After we spent more than 60 hours researching and testing irons, (including talking with a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, an expert at German iron manufacturer Rowenta, and several avid quilters) we think most people will like the Maytag M400 Speed Heat Iron and Vertical Steamer. It’s the best affordable, lightweight, easy-to-use iron for anyone who needs to tackle the occasional wrinkled outfit or linen around the house.
The Maytag M400 has a simple design, a straightforward settings dial, and few extra features. But it begins producing steam on the highest “linen” setting faster than any other iron we tried—just 24 seconds. That means you can start your ironing faster than with any of our other picks. The Maytag M400 is lighter than other irons we tried, but we were still able to push out wrinkles with a strong, solid burst of steam, and we didn’t get hand cramps. We think that checks a lot of boxes for an iron that costs less than $50.
The Allure is a fantastic, cheap iron—while it works. This was our prior top pick, but after a year, our test model’s heating element broke. Because of its two-year warranty, we easily traded it in for a replacement (which we then tested). Despite misgivings about its reliability (multiple reviews on Amazon confirm durability is an ongoing problem), we still recommend the Allure if you can’t get the Maytag. It creates a good amount of steam, its stainless-steel soleplate glides smoothly across a variety of fabrics, and our testers agreed that the handle felt the best to hold and use. If you don’t mind replacing a good iron every year or so, this one is still a top performer.
For the second year in a row, the Rowenta DW 9280 SteamForce iron, our upgrade 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. If you just need to smooth out a couple of items in a hurry or you need to de-wrinkle clothes while traveling, you might be better off with a clothing steamer.
We spoke to experts, including professor Ingrid Johnson of the Home Products Development Department at the Fashion Institute of Technology (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 down 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 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.
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 nine years old. I’ve created quilts on commission for private clients and for Cloud9 Fabrics, and my original designs appeared in Generation Q and Make Modern magazines. 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.
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 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 people 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 1,500 to 1,800 watts. “The 1,800 watt is about 12 percent faster in heat-up versus 1,600 watts,”Kimberly Chaveco from Rowenta 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 °F; an 1,800-watt iron takes just 65 seconds to get there.
The amount of steam whooshing out of an iron’s soleplate also affects how quickly you can press an item, especially with heavier fabrics. A cheap iron exhales just a couple grams of water vapor per minute. A premium ($100+) or mid-priced iron ($50-100) will spew closer to 30.
Aside from soleplate material, wattage, steam rate, and auto shut-off, we recommend several other features common in mid-priced irons:
I set up boards and irons in my dining room and ran the irons through some basic tests: heat-up time, water tank size, and wrinkle-busting ability on a variety of fabrics. I used cotton quilt fabrics, acrylic sweaters (known to melt onto the plate of a hot iron), t-shirts, some synthetic fabrics, and a piece of silk for testing. Referring back to the feedback from our last testing with staffers in the Sweethome office, I noted how each iron felt to hold, how easy it was to use, and how much steam each seemed to release.
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.
The Maytag M400 Speed Heat Iron and Vertical Steamer packed the best combination of features in our testing: quick heat-up time, good steam, agility, reliability, and a great price. We also like that this iron comes with a longer-than-average two-year warranty.
According to Maytag, the iron doesn’t reach its highest temperature for 55 seconds, but in our tests it started producing steam on its highest setting in only 24 seconds. That’s the fastest overall, and it’s truly impressive. If you iron a lot like I do, or if you’ve ever been in a hurry to iron something and get on with your day, you know that we rarely wait for the iron to be 100 percent ready. You’ve probably hummed most of the Jeopardy! theme song standing there waiting to hear that magic Darth Vader steam sound. In contrast, the powerful Rowenta Steamforce, our upgrade pick, took a whopping 54 seconds to make that sound.
This is a 1,500-watt iron, which is the least powerful iron we tested aside from the Maytag M1200 Digital Smartfill Iron (also 1,500 watts). Though it didn’t give off as much steam as the Rowenta SteamForce or even the Black+Decker Allure, the M400 felt more powerful than many irons we tried with more wattage. Some of that might be ergonomics. I really appreciated the shallow steam burst button on the Maytag. I have small hands, and most irons we’ve tested have a steam button that’s about an inch high off the iron. I found that a taller button can cause hand cramps. The Maytag M400’s shorter button was easier to push repeatedly, which helped produce a lot of steam quickly. But we think this design would work for anyone, small hands or not.
The Maytag was actually the lightest iron we tested overall, and it still managed to push out wrinkles with barely any pressure. It passed smoothly over every fabric we tested, and the light weight meant we could glide quickly and get those wrinkles out faster. It was as agile as the Rowenta Steamforce and even smoother than the Black+Decker Allure and the Shark Ultimate Professional.
The M400 outperformed two pricier, higher-wattage Rowentas we tested—The Everlast and the Pro Master—when it came to reliability. While the Rowentas dripped water, the Maytag didn’t leak and had no problems with the delicate fabrics I used. Long-term testing will show us if the M400 can outlast the Black+Decker D3030 Allure, our current runner-up.
The Maytag M400 retails for about $50 on Amazon, which fits squarely in the price range our survey respondents preferred. It’s similarly priced to our runner-up, the Black+Decker D3030 Allure. Several of the other models we’ve tried in this price range (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.
While a one-year warranty is common and, we think, a minimum, the Maytag offers two years for their irons. A longer warranty can cover problems that crop up later in the product’s lifetime—ideal for people who iron infrequently. Maytag irons are actually licensed by Storebound, who handle warranties and repairs. We called and asked what to do with a broken iron, and, no questions asked, the customer service rep offered to send me a UPS return label that day and get a new one out to me in 2-3 business days. We think that quick, no-hassle turnaround from Storebound edges their warranty ahead of that of Black+Decker.
The Maytag may be too light to get creases out of some fabrics. If you’re ironing something big and heavy, or something with stubborn creases (like linen), extra weight is useful for pushing out and smoothing those wrinkles. We still think the Rowenta Steamforce’s combination of heft and powerful steam bursts are worth the investment if you iron a lot or iron anything with precision creases like quilt seams. But for occasional ironing, or even light everyday ironing, we think the Maytag’s agile design more than meets those needs.
We wish the Maytag had a longer cord, which is only eight feet. Sometimes extra length helps you maneuver the iron around an ironing board. And it would give a little more flexibility for setting up your ironing station if you have limited space and limited outlets.
If the Maytag M400 is sold out or unavailable, we would recommend getting the Black+Decker D3030 Allure instead. The Allure is one of the lightest irons we tested, weighing 3.1 pounds. It also has one of the most comfortable handles we’ve tried. Its stainless steel soleplate glides more smoothly across fabrics than most of the competitors in the same price range. The Allure is a 1,600-watt iron, but its steam function feels more powerful than the Rowenta Steamcare or the significantly pricier 1,700-watt Rowenta Pro Master and 1,750-watt Rowenta Everlast. And only the Maytag M400 was faster to produce hot steam in our testing.
But there’s a big reason we had to demote this iron from the top spot: We are worried it may have longevity problems. The heating element on the Allure we were long-term testing failed after about a year (we were using the iron twice a week). There are a little over 300 reviews for the iron, and about half (23 out of 45) of the one- and two-star Amazon reviews for this model note the same problem. But with its two-year warranty, it was pretty easy to get a replacement. (We mailed in the plug with the serial number and waited for the replacement, which took 17 days from mailing to receiving.)
Having an iron fail in less than a year was really disappointing, but it can happen even with higher-end irons. We can’t deny what a strong competitor the Allure is—especially since it’s only about $38. Even with this big reliability issue, we would still recommend the Allure as an affordable backup option for the Maytag over everything else we’ve tried.
If an iron can be dreamy, the Rowenta SteamForce is dreamy. This German-made iron performed best in our tests. At 3.9 pounds, 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. The SteamForce also has an extra-large tank, so you need fewer refills for big jobs.
There are drawbacks to the SteamForce. The cord is only seven feet long, which felt a little puny. It has a one-year warranty in the United States, which is less generous than the two-year warranties offered by Black+Decker and Maytag. 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 tank. We couldn’t find any reviews that mentioned this as an existing problem, and Rowenta sent us another one to try. We haven’t had any problems with it in a year of long-term testing.
The biggest problem is that this one often costs more than twice as the Maytag M400. It has come down in price; it was $200 when we first tested and costs about $110 at the time of writing. We think the SteamForce’s price is worth it if you’re a sewer or quilter and your iron is an essential tool. The same goes if you regularly tackle mountains of everyday ironing 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.
In fall of 2017, Rowenta will release a new version of their Focus iron, the DW5260. We looked at older versions of this iron (the DW5080 and the DW5183) but skipped both for testing when we heard one or the other might be discontinued this year. We’ll consider trying the new version during our next round of tests.
Whichever iron you end up with, take a minute to read the manual. We’re not kidding. It sounds obvious, but it’s the best maintenance tip we can give you.
According to Pat Slaven, project lead on the Consumer Reports iron test, 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 four years, but even higher-priced irons get dinged for early failure.
The Shark Ultimate Professional GI505 was our previous runner-up. It isn’t a bad iron, but its design is frustrating. The steam burst button is tall and hard to press, making it tough to iron and use steam in one fluid movement. We also don’t like the push-button temperature control that always defaults to the lowest setting. You have to push the button several times to get to the highest heat when you first plug it in, and if you’re not paying attention you could waste time waiting for it to heat up before realizing it’s on low heat.
The Rowenta DW 3180 Steamcare only took 36 seconds to generate steam and has a decent-size water tank. But it has no temperature settings at all. You just plug it in and iron. It was an okay iron, but the lack of temperature control meant it wasn’t as quick or as powerful as our other picks. The steam burst button is on the far right side of the handle, which also made it really uncomfortable to use. It might be ideal for left-handed folks, but for me it was awkward to stretch my thumb that far while ironing.
I’ve owned the Rowenta Pro Master for a few years, and I’ve always had problems with it leaking. It gives off a good amount of steam, but before testing it again for this guide, I’d barely touched it for about a year. The leaks became too problematic for delicate quilt work or favorite clothes.
The Rowenta Everlast leaked right away during our testing. We don’t think there’s any excuse for a $100 iron to leak right out of the box. It also was the least effective iron in this round of testing for getting out wrinkles. It’s a heavier iron, and it still needed a lot of brute strength to smooth out wrinkles that the airy Maytag M400 barely touched to flatten.
The Maytag M1200 is the digital offering in the Maytag line of irons, and it was disappointing all around. The “digital” element means that instead of having a dial to set the fabric and temperature, it has three lights with a button that you push to select low, medium, or high temperature. The buttons seemed to beep at random, and even reading the manual we struggled to identify all the noises or how to stop them. And it took a long time to produce steam—52 seconds! The M1200 also didn’t do a great job of getting wrinkles and creases out.
The Rowenta Effective Comfort did 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 a previous iteration of this guide, the iron wore poorly over a year in our office, raising significant questions about its long-term 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 is inexpensive, 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:
We passed on the Rowenta D3182 Steam Care because it only had two Amazon reviews and was currently unavailable to purchase.
The Rowenta DW5197 iron has already been out for a few years, and it was a special edition when it was released. We couldn’t confirm its continued availability.
We heard that the Rowenta DW5080 will be discontinued later this year, so we passed on testing it.
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, it 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.
Originally published: April 18, 2017