How to use a Steam Iron on clothes

How to correctly and effectively use a steam iron to achieve wrinkle-free and well-pressed clothes and which clothes would benefit best from steam iron.
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Which fabrics ought to be pressed with a steam iron?

All fabrics cannot be ironed – this is a fact. Some will not take the heat of an iron and remain the same, like fabrics with texture, and coated fabrics. Some will be destroyed completely like leather or faux leather. Some materials can be manipulated with the use of steam.

Then there are some fabrics like rayon, silk, acetate that look much better when you steam press them. Linen cotton and other thick fabrics behave better and the wrinkles disappear (this is difficult otherwise) when steam is applied. Aren’t all these enough reasons to get yourself a steam iron?

the markings on a steam iron
Knobs on a steam iron

A steam iron double duties as a steamer and an iron. You can ignore the steam part and do the dry ironing on most of your clothes but some. For dealing with wrinkles on some difficult fabrics the secret weapon really is “steam”.

Steam makes fabric pliable, relaxed and even the most stubborn of all wrinkles and creases smoothens by itself without having to touch the surface with a hot iron. I hope I have such a steamer at home for my skin – one that smoothens out all the wrinkles.

Which fabrics/garments should be steam pressed?

fabrics that cannot be iron and should only be steam pressed

When you have to deal with heavily embroidered fabrics, delicate fabrics, textured fabrics, leather and leather-like materials which may be damaged by direct contact with heat, a steam iron is the most trusted tool.

Fabrics with a pile like velvet behave better when you steam press them – ironing or pressing with a dry iron can flatten their pile and lose the texture and look.  

If there is shine on your fabric from previous incorrect ironing with a dry iron, you can remove them by using the steam.

In millinery, steam is used to manipulate felt, straw, and other hat-making materials. You can use a steam iron for this purpose if you want to make hats (though milliners use professional steaming equipment). For the wise man, even a grass straw is a weapon.

How does a steam iron work? How to use it properly?

Keep the iron with the steam above your fabric (Your fabric should be right side up or the wrong side up depending on the type. Pile fabrics like velvet should be the wrong side up). Do not hold the steam too close to the material. When steam pressing silk and rayon use a pressing cloth as a barrier to prevent water spots.

water container of a steam iron
Water level of steam iron

There is a container in your steam iron to store water.  When you operate the steam iron, the heat converts the water to steam. The steam comes out through its many holes – it sprays the steam onto the fabric. The steam can be controlled through the knobs on the iron. The steam penetrates the fabric and smoothens even the most deep-set wrinkles.

steam coming out of a steam iron when pressing

Things to be careful of when you use a steam iron.

Water, heat, electricity – all dangerous things and they are combined in this machine. Take all necessary precautions. Steam itself is scalding.

After using steam iron for some time now there are some key things that I have learned to prevent mishaps with the steam iron:

Be careful with the steam function of any iron. Sometimes it is better to use a spray bottle with water instead of the iron’s steam function to avoid leaks. A common recommendation is to empty the iron after each use to prevent leaks.

Choosing a reputable brand that have reputation for not leaking. Some people have suggested professional gravity-fed irons, to me. They are more durable and have replaceable parts. These are irons meant for heavy-duty use, such as in a commercial laundry or tailoring shop.

Silk develops water spots and that can mar the look of the fabric. When steam is applied to silk there is a chance of this water spotting. Use a pressing cloth and do the steaming on the reverse side.

If you are using an ironing board, make sure that the pressing surface can take the steam and take it to the back otherwise the steam will collect on the garment itself. You need an ironing board holes and with a natural fabric covering. 

A garment with moisture is a mold magnet. After you steam press ensure that moisture is not remaining in the fabric before you take it to the wardrobe for storage. The moisture may cause mold growth.

Some fabric will dry with a ripple when the fabric is dry. In this case, you can iron using a dry pressing cloth to take out the moisture.

Use distilled water inside your steam iron. If you use ordinary water the mineral deposits will eventually fill inside the container and before long your iron will turn useless.

Clean your steam iron from time to time to prevent its pores from getting clogged from mineral deposits of water – you can try a home remedy for this. Take vinegar and water in a 1:2 ratio and pour it into the container in your steam iron. Use the steam iron. The steam with the vinegar will clear out the clogged openings. After this discard the water and fill again with distilled water.

steam presser

What can be used as Alternatives to a Steam iron?

A professional steamer is the best alternative to steam iron. The Steam is only for steaming. It looks like a rod with a showerhead that you can take to the narrow areas. It is a very practical tool when you are traveling. And comfortable to just hang and steam press. 
But if you do not have that, there are still some tools you can use instead of a steam iron – an electric kettle. The electric kettle with the steam spraying spout can work as your steaming tool but not effectively as a steamer.
You can use your simple iron as a steam iron – just use it with a dampened pressing cloth – read more about this in this post on press cloths.

Related posts : Basic fabric care tips; Pressing fabric during sewing; Can you buy wrinkle free fabrics?  Pressing tools; How to iron clothes

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
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