Ruminating

LET’S TALK IRONS

If you’ve been sewing for a while, or even if you haven’t, you know that a good iron is almost as important as the actual sewing machine. A garment lives and dies through good pressing; pointy darts are smoothed out, wonky bits can be corrected with the right touch, and enough steam helps shape and mold everything from lapels to princess seams.

I’ve gone through a dispiriting amount of irons over the past few years. Nothing gets my blood boiling faster than the planned obsolescence and junky plastic manufacturing that dominates almost everything we buy nowadays. Every time an iron conked out on me, I was tempted to bury it in the backyard and have some kind of dramatic “WHY GOD WHY” screaming fit at the sky (I will not mention how many internet routers I have sent to appliance heaven either, but I’m pretty convinced those things have a self destruct mechanism that kicks in after 6 months).

To be totally fair, my last iron, a medium price Rowenta, kicked the bucket because my cat is an a-hole and my nephew is a toddler. Zola knocked it over the first time in one of his “Watch me ruin this, just WATCH ME” moments, and Dylan, bless his grubby little crawling ways, pulled the cord the last time he was over. Clearly the iron was off the second time or I’d be writing an entirely different post about what to do when you family stops returning your phone calls because you burned their beloved grandson/nephew/son.

Needless to say, the Rowenta was my third iron in as many years and even before it’s lethal tumbles, it kinda sucked. It leaked and spit and I was never very happy with the steam output. Internet to the rescue; I wrote a post last month asking for iron advice and you guys totally delivered. At the time I was torn about whether or not to continue with domestic irons, or whether to brave the sort of scary realm of gravity feeds. Just the name alone is a little intimidating; it’s going to feed gravity? WHERE?!

After a butt-ton of research helped a lot by your comments, I came up with a few options. I’ve read hundreds of reviews because I am a weird consumer nerd who enjoys reading amazon one star ratings, so I thought I’d share what I learned in case anyone else has recently buried an iron in the backyard or is close to throwing their iron out the window in impotent, steam-less rage.

DOMESTIC IRONS

These are, of course, what most of us start using. They range in price from the $15 Target specials to $150 plus Rowentas and Reliables. Here’s the thing about those pricey ones – their shelf life seems to be about the same as the cheap-os, at least from what I’ve heard. You’re paying for more steam or heat, but the price is not a guarantee that’s going to last longer than a Black & Decker. My thinking is, if you’re going to go domestic, choose something well reviewed that doesn’t cost more than $50 or $60 – that way when it dies, the way they ALWAYS do, you haven’t invested a ton of money in it. Here are the two that looked the most promising in my research.

Suggestions:

black-and-decker-classic-iron

How FREAKING CUTE IS THIS?? And thank you to Crab&Bee for hipping me to this retro goodness. This is the Black & Decker Classic and I want to marry it and have little short pants, bow-tie wearing babies with it. And sweet mercy is it affordable – under $25 on Amazon! Its got a small water reservoir, but its apparently nice and heavy and has a nice heft which really helps with the wrinkles. I’ve read it’s also very sturdy and can stand being knocked over since it’s not all plastic garbage. I came very close to pulling the trigger on this one but ended up going another route. I’m still tempted to get one as a backup. Or just display it somewhere in my house.

panasonic-NI-W810CS

This is another reader suggestion from Niki and the reviews were also good. The Panasonic NI-W810CS intrigued me because the plate is slightly rounded which makes it glide really easily over fabric. It also makes great steam, and Niki said it was a real work horse in the atelier she worked at.

Both of these irons have auto shut-off. I know that drives a lot of you batty but if you’re memory impaired like I am, it’s probably a good thing.

GRAVITY FEEDS

On to the scary. But really, they aren’t that bad. I can now speak from experience because after a lot of hemming and hawing I pulled the trigger and got one. Here’s the deal with these dudes; they are awesome. There is no auto shut-off so you can iron all day and not have to jiggle the handle constantly. If you’re terrified of burning your house down, readers had a few suggestions. Lauren plugs hers into the same outlet as a little light – that way she has a visual reminder it’s still on. Lizzie plugs her iron into a master/slave board, which is basically the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard. Besides the fact that you get to experiment with some light electronic BDSM, this means that you have a light or your sewing machine or whatever that acts as “the master”. When the master is large and in charge, the iron works. When the master needs to pick up new whips or get groceries or whatever, the rest of the slaves go to sleep. Problem solved.

It’s called a gravity feed because your water tank is independent from the iron. It needs to be hung a few feet above your pressing station and the wonderful force that is gravity pulls the water into it. There are a few ways to suspend it. If you have a fixed sewing space, you can hang it from a hook in the ceiling like I did. Alternatively, you can mount it to an IV stand and wheel it around like a sickly invalid. I’ve been using mine for weeks and still haven’t had to add water to the tank, which makes me very happy. You do need to add mineralizer to the water every few months unless you are using distilled water, since the deposits in tap water can build up and cause problems. I think it’s important to hang it high enough that you don’t have the hose in your way, because you can melt it if you touch it with the hot plate. Most come with little clips to attach the hose to the wire which helps keep it out of the way. It took me a little while to get the hang of using it but I’m a gravity feeder for life now.

Here’s my set-up:

iron-reccomendations-closet-case-files

I have my iron plugged into an extension cord that runs over my door and into a power bar. Be aware that most gravity feeds have fairly short cords, so this is probably a necessity. Extension cords can be dangerous so make sure you’re using one that is designed for the load. I have just enough length to iron comfortably across the entire board, but I can’t really move around more than this.

Suggestions:

silver-star-iron

This is the model I ended up going with after heeding the wise voices of Jenny and Lauren: the Silver star ES-90. Less than the cost of a Rowenta or Reliable at around $110, but guaranteed to last. The seller I purchased it from on Amazon doesn’t seem to have any more in stock, but the great thing about the one I bought is that it included the mineraliser and a teflon shoe, which really helps modulate the heat and prevent scorching. If you’re going to buy it online, I suggest getting in touch with the retailer to make sure that is the case, because it’s a little extra if those things aren’t included. I love this little guy! It kicks out so much steam I can use it to steam stuff on my dressform (I actually steamed something on myself yesterday and am really happy to report I did not get 2nd degree burns). It also came with a silicone pad so i feel okay about leaving it sitting on it all day, and have not once forgot to turn it off. Good habits people. We can make them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Sapporo SA-SP527 is another popular model. The guy at my tailoring supplies store tells me its the popular “student” model. Jen at Grainline said it’s what she used in school. Again, not crazy expensive at around $100. There were some big thumbs up in the comments section for this model, but I don’t think it comes with anything besides the silicone mat.

There are also some more professional options for those with slightly bigger budgets. The Naomoto HYS 58 is almost $500 but if you like Cadillacs, this might be your girl. I’m also intrigued by the steam generator models. They are basically a compact gravity feed with huge built-in tanks that don’t require suspension, like this cool looking DeLonghi model.

Whew. Who knew i had so much to say about irons! Hope this helps some people out. If I missed anything or you have another suggestion, leave it in the comments. I like hearing about irons that work. Warms the heart, err, literally.

  • Useful post Heather! I needed a new iron a few months ago as ours was super scaled up (we have REALLY hard water) and my attempts to clean it did nothing. I did research and that black and decker one looked great, but unfortunately you don’t seem to be able to get it in the UK! Over here, B&D only make power tools! I eventually got what I thought was a decent one for £40, but then a couple of weeks later it suddenly peed water all over my project, so I took that back. I then got one from Lidl for £15. The thing that sold it to me (other than it was cheap enough that it didn’t matter if it wasn’t great) – it has a cordless option! It has a switch you can flip to either have it corded, or cordless, which make things a lot easier! I would lover a gravity feed one though…

  • sallieforrer

    Great post! I assumed you went the gravity feed route! So happy it’s working out for you! I’m still trucking along with my peeing Rowenta. We’ve been together since the beginning and I just can’t pull the plug (I get sentimental about appliances, what can I say?!) Plus, we have an understanding, as long as I let her get really hot AND THEN add water, she seems to be able to hold her pee, but if she cools down too much, well… different story. Needless to say, I’m a fan of press cloths! I might ask for a gravity feed for Christmas or something. I was going to go the B&D route, but there were some reviews that said they changed it or something and now it’s not as good…?

    • Hmmm…. some were super positive. some less s, but it’s not a big investment to check it out… at least it won’t pee on everything!

  • Hélène

    Thanks for this detailed post. My domestic iron is leaking like crazy after just one little year of use. You’re so right: this programmed obsolescence thing is true and so infuriating. So, before throwing my 1-year-old iron by the window (could be dangerous…) I’ll get one of the two domestic models you suggest.

    • Let me know how it goes! I looked around and I think Walmart in Canada carries the B&D model.

  • AuntyMaimu

    I own a domestic Bosch steamer and I love it. It has the auto – shutoff that I REALLY NEED. And a 20yo professional heavyweight pressing iron and I freaking love it! I myself have been usibg it for 7years. And I take care of it like it’s huge pile of gold and diamonds, I have no idea where I’d get a new one if it broke. Together these two irons make the perfect combo for my needs

  • grasshack

    Thanks for this post reviewing irons – I’m saving it for the future. And I just have to say, how gorgeous is that stained glass door!

    • Thank you! I have a few sets of them in my apartment and they make me really happy.

  • Sarah Campbell

    oh that is WAY more affordable than i thought! i am currently on an ‘old’ rowenta professional and it has scary awesome steam… way more than my rowenta effective (which the cord crapped out after a trusty 6 years). but i might have to consider this for christmas 🙂
    love your posts that are super informative and as always fun to read!

  • Such a timely post for me since my iron kicked the bucket a month or so ago and I’ve been using a bad back up iron. Thank god I’m sewing lots of knits that don’t really need much in the way of crisp pressing!

    • I still press the hell out of my knits… it’s an addiction now.

  • John Y

    Excellent discussion and recommendations. Like other sewers I too became frustrated with the overly expensive and unreliable Rowentas. Finally I purchased a gravity feed steam model and feel it was the best $100 I have ever spent. Notice you can get these for that price, and the Naomotos will cost 5 times that, you can thank the Chinese for the difference. Before China entered the market, you couldn’t get a gravity feed for less than $350. Just so everyone out there knows, check WAWAK. com for good deals on irons, including low cost gravity fed steamers.

  • Great info and recommendations! Thanks for sharing your crazy amount of info and research!

  • Samantha Lindgren

    Thank you for being the consumer nerd who reads all those reviews…. I used to do that, but find I don’t have the patience anymore. After cursing like a drunken sailor at the the three (THREE) Rowentas that all leaked within days of their one year warranty expiring, I went out and bought two cheapies ($35 average) from Bed Bath & Beyond. I am keeping the boxes and all the paperwork cause I know they’re gonna die and I’ll return them when they do. I want to invest in a gravity feed as soon as the budget allows. I’m still stinging from those Rowentas… Something about the planned obsolescence of irons really pisses me off, more than anything these days.

    • I keep packaging for everything I buy now. BECAUSE IT ALL BREAKS!

  • Miranda Foxx

    I think you’ve just convinced me to buy a real iron! I’ve been using the same 8$ iron from Canadian Tire for the past 4 years, and it never did steam. I’ve been convincing myself that it’s fine, but somehow I think it’ll be one of those things that once you get a good one you can’t believe it took you so long, hahaha. Should probably get an actual ironing board to…

    • NO STEAM! Wow, you’re really in for a treat!

  • Amy

    Congrats on your new iron! A few years back I went down the research hole on this one, too. There were some great posts at Fashion Incubator from the owner of Reliable a few years back that really helped explain what steam does and what oh what are those steam clappers for, anyway? Anyway, I did go for a steam generator iron which is a bit more pricey than a gravity iron but the way I see it, was still less than 90% of sewing machines and I use it just as much. It’s now in its 4th year (been dropped multiple times) and still doing great!

    That Black & Decker is awesome, too. So old school and a great weight. I needed one all-purpose iron for the house and my husband uses it. The only thing I dislike is that it runs out of water after about 3 minutes of using the steam.

    • I love my clapper! And I hear the Reliables are pretty good, it’s just they break as quickly as teh cheap ones. Which is bad for clumsy folk like me!

      • Amy

        Hey girl, just curious… why do you think it breaks? I have the i300 and have dropped the actual iron part at least a dozen times. Their customer rep told me they use the same iron for their household steam generators too. Or maybe you mean their lightweight all-in-one types? Anyway, I definitely recommend them because their service, just in answering my nerdy questions on the phone, was outstanding. (I had to call them twice.)

  • Amy

    More nerdy iron talk… Also there is one big difference between a steam generator and gravity feed. The hot steam is created outside of the iron, not within the iron (which is what happens in a gravity feed). This allows for really high-powered steam and on all settings, even the lowest. It has a force to it, although you can press the button softly for gentle steam, too. This is genius for when you want to steam something delicate but not press it too hard (nappy fabrics), or need to fuse something at a lower setting and need the steam.

  • Rob

    You’re really funny. Also you helped me retroactively validate my purchase of a Sapporo SA SP-527. I went back and forth between it and the silverstar but the $30 swayed me. We’ll see.

  • Lynda C

    The water feed line for a gravity feed steam iron only needs to be higher than the iron. Hanging it from the ceiling is unnecessary and inconvenient. Gravity does the work…the height does not matter.

    A gravity feed iron should produce much more steam than a regular steam iron.