The Best Clothing Iron
After more than 20 hours of researching, ironing in our offices, and talking to sources that include a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City, an expert at German iron manufacturer Rowenta, and avid quilters (all of this on top of 31 hours spent producing our original guide), we can say that the Black+Decker D3030 Allure is the best, most reliable, and easiest-to-use iron for people who hope to spruce up the occasional wrinkled outfit or tablecloth without spending too much time or money.
The Allure isn’t as powerful as the Rowenta SteamForce, but in our testing, it came in only second to the SteamForce in giving off steam and costs a quarter of the price. It’s also lighter than most of the irons we looked at, and our testers agreed that the Allure’s “Comfort Grip” handle felt the best to hold and use. Its stainless steel soleplate glided more smoothly across fabrics than most of its competitors in the same price range, including the T-fal Ultraglide (our former top pick) and the Rowenta Effective Comfort. And it just feels well-built, especially compared to comparably priced irons. You can often pick it up for as little as $35, and it comes with an unusually long two-year warranty. The Allure lacks bells and whistles, but it will flatten wrinkles without much effort or strain.
Our runner-up, the Shark Ultimate Professional GI505, was also a hit with our testers. It came up to temperature quickly and delivered both plenty of steam and a nice glide on fabrics. It hit our runner-up slot because it’s a little more expensive than the Allure, and the temperature-control display is a little less intuitive to use.
The Rowenta DW 9280 SteamForce iron, our luxury pick, was the best overall at wrinkle busting. It melted creases out of linen napkins and pressed quilt seams with almost no effort. We’ve never seen an iron give off more steam. But it’s heavier and much more expensive than our top pick and runner-up, so we would recommend it for crafters, sewers, and those with busy households and/or tons of laundry—i.e., anyone willing to make the investment to save time and energy.
If you’re looking for a great clothes ironing board, check out our full guide here.
Table of contents
Why you should trust us
We spoke to experts—including professor Ingrid Johnson of the Home Products Development Department at FIT and Tod Greenfield, co-owner of bespoke New York City tailor Martin Greenfield Clothiers—to determine what makes a great iron and which models or features are best. We heard from Pat Slaven, engineer and project lead on Consumer Reports’s annual irons guide. And we chatted with Kimberly Chaveco, senior product manager at Rowenta.
To winnow our list of irons to test, we read product reviews from Amazon, looked at specialty blogs like The Ironing Room, and spoke to members of the New York City Metro Mod Quilt Guild. The Sweethome’s readers answered a user survey we designed. And we turned to existing research from other sources; Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Slate, and Consumer Reports have all tested or rounded up models from class-leading brands like Rowenta, Black+Decker, Hamilton Beach, T-fal, and Panasonic.
We relied heavily on Consumer Reports data since it’s the gold standard—the publication’s methods and science are incredibly thorough. Slaven told us via telephone about the roughly one dozen blind tests on each of 63 models Consumer Reports performed in its National Testing and Research Center. “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.”
I’m a quilter. My mom taught me to sew in third grade, and I’ve been doing it seriously for 10 years. My blog is almost eight years old. I’ve created quilts on commission for private clients and for Cloud9 Fabrics, and my original designs appeared in Generation Q magazine. I was also a senior editor for GeekMom, and I’ve created tutorials there, too. Bottom line: I’m ironing something pretty much every day.
When to upgrade
If you only use your iron occasionally and feel that what you have gives off plenty of heat and steam, you probably don’t need a new one. But if your iron leaks, constantly needs the water tank refilled, or requires a lot of elbow grease to get out straightforward wrinkles—or if using it leads to a stiff elbow—you should upgrade. It’s also worth upgrading if your current iron doesn’t have an auto shut-off feature, as that’s found on most modern irons and important for safety and peace of mind. All of our picks have auto shut-off.
How we picked
Based on the results of our reader survey, we took cost seriously. We also looked at smoothness of glide, size of water tank, and heat-up speed, among other useful features. Finally, we eliminated cordless models altogether based on Consumer Reports’s testing. We also took a look at ironing boards and pads, which we cover in a separate review.
We had nearly 400 responses to our iron-usage survey; the majority of respondents—69 percent—wanted to spend between $30 and $75 on an iron. That’s probably because most iron just a couple of times a month (31 percent) or a few times a year (28 percent). Far and away, their most-valued feature was a smooth glide. According to Consumer Reports, a stainless steel or ceramic soleplate—the iron’s flat bottom—offers the best glide.
The quilters we spoke to from the NYC Metro Mod Quilt Guild were interested in durability and a large water tank, as that’s helpful when you iron a lot, reducing the amount of time you’re refilling the tank and waiting for water to heat. Tailor Tod Greenfield concurred, explaining that a big water tank means “you’re not stopping, and cooling [the iron] off, and filling it with water, and starting again” quite as frequently. He deterred us from considering “semi-industrial” irons that can hold a large volume of water, though; the ones intended for production, not home use, require fussy external parts like a hanging water tank with a hose and are also quite expensive. We stuck to standard commercially-available irons that could store at least eight ounces of water.
We also wanted an iron that works fast. If the goal of most users is to press something quickly and move on with life, you want an iron that heats up in seconds. A good iron only needs heat, steam, and pressure to transform a crumpled heap into a natty button-down. Heat relaxes fibers enough that the iron’s steam and pressure can then push them into submission. Watts are the key to how quickly this happens.
The irons we looked at and liked used 1,600 to 1,800 watts. “The 1,800 watt is about 12 percent faster in heat-up versus 1,600 watts,” Chaveco said. She told us that the temperature for the silk setting on an iron, one of the lowest temperature settings, is typically 266-320°F; for the cotton setting, one of the highest, it’s typically 365-400°F. A 1,600-watt iron takes approximately 75 seconds to reach a full 400°. An 1,800-watt iron takes just 65 seconds to get there.
Aside from soleplate material, wattage, steam rate, and auto shut-off, we recommend several other features that common in mid-priced irons:
- a “burst of steam” to flatten Himalayan wrinkles
- vertical steaming to relax drapes or clothes on a hanger
- anti-drip and anti-calcification mechanisms that allow the use of tap water
- lights to signal the iron has reached its temperature
- an eight-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, but longer is better
We eliminated cordless irons based on CR’s analysis: “While more maneuverable, the models we’ve tested have been unimpressive and no longer appear in our Ratings.” We also stripped out models with low user reviews on Amazon. Because durability is hard to gauge in one testing period, we’ll continue to use all of our picks to see if they maintain their great performance over time and will update this guide accordingly.
How we tested
After talking to our experts, reviewing the results of prior years’ testing, and combing through reviews, we settled on seven recently-released irons against our previous top picks.
To do so, we set up irons and boards all over the Sweethome office and asked staffers to come in and try them. Our testers’ familiarity with irons ranged from the occasional user to the expert. We put out silks, table linens, quilting cottons, button-down shirts, and t-shirts at every ironing station, alongside feedback forms that asked questions like ‘How easy is it to use? How much steam does it release? How does it feel to hold—does it feel well-designed and well-built?’ And then we let the ironers get to it.
The Black+Decker Allure packed the best combination of features in our testing: a smooth glide, tons of steam, user-friendly design, and an extended warranty, all at a great price. Our testers loved the expensive Rowenta SteamForce for its power, but price, ease of use, and warranty gave the Allure the crisp edge over the competition.
The Allure generally retails for around $50, but we’ve seen it as low as $35, which fits squarely in the price range our survey respondents preferred. Several of the other models in that price range, like the Panasonic NI-E660SR and the Hamilton Beach Chrome Electronic 14955, felt cheap: Their temperature dials didn’t stay locked in place, they took longer to heat up, and they just didn’t have much oomph when it came to getting out wrinkles.
This is a 1,600-watt iron, and the soleplate is stainless steel. All of our testers agreed that it worked well with a variety of different fabrics. The Allure heats up fully on the cotton setting in 90 seconds (admittedly, a little slower than Chaveco’s estimates), but for the delicate and synthetic fabrics we tested, it was ready in about a minute. It had a smoother glide than the Panasonic, T-fal, and Hamilton Beach models we tested. It also released significantly more steam than those models. Only the high-end Rowenta SteamForce, which has more steam holes than any other iron we tested, seemed to give off more. That’s impressive, considering the huge price difference between them. A large amount of steam meant that we didn’t have to rework the same area of fabric repeatedly to beat tough wrinkles. The Black+Decker model tackled the folded linen napkins we ironed with minimal effort and easily pressed quilt seams.
At 3.1 pounds, the Allure is lighter than the Shark Ultimate Professional GI505 (3.5 pounds) and the Rowenta SteamForce (3.7 pounds). It still has a nice heft to it, so you can feel the weight pushing out those wrinkles, but it’s much more comfortable to use for longer ironing sessions. The D3030 also has Black+Decker’s Comfort Grip Handle, and our testers unanimously agreed that this iron had the best feel of any iron they picked up. The water tank is pleasant to fill, guiding the water exactly where it needed to go with no spills at all. Some other irons wound up splattering water everywhere.
The controls are simple to decipher and placed well. The lighted control panel lets you read symbols easily when the iron is on, and the temperature dial stays put when you move it to your fabric selection. That wasn’t the case with other irons we tested: Some tuck buttons in difficult-to-see spots under the handle; others have temperature gauges that can be easily bumped or touched and moved to the wrong setting. You could use this iron without reading the manual first, no problem. (But read the manual!)
While a one-year warranty is common and, we think, a minimum, Black+Decker offers two years for this iron. A longer warranty can cover problems that crop up later in the product’s lifetime—ideal for people who iron infrequently.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The Allure gets wrinkles out well, but it could work slightly faster. At its price, however, it outperforms everything but the Rowenta SteamForce, which costs at least four times as much.
We’d love a bigger water tank. This one is 6¾ ounces, smaller than average, and below the minimum eight-ounce level we prefer. Still, we were able to iron all of our test fabrics without needing to refill.
The Ultimate Professional uses 1,800 watts, so it was no slouch in our testing. It had a nice, long 10-foot cord, heated up quickly, and tackled wrinkles about as well as the Allure. It’s also more sleek-looking than the Allure. But it’s a little heavier, a little more expensive (closer to $60), and comes with just a one-year warranty.
Some of our testers (myself included) had a hard time figuring out the controls on this one; they just weren’t intuitive. Instead of a dial to turn for your fabric selection, there is a button to push which lets you select options from a list. We had to consult the manual to find the button.
This German-made iron performed best in our tests. It’s too heavy to be the most comfortable to hold, and not all of our testers loved the layout of the buttons and dials. But none of us could argue with the way it beat every wrinkle we threw at it. The stainless steel soleplate has more holes than any of our other test picks, and the tip has Rowenta’s Precision Shot, a group of holes that emits a concentrated blast of steam for tougher creases. It’s an 1,800-watt iron, same as our runner-up Shark, but it produced much better results.
There are drawbacks to the SteamForce. The cord is only seven feet long, which felt a little puny. And we did run into an issue with our test model, which Rowenta assures us is a fluke. The cover to the water tank crumbled away in my hand as I was filling the extra-large tank (another bonus to this model). We couldn’t find any reviews that mentioned this as an existing problem, and Rowenta is sending us another one to try. We’ll include an update on that issue in a future guide.
The biggest problem is that this one often costs over $100 more than the Black+Decker. If you’re a sewer, quilter, or crafter and your iron is an essential tool, consider investing in the SteamForce. The same goes if you regularly tackle mountains of regular ironing all the time and you want something to help get the job done. But go first to a store and make sure the weight isn’t a problem.
Care and maintenance
According to Slaven, frustration could be prevented if people emptied the water reservoirs when they’re finished ironing 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 insisted, is why so many irons end up leaking, spitting, or broken.
Water seems to cause most of the problems. According to Consumer Reports, almost all irons are designed for tap water these days, but you need to read the manual to confirm what your iron requires. Hard water leaves damaging calcium deposits (“scale”) 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.
How many years? 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. Our 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.
The Rowenta Effective Comfort is worth considering if any of our three main picks are unavailable. It does a nice job on wrinkles, but several testers felt it was uncomfortable to hold.
The Hamilton Beach Chrome Electronic 14955 was a pain to fill with water. The cover to the water tank was so tight it took two hands to pry it open. (Not fun when it’s time to refill or empty the tank.) It also didn’t do well with our wrinkly linen napkins, and it took quite a while to heat up.
While the T-fal FV4495 Ultraglide took the top slot in our previous iteration of this guide, the iron wore poorly over a year in our office, raising significant questions about its longterm reliability. (We’ll revisit our other current picks over time as well.) I had heard complaints from staffers who’d used this iron throughout the year that it leaked a lot, but leaking is an understatement. When we plugged it in, it spewed so much water out of the steam holes that we immediately unplugged it in case it was a fire hazard. That depleted its water tank, and when we finally plugged it back in to try ironing something, it leaked water on our test fabrics. It did get the wrinkles out of some fabrics we tested, though.
The Panasonic NI-E660SR retails for under $30, and you can tell: It felt like cheap plastic. At 1,200 watts, it took a lot of elbow grease to get out even small wrinkles. Speaking as a former college RA, though, I could imagine it in a dorm room. The price is right in a student’s budget (especially if it gets lost or “borrowed” and needs replacing) and it won’t trip any circuits.
What we didn’t test:
The Black+Decker D2030 was one of our runner-up picks in the original guide, but the D3030 has replaced this model and is much, much better.
We tested the Oliso TG1100 in the past but decided to skip the upgraded model. We’ve read complaints that the big selling point—feet that automatically lift the iron off of fabric so it doesn’t burn—often breaks and fails. Plus, this is another really pricey iron.
The Kenmore 80598 is now Consumer Reports’s third choice for best iron, but we had trouble actually finding it for sale anywhere at a decent price.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
- Project lead on Consumer Reports’ iron test, Telephone Interview, 5/3/2013 , ,
- Road Test: The Best Irons, Real Simple ,
- Steam Irons: Best of the Test, Good Housekeeping ,
- Project lead on Consumer Reports’ iron test, Slate ,
- The Ironing Room ,
- Professor, Home Products Development Department at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Email interview, 10/28/15 ,
- co-owner of Martin Greenfield Clothiers, Phone interview, 10/27/15 ,
- Senior Product Manager at Rowenta, Email interview, 1/12/16 , ,
- Members of the NYC Metro Mod Quilt Guild, Online group chat, 10/14/15
- Choose a great steam iron — without flattening your wallet., Consumer Reports
- Buying An Iron: 5 Things to Consider, About.com, 10/29/15 ,
Originally published: March 14, 2016