about to write something as pedantic as this, but here goes: whatever iron you end up with, take a minute to read the manual. According to Slaven, lots of frustration could be prevented if people emptied the water reservoirs when finished or used the burst-of-steam function to flush mineral deposits once a month (or otherwise followed the instructions). Failing to read the manual, Slaven insists, is why so many irons end up dripping, spitting, or broken.

        • MabelLucy

          Thank you. I have read and re-read this part and am trying to decide if it is practical to get an iron that I have to empty every if it is going to sit unused for 2hrs. The features are just so seemingly perfect for what I need. I do a lot of garment sewing and then the rush before you run out the door sewing. Will I really do well with a high-maintenance iron??? Decisions decisions.
          Again thanks for such good reviews.

  • cancoi

    Thanks for the great recommendations. Would love ironing board recommendations, too!

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      We’re working on it!

      • simonwheatley

        Any news on the ironing board recommendations?

        • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

          We’re doing a guide on them! Will try to pry more info away from editors on when to expect it :)

  • http://facebook.com/danputnam SurfSwitch

    I hate to say it but I have to disagree with this one. I HAD the T-Fal (based on this article) and returned it for the Black and Decker. The difference in steam is negligible, at best, and the exact controls on the B&D make it much easier to use (and not bump the steam dial). The extra long cord is not missed as it was typically in the way more than helpful. The most annoying thing was the little white “crumbs” this iron would constantly drop. My theory is that it was left over from the writing on the bottom plate and stuck in the steam holes, but who knows. It didn’t hurt my clothes or anything, but it was annoying to say the least to have to pick them all off my black shirts. Does it work, yeah, but the B&D is a better iron in my opinion.

  • Evan_Beezy

    what about against the rowenta 2070?

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      It’s above under Rowenta Effective Comfort:

      “The number four, made-in-China Rowenta Effective Comfort scores lower than the EF, and therefore the Ultraglide, 2030, and Focus, too. $48.45.”

  • JP

    any thoughts on cordless irons?

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      The first thing CR helped appraise was those titillating bonus features. A cordless model? “The ones we’ve tested were only fair in performance and needed to be reheated in the base every few moments,” CR said. Ditto soleplates described as nonstick. “Nonstick models generally scored lower overall than models with other soleplate materials,” CR said. Even self-cleaning features, which are designed to flush out the waterborne gunk that builds up inside an iron, fell under suspicion. “They’re not always effective with prolonged use or with very hard water,” writes CR. “Try the burst-of-steam feature to clean vents.”