Clothes Steamer versus the Iron

It all started with the iron

The clothes steamer followed on from the iron as a way to remove creases quite some centuries later. Records show that the iron dates back to the 1st Century BC in China where metal pans were heated with hot coals.

Fast forward to the early 20th Century and irons were in widespread use across the world and using a range of fuels including kerosene, ethanol, whale oil, natural gas, even gasoline. Liquid fuel irons were used right up to World War 2, afterwhich electric versions were introduced. The first commercially available steam iron was launched in New York 1922 by the Eldec Company.

clothes steamerMeanwhile commercial clothes steamers were being used from the 1900s onwards by professional cleaners, but then started spreading to wider use for smoothing hats, replacing the traditional tea kettle.

Today there are three types of clothes steamer on the market – the commercial floor models used by dry cleaners and manufacturing plants, the mid sized units made for tailors, and the more recent mini versions for quick top ups and travel.

But which is best for removing creases, the clothing steamer or the traditional iron?

How irons and clothes steamers work?

Before we get to the pros and cons for each it is important to understand how each of them work.

An iron heats to temperatures of 250 to 360°F, and relies on the heat and downward pressure to loosen and stretch the bonds in the long chains of molecules in the fabric.

In the case of a clothes steamer, steam is the primarly method rather than pressure as in most cases no pressure is applied.

Clothes steamer or iron: which is best?

For heavy, more durable fibres and weves like denim, wool or linen, the iron will perform more efficiently, with pressure to iron out those stubborn creases. The iron also wins on being able to provide those razor sharp creases for trousers. The iron also provides more precise control to manoeuvre  in to difficult areas compared to the steamers more general steam dispersal.

The clothing steamer, however, comes in to its own on curved surfaces, like sleeves, pleats and built in curved areas of clothing.

But the real advantage of a clothes steamer is their safety. Irons risk burning or marking clothing is used intensively, or at the very least turning clothes shiney.

Then there is the space required for the iron and its accessories. As outlines, clothing steamers are strong on convenience. Space for the ironing board, but also any accessories that may be required (like a tailors ham or a sleeve board) can be a problem, particularly if you are a frequent traveler.

“Rather than storing an ironing board along with an iron, you can just tuck the handheld steamer away. Easy storage also means it’s easier to travel with—which is a plus if you’re not sure your accommodations will have an iron.”

Clothes steamers are also ideal on more heat-sensitive materials like silk and synthetics; cashmere, velvet and corduroy. But that said, clothes steamers are effective on virtually all types of fabric, and with minimal risk of scorching.

They’re also ideal for freshening up items between washes as our other article explains Benefits of a clothes steamer, and perform well with unwieldy items  like structured jackets.

Also, compared to the iron, the clothes steamer is convenient; steaming straight on the hanger. Steamers are generally faster than irons as well – you don’t have to lay your clothes on a a flat surface and you don’t need to keep repositioning them as you work.

And also, an important point. With an iron the constantly repositioning can create new creases. Instead, with a steamer you steam as the garment hangs.

Disdvantages of a clothes steamer?

From the above section there are clearly a number of advantages of steaming over ironing. But like any comparison it wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the disadvantages.

As mentioned above if you are contending with thicker fabrics an iron with its pressure advantage will perform better than a steamer and not being able to fully set creases.

So there is still an argument for hanging on to your iron.

Overall – clothes steamer a better choice?

Overall, according to Goodhousekeeping, “a steamer is a better choice than a steam iron”.

Check out our other article on the benefits of clothes steamers.

The article talks about 7 surprising benefits of clothes steamers, including the benefits to people suffering from allergies.

Steaming eradicates dust mites and pollen, helpful in the hayfever season when pollen sticks to your clothes. Also an ideal tool for moth control, steaming clothes can kill moth larvae which can cause irreparable and costly damage to your favourite garments. Read more here.

Where to next?

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