Steaming vs Ironing: The Ultimate Guide

When I first started this site, I was a newly-converted garment steamer zealot. I wouldn’t hear a bad word about clothes steamers and mocked irons left, right, and center.

But as great as they are, there were times when I regretted chucking away my old iron. There were just a couple of things the steamer couldn't do. That's why this site also has a big steam iron comparison and review section now - because while I use my garment steamer 95% of the time, there are times when an iron works best.

But if you can only afford one, which should you choose?

I wrote this article to answer that very question. I hope you find it helpful!
— Jen@GarmentSteamerReviews

Irons 101
Garment Steamers 101
Steaming vs Ironing

Preamble

Having neat, wrinkle-free clothing is an important part of looking professional and organized as you go about your day. Looking sharp (and having sharp creases) helps you to make a great first impression, but how do you achieve this look?

You have two options: you can steam or iron. Let's get into the pros and cons of each method so you can choose the one that suits your needs the best. 

How Ironing Works

history of ironing.PNG

Ironing clothing to achieve a sharp, pressed look has been in use since Fred Flintstone first started riding mammoths.

In those days, if anyone needed to iron a garment, they filled their irons with hot coals, or they heated it on the stove top until it was warm. Today, you simply fill your iron with water, plug it in, and set it to your desired temperature.

Ironing uses a heated flat metal plate to smooth any wrinkles out of your garments. You need an ironing board - a device that has caused more bruised shins and general frustration than any other invention in human history.

ironing board WMD.jpg

Tips to Get the Best Results When You Use Your Iron

Ironing does take a little practice to get good at, and it may take a little trial and error as well. You want your finished product to be neat, and you don't want to scorch your fabric, and these tips can help with that.

why do irons have holes.jpg
  • Number of Holes. Different irons have different amounts of holes in the bottom. These holes allow steam to escape, so it irons and steams your garments at the same time. Look for an iron with more holes if it's possible.
  • Start at a Lower Temperature. If it's your first time ironing, or if you're not sure what temperature your clothing needs, start lower. You can always slowly work your way up to a higher temperature if you need it.
  • Temperature. The temperature you set your iron to has to correspond with the type of fabric you want to iron. Cotton and linen are more forgiving, and you can use a higher temperature setting. However, things like silk or nylon require lower temperatures.
  • Use a Damp Cloth as a Buffer. Spray your clothing lightly with water before you iron it, or you can place a damp cloth between the iron and your clothing. This will help you iron out any stubborn wrinkles.
opinion2.jpg

Pros and Cons of Using an Iron

Pros

  • Easy to Control - You can control almost the exact settings you use with your iron.
  • Easy to Use - You can fill your iron with water, set the temperature, and use it. It's mostly straightforward.
  • Multi-Use - You can use an iron on almost any fabric without worry about damaging it.

Cons

  • Learning Curve - It will take a while to know which fabrics require what temperature settings.
  • Fire Hazards - If you leave your iron unattended, it has the possibility of catching your clothing on fire.
  • Possibility of Scorching - It's very easy to scorch your clothing when you're learning to work with an iron. If you walk away and leave it sitting on the garment, you may as well throw it away.

Here's an easy-to-follow YouTube video that you can watch so you know how to iron your clothing properly:

How Garment Steaming Works

Although it's just beginning to get really well-known, garment steaming has been around for decades. It is a more gentle route to get wrinkles out of your clothing and leave it looking neat. Steaming your clothing also helps to kill any germs that may be on your clothing, and this can help erase any unpleasant odors as well. 

A garment steamer doesn't need direct contact with your clothing like an iron would. You can hold the nozzle (which the steam comes out of) a few inches away. The hot steam will take any wrinkles out of the fabric, and it should leave you with a smooth, even finish.

You start the process by hanging your clothing up (often on the back of a door) and preheating the steamer. Once it's ready to go, you hold it a few inches from your garment and use it in a downward motion. 

using a steamer.png

Tips to Get the Best Results When You Use Your Garment Steamer

Before you start to steam your clothing, there are a few things you'll want to do to ensure you get a neat, pressed, and wrinkle-free garment by the end of the steaming process.

  • Test a Small Patch of Fabric. Before you steam your entire garment, test a small patch of your clothing. This can help you avoid ruining your garment's color as you steam it.
  • Start at the Seams. The steams of your garment are more durable than the other fabric. Start steaming along the seams and slowly move outwards.
  • Don't Overdo It. If you overdo your steaming process, you can wear away at parts of your clothing. You want to steam your clothing slowly, and stop once the wrinkles are gone.
  • Work Upwards. If you're doing a pair of trousers, start at the bottom. The hot steam rises, softening the fabric above it and making it a bit easier. Also, doing it this way you won't scald yourself.

Pros and Cons to Using a Garment Steamer

Pros

  • Fast - Garment steamers are a fast alternative to ironing. It can take mere minutes to steam a garment where ironing can take up to 30 minutes to an hour.
  • Ease of Use - With a garment steamer, you hang your garment in question, start the steamer, and steam the wrinkles out. There isn't much of a learning curve with it.
  • Multi-Use - You won't be as hindered with garments as you would be with an iron. You can steam embellished clothing and larger garments like curtains with ease.
  • Less Frustrating It can be a bit frustrating to steam a garment that doesn't want to de-wrinkle, but it's nothing compared to all the messing about with ironing boards, temperature settings, and all the other things that make ironing the worst way you could spend an hour.
  • Gentler. While ironing CRUSHES the fibers under its brutal regime, garment steamers gently caress them. Look what happens to steamed and ironed fabric in extreme close-up:
Ouch! Wouldn't like to be that ironed fabric.

Ouch! Wouldn't like to be that ironed fabric.

Cons

  • Fabric Restrictions - If your fabric can't handle hot water, or if it's tailored, you risk ruining them with steam.
  • No Sharp Creases - A garment steamer won't give you the sharp creases in your clothing like an iron will, and this can be a downfall.
  • Expense - A garment steamer may cost slightly more than an iron. On the other hand, you just have to buy the steamer itself, while an iron requires an ironing board as well.

Here's a YouTube video that will walk you through the correct way to use a garment steamer on your clothing.

When to Use an Iron and When to Use a Garment Steamer

Maybe you have both of these things at your disposal. You want to know when it is best to use one over the other because you're not ready to choose just one. This is fine, as both of them have limitations and benefits. 

Use an Iron

You want to use your iron if you're trying to get crisp lines in your clothing. Additionally, if your clothing is specially tailored, you may want to iron it over steaming it.

If you're trying to get the wrinkles out of suit pants or out of clothing with short collars, an iron is what you want to use as they require pressure to look neat and pressed. 

Use a Garment Steamer

If you're in a hurry, or if you have more delicate fabric to get wrinkles out of, you may want to use a garment steamer.

Fabrics like silk or polyester will work better with a steamer because silk can get ruined by excess heat. Polyester also won't stand up to ironing without shrinking. 

opinion1.jpg

Bottom Line

Garment steamers and irons are both useful tools to have. If you're not sure which one to use on your garment, you can always check the tags. They'll usually tell you exactly what you can and can't use to clean and press them.

Garment steamers are my preference due to their ease of use and how fast they are, but there are some people who swear by their irons. You'll have to decide for yourself which one suits your needs and your lifestyle the best.