Buyers Guide to Steam Irons and Steam Generators

Let's be honest - ironing can be a real chore and many of us don't like doing it! In fact research has shown that when it comes to doing the ironing, most people will want to get out of the way as quickly as possible.

However, help is at hand with today's modern steam irons and steam generator irons (also known as steam generators or steam generating irons). The range has never been wider and there are many innovations that can help you cut through your ironing quickly and effectively.

There are two main types of iron available:

Steam Irons

Steam IronsThis is the traditional iron that most of us are familiar with. Designed for smaller ironing loads, steam irons have on-board water tanks that generate continuous steam, usually at a rate set by the user (called variable steam). Steam irons can also give short bursts or shots of steam to help with removing those more stubborn creases. Heavier irons can be more cumbersome to use but generally have better pressing capabilities.

Steam Generator Irons

Steam Generator IronsA steam generator iron has two parts - the steam iron as above but without the integral water tank. Instead, a much larger water tank is fitted into a separate unit. This separate unit allows much more high pressure steam to be generated and is therefore more suitable for larger loads. The continuous steam is delivered to the iron via a steam hose at up to double the rate of a standalone steam iron. They will therefore make ironing much easier and quicker. Steam Generators can be pressurised or non-pressurised.

What Makes a Good Steam Iron?

The basics: you need a smooth soleplate - ceramic is best, not too heavy especially if you plan to do a lot of ironing in one go, decent continuous steam output with an extra steam shot for thicker fabrics, and a good cord length of around 2.5 or 3 metres. Some kind of anti-calc system is essential in hard water areas.

Additionally, for steam generators which have far higher steam output, a water tank of around 1.5 litres means less time spent refilling water. An iron with automatic controls is worth considering and auto-off is a very useful safety feature.

Some Features Explained

There's a vast array of steam irons and steam generator irons available today, with an often bewildering range of features and jargon. These small home appliances have come a long way since their humble beginnings, so here is our handy A-Z guide to the main features of importance when choosing the best steam iron for your needs:

Anti Drip
Ensures that if the iron should be used before reaching the desired temperature, water will not leak onto the fabric

Anti Scale
Prevents limescale build up in your steam iron and improves performance and life of your iron. Various methods are employed to achieve this: the most popular being replaceable or lifetime cartridges or tablets or removable and washable filters. Some irons also have an additional "calc-clean" procedure which you need to run every so often

Automatic Controls
Many manufacturers are now producing irons and generators with fully automatic controls - there are no user settings apart from steam boost button. The iron can sense fabric types and set the required amount of steam and heat - even for delicates like silk and cashmere

Auto Shut off
This safety feature activates after the iron has been inactive for a certain amount of time, either resting on its soleplate or left idle on its heel

Bar Pressure
The amount of steam pressure generated is measured in bars - with 5, 6 or higher being the highest and most effective

Cord Length
The longer the power cord the more flexibility you have when ironing larger items. 3 metres is generally the maximum size available on a steam iron

Non-Pressurised Steam Generators
While still delivering much more steam than a traditional iron, a non-pressurised steam generator will release the steam more gently than a pressurised version. This does mean that a non-pressurised system tends to be the cheaper of the two

Pressurised Steam Generators
Pressurised generators essentially 'boost' the steam as it is expelled from the iron - thereby pushing the steam deeper into the fibres of the garment

Soleplate Material
An iron with a ceramic soleplate will have the smoothest gliding and best scratch resistance. Some irons may also have an anodised coating for even better scratch resistance.Stainless steel also quite smooth but less durable than ceramic. Cheaper irons may have aluminium or other "non-stick" soleplates.

Steam - Continuous Steam Output
This is measured in grams per minute. The constant steam output relaxes your fabric to allow easy pressing and removal of creases. The higher the constant steam capacity, the shorter the ironing time. A steam generator iron is capable of producing much higher continuous steam output than a traditional steam iron

Steam Shot
This is also measured in grams per minute. A short, powerful burst of steam that penetrates deep into the fabric to remove the most difficult creases in the toughest fibres. Higher burst rates will naturally give better performance

Vertical Steam
Allows you to iron hanging items such as suits and jackets as well as steam curtains and blinds without taking them down

Water
In most of England you will get 'hard' water from the tap - you've probably noticed kettles getting furred up and shower screens pick up a rough coating. These limescale deposits can also clog your iron over time leading to poor performance and water spits.

Most iron makers recommend using 50% tap water with 50% distilled water and perform the calc-clean procedure regularly. This is also true if you use a water softener at home. These softening additives can be harmful to the iron over time.

Wattage
The higher the number of watts available, the quicker the heat up time of the iron. With a large amount of ironing, the amount of time spent waiting for the iron to reheat is minimised

Weight
If you will be regularly ironing for long periods of time then think about the weight of the iron. An average steam iron can be 1.5kg - 1.7kg when full of water. A steam generator iron may only be 1kg to 1.2kg as the water and many components are in the base unit

More Ways to Find Your Perfect Iron