The easy way to clean an iron

how to clean an iron
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According to a recent survey we ran with Good Housekeeping readers to celebrate 100 years of the GHI, we found ironing was one of the most hated chores in the home. A total of 16% of us would choose to have the ironing done at the flick of a wrist, were we given a magic wand - beating laundry, cooking and vacuuming. The good news is keeping your iron in tip-top shape may help make the ironing process quicker and more effective.

If your freshly laundered clothes are covered in mysterious marks or rusty splutterings, it's probably time to descale your iron. Most manufacturers recommend doing this every one to four months, depending on how much you use your iron.

Not sure where to begin? Our expert tips will help.

4 signs your iron needs descaling

  • Is your iron coughing out chalky white mineral deposits or limescale onto your freshly laundered clothes?

  • Is there a sticky residue (from ironing fabrics on too hot a setting) melted on to the soleplate (aka, the metal bit)?

  • Does the iron drag rather than glide?

  • Does the iron leave behind marks and stains?

If any of that sounds familiar, it could be time to clean your iron! Ignore the problem and you risk ruining any delicate items as you iron, not to mention damaging the iron itself.

how to clean an iron
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How to get rid of soleplate gunk

Take a large, clean, damp cloth and wipe over a slightly warm soleplate. We like the e-cloth general purpose cleaning cloth for this job.

If you use dryer sheets in your tumble dryer, these can also be effective – again, turn the iron on low, leave to cool until warm, and rub a few dryer sheets over the soleplate to remove accumulated dirt and grime.

You could also use a bit of ordinary white toothpaste with a damp cloth to gently remove a build-up of grime on the base. Wipe away with a damp cloth afterwards.

Don't use any abrasive cleaners, as these will damage the soleplate coating. However, you can use a cleaner specifically designed for soleplates. The GHI team rates the Faultless Hot Iron Cleaner.

How to deep clean your iron

Most steam irons now have some form of self-cleaning, or 'anti-calc' system – use these regularly following the manufacturer's instructions.

Alternatively, pour equal parts distilled white vinegar and water into the water reservoir until it's a third full. Turn it on to medium heat and let it steam for about five to 10 minutes so all the vinegar evaporates. Then, fill the chamber with fresh water and turn the iron on again to flush through traces of mineral deposits and vinegar. Wipe the base of the iron and steam vents with a paper towel once cooled.

Do check with manufacturer's instructions first, as not all recommend using vinegar.

how to clean an iron
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How to tackle clogged steam iron vents

To clean clogged steam vents, use a cotton bud dipped in a water and distilled white vinegar solution.

To help prevent the build-up of limescale deposits in the iron, always remove excess water from the chamber when you've finished ironing.

There’s often a few residual drips in the tank no matter how well you try to empty it. So leave this open to air dry completely before storing. Otherwise bacteria can build up in the tank and result in a horrible smell, especially if not used for a long time.

If your iron does have a build-up of limescale, use a descaling solution — like the Oust All Purpose Descaler — to get rid of it. Just follow the manufacturer's instructions.

How to clean steam generator irons

You can clean the soleplate of a steam generator iron in the same way as you would a steam iron. However, most have built-in systems to remove or collect scale in the tank so follow the instructions in the user manual to do this.

How to keep your iron clean

Regularly inspect your iron between uses to check for residue build-up, or signs of blocked vents. The sooner you deal with a problem, the easier it will be to remove.

As mentioned earlier, take the time to fully empty and dry out the tank to prevent limescale.

Make sure you’re using your iron at the correct temperature going forward as well; this mistake leads to that sticky residue on the soleplate that makes your iron drag.

When it’s time to iron, organise your laundry into piles according to the heat level required. Look over the care labels, and sort by one to three dots as displayed in the iron symbol (one being the coolest setting). For reference, the lowest temperature is best suited to synthetics, while the hottest is for cottons and linens.

Work your way up from the lowest to the highest setting as you iron, so no items are subjected to excess heat – if you forget this rule, you need to give the iron sufficient time to cool between items.

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