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How to iron clothes: a step-by-step guide to crease-free garments

To help you master the fine art of ironing like our expert Mumsnet users, here is our step-by-step guide, including plenty of tips recommended by parents.

By Victoria David | Last updated Mar 7, 2024

A picture of a woman ironing clothes on an ironing board.

When your clothes are out of the washing machine and have been fully dried, the next step in the laundry process is ironing. There is no denying that it can be a time-consuming and awkward chore, especially if your laundry pile is family-sized. However, it doesn’t have to be.

Whether you were never taught or are looking for life hacks to speed up your routine, learning how to iron clothes correctly can be a valuable skill that helps clothes retain their shape and look newer for longer. By using our carefully researched, tried-and-trusted steps, we’ll have you whizzing through your ironing pile in no time with professional results.

To inform our guide, much like with our best dehumidifier article and all of our Swears By guides, we drew on our Mumsnet users' wealth of knowledge and experience. Whilst many have a love-hate relationship with ironing, we were able to collate their savviest tips to create a step-by-step guide that’ll save you time and leave you with wrinkle-free clothes. So, if you dream of crisp pleated lines, sharp, stiff collars, and wrinkle-free dresses but don’t have the know-how, read on to learn how to iron like the experts.

Equipment

Before you start, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got everything you need:

  • A steam iron

  • An ironing board/flat surface

  • A filled water jug

  • A spray water bottle filled with water

  • Optional: Starch spray (aka sizing spray)

Step 1: How to prep your space

A close up picture of an iron on an ironing board.

The infamous quote, "Fail to prepare, prepare to fail," holds true even with your ironing pile. That’s why ensuring your space is set up correctly will stave off frustration and achieve better results.

To prep your space, consider the following:

  • Your ironing surface: Ironing boards come in all shapes and sizes, from stand-up to table-top and should be chosen based on your needs and storage space. Although your kitchen counter can also do in a pinch, just make sure it isn’t flammable and susceptible to heat damage. If you’re unsure, lay down an ironing blanket or towel as a barrier between your iron and the surface.

  • Your ironing board and cover: The most popular brand with Mumsnet users is Brabantia; they say it makes all the difference! They also suggested that choosing a thick, reflective ironing board cover, like this one, can halve your ironing time.

  • Your position: Be mindful of the cord presenting a trip hazard to your child/partner/pet and your proximity to plug sockets.

What Mumsnet users say

“I have a wide-boarded Brabantia ironing board.” MercuryOnTheRise

“You can get those ironing board covers which reflect the heat back up, supposedly halving your ironing time as you only have to do one side. I still do both sides, but the other side doesn't seem to take as long, so maybe it does work.” lisavanderpumpscloset

Read next: Best ironing boards to keep clothes smooth and wrinkle-free

Step 2: How to prep your iron

A picture of a green and white Philips EcoCare steam iron on some light coloured denim.

Naturally, the essential piece of equipment when ironing is your steam iron which is why taking care of it, understanding it and knowing how to utilise it is critical. Many Mumsnet users recommend choosing the best steam iron available (within your budget) for an effective and efficient ironing experience.

To prepare your iron, you should:

  • Check the manual to ensure you’re au fait with its features, cleaning requirements and maintenance advice - this ensures no accidental damage will befall your trusty iron.

  • Make sure your iron is clean and ready for use to prevent spitting and limescale stains. To find out how to clean your iron, scroll down to the iron maintenance section below, where we explore it in more detail.

  • Fill up your iron’s water reservoir without exceeding its max capacity. Usually, this is located on the top of the iron, but if you’re unsure, refer to your owner’s manual. Keep a water jug close to refill it and save you from running backwards and forwards to the sink. It is recommended you use filtered water to protect your iron, but it is not essential.

  • Heat your iron to the required setting using the dial, and ensure it has reached the optimum temperature before starting for the best results.

What Mumsnet users say

“...The iron really does make a difference.” ShinyPikachu

“A decent iron is a must, more important than a board.” Alphabet1spaghetti2

Read next: Best ironing boards to keep clothes smooth and wrinkle-free

Step 3: How to iron clothes correctly

A picture of clothes being ironed on an ironing board.

Hallelujah! Now that your space and iron are ready and raring to go, we’re onto the most crucial step, how to iron your clothes. To achieve the professional results you are looking for, we’d suggest taking the following steps:

  1. Always check your clothing’s care labels for the iron-safe symbol. If you aren’t sure what that looks like, Laundrapp has a PDF guide to remind you.

  2. Double-check the appropriate temperature for particular fabric types. If the tag has faded or is cut off, use these as a general rule of thumb, and look out for signs that your iron is too hot, like the fabric snagging on the soleplate or seizing up.

    • Low temperature (135 degrees to 143 degrees): Acrylic, nylon, acetate, lace, corduroy

    • Medium temperature (148 degrees to 190 degrees): Polyester, silk, wool, viscose/rayon

    • High temperature (200 degrees+): Linen, cotton, denim

  3. Iron low-temperature items first, as an iron takes longer to cool than to heat up.

  4. Clothes are the easiest to iron whilst slightly damp; use the steam shot on your iron, a damp towel or a water spray to achieve this.

  5. Iron parts of your item in the following order - collar, cuffs, pockets, hems, sleeves, shoulders, and main body.

  6. Use our parent-recommended ironing tips to guarantee the crease-free results you're looking for:

    • Iron garments inside out to prevent the fabric from becoming shiny.

    • Smooth wrinkles out as you go to avoid ironing them in place.

    • Iron lengthways to prevent stretching the fabric.

    • Iron both sides of the item.

    • Use a towel as a barrier to items with lots of detailing.

What Mumsnet users say

“Slightly damp clothes iron better than board stiff, line-dried items. With things like shirts, there is a hierarchy in which bits you iron first, for efficiency and to prevent creasing bits you’ve already ironed.” Alphabet1spaghetti2

"Bring your washing in before it gets as dry as a bone. Set up the ironing board and switch on the iron. Start off with things that only need a warm iron, like t-shirts. Put in a neat pile unfolded. When the iron is hot, do the things that need a hot iron, like shirts. Iron each shirt in exactly the same way. Hang shirts on a hanger. If anything is creased, use a damp muslin cloth between the item and the iron." MikeUniformMike

Step 4: Store clothes to prevent wrinkles

A close up image of work shirts on coat hangers.

Whew, you’ve finally managed to take your family’s clothes from the laundry basket to your wardrobe! To avoid falling at the finish line, as you iron each item, either hang it on the appropriate hanger or fold it neatly to ensure your clothes stay crease-free. Yes, this step may seem obvious, but we know how tempting it is to forgo them when working against the clock to get your ironing done before a reasonable hour.

What Mumsnet users say

“Folding well is your friend. If you fold and smooth things, and then they sit in the cupboard, the weight of the clothes does smooth them out more. Either shake them and then hang them on hangers, do up top buttons, give cuffs a tug etc., so that they are hanging uncreased, or tumble dry and remove and fold as soon as dry. If they are folded warm, they don't crease.” steppemum

Iron maintenance and how to clean your iron

Cleaning your iron is essential if you want to prevent limescale from reducing the lifespan of your iron and prevent calcium stains from ruining your clothes. Luckily, Mumsnet users have vetted several ways to keep your iron in tip-top condition:

  • Heat your iron and rub it with paracetamol: “So this sounds absolutely bizarre, but I saw a post on Twitter and tried it, let your iron heat up and rub paracetamol on it [with tweezers]. It actually works!! I hadn't cleaned my iron in years, and it was practically black, but a box of paracetamol later, it's like brand new!” Mgreen93

  • Use a descaler:I use the descaler usually available in cleaning or sometimes the baby aisle of the supermarket - it's the same stuff you use for kettles or baby sterilisers.” wonkylegs - you can buy this one from Amazon.

  • Use an iron sole plate cleaner: This stuff works like magic.” Betrayedbutsurvived - you can buy it at Amazon and Lakeland).

  • Install a water softener in your home: To help prevent limescale build-up in your appliances if you live in a hard-water area, we recommend purchasing the best water softener as a plumber-recommended preventative measure.

Read next: Our guides to the best washing machine cleaners and mould removers have more helpful tips and expert recommendations to keep your laundry products in working order.

How to iron clothes: top tips and tricks

Woman ironing
  • Make ironing fun: “I find that a glass of wine and a favourite telly programme or pop music helps a lot.” MikeUniformMike

  • Dry clothes on hangers: “I dry things on hangers; they only need a minimal press then if you've straightened the seams and collars.” Schooldil3ma

  • Use a starch spray to help your iron glide over the fabric and create sharp lines on your shirts: “It’s spray starch. The end.” Windbeneathmybingowings

  • Use fabric softener: “My tips are to use a fabric conditioner and buy a good quality iron.” GintyMcGinty

  • Use your washing machine correctly (that goes for integrated washing machines and washer-dryers, too): “I think the key is not overloading the drum, washing like with like, e.g. cotton shirts, and lots of washing machines have non-iron programmes nowadays.” Hortibunda

Read next: If you want to make drying your clothes an absolute breeze, our guides to the best heated clothes airer and tumble dryer can help you decide which one is right for you.

What is the best steam iron?

The overwhelming consensus on our Mumsnet forums is that a steam generator iron is the optimum ironing appliance for effective and efficient results. The Phillips PerfectCare Elite Steam Generator GC9630/20 is our best steam generator iron. However, if you’re looking for a more traditional (and reasonably priced appliance), our best steam iron is the Philip Azur Steam Iron GC4537/86.

What is the best steam iron alternative?

Many Mumsnetters recommend clothes steamers as the best alternative for those who don’t need to (or want to) iron regularly. To learn more about them and find out which met our high standards, don't miss our guide to the best clothes steamer.

What is the easiest way to iron clothes?

The easiest way to iron clothes without using your steam iron is to dampen your clothes with a water spray and chuck them in your tumble dryer for a few minutes. The steam generated releases wrinkles and is perfect for last-minute decreasing emergencies.

What fabrics shouldn’t be ironed?

It is recommended, as a general rule, you avoid ironing fabrics such as:

  • Velvet

  • Suede

  • Spandex

  • Muslin

  • Leather

  • Organza

What clothes should be ironed?

If you’re looking to decide how to prioritise clothing items (and alleviate some of the guilt we all feel when looking for shortcuts), these are the essential items to iron:

  • Work outfits and uniforms

  • Smart trousers and shirts

  • Some easily wrinkled everyday clothing items

Are there clothes that don’t need ironing?

Whilst everyone’s definition of ‘doesn’t need ironing’ is subjective, here are some garments that Mumsnet users swear you shouldn’t bother ironing:

  • Bedding

  • Underwear (clothes that can’t be seen)

  • Towels (including tea towels)

How do you ‘iron’ clothes without an iron?

The best ways to iron clothes without an iron are:

  • Use a crease-releasing spray like Lenor’s Crease Releaser to get rid of wrinkles.

  • Hang clothes on a coat hanger to dry to prevent creases ‘drying in’ the fabric.

  • Hang clothes in the bathroom while you shower, as the combination of gravity and steam works wonders.

What should you not do when ironing?

To avoid ironing mishaps and accidents, here are the most common mistakes that people make:

  • Don’t iron clothes are completely bone dry - give them a small spray of water

  • Don’t only use your iron at the hottest temperature

  • Don’t store your iron with water in it, and ensure it is completely cooled before packing away

  • Don’t iron items that are still stained

  • Don’t iron over buttons, zips, sequins, transfers, lace or beading

  • Don’t leave your iron’s sole plate down on your clothing

  • Don’t forget to clean your iron regularly

Can ironing burn your clothes?

Like any appliance with a scorching surface, there is the potential to burn your clothing. Do not leave your iron on top of your clothing items to avoid scorching them.

How do you clean burn marks from clothes?

The first thing not to do is panic! A scorch mark doesn’t mean the clothing item is ruined forever. There are several remedies you can try before you throw in the towel. The first step is that as soon as your notice it, you must rinse the mark in warm water to prevent it from drying, then treat it with one of these products or solutions:

  • Rub it with neat liquid laundry detergent before putting it on a wash cycle (for the ultimate stain-removing products, read our articles on the best laundry detergent and the best laundry detergent for babies).

  • Apply a 50/50 hydrogen peroxide solution using a damp cloth before placing your iron on medium heat on top - this should lift the stain.

  • Pre-treat the clothing with bleach before throwing it in your washing machine. Let the item dry on your rotary washing line for extra stain-lifting help from the sun!

  • For small, minor burn marks, rub with distilled white vinegar.

  • Lemon juice is also a Mumsnetter-recommended solution: “My inner Mrs Beeton is telling me lemon juice for the scorch and toothpaste for the iron.” SuePurblybilt

Read next: If you need robust hurricane-grip pegs for your scorch mark stain emergencies, try our guide to the best clothes pegs tried and tested by Mumsnet users.

What is ‘cool ironing’?

Cool ironing is for delicate fabrics like wool and lace that can’t handle a hot, hot iron. Using a low temperature (or the wool setting if your iron happens to have one), you turn the item inside out and iron using a damp cloth as a protective barrier.