Erma Bombeck famously once said, “My second favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint.”
Ironing isn’t always fun, but when you want to dress to impress, or simply need to upgrade from rumpled to crisp (even if it’s just above-the-waist on your next Zoom call), a good iron is essential.
To determine which iron is the best, we rounded up the most popular options and tested everything from how easy they were to use and how fast they heated to how much water their tanks could hold. And of course, we took special note of how well they took the wrinkles and creases out of a variety of wrinkled, balled-up clothes, including a linen shirt, a pair of jeans, a synthetic blouse and a silk scarf.
All models we tested — ranging in price from $22 to $105 — include an automatic shut-off system when the iron is left sitting on its base, side or lying flat, and can do double-duty as vertical steam irons (we did not test this feature). Nearly all models also feature a durable, stainless steel soleplate (the underside of the iron that glides smoothly across your clothes), an 8-foot cord, an auto-clean button (to rid the iron of scale or dust and keep the steam holes clean and clear) and an anti-calcification system (which help rid your iron of any mineral buildup from the water).
Despite those similarities, we observed some key differences — from how quickly the irons heated up to how well they handled wrinkles — with two ultimately proving themselves to be the best:
The Maytag M400 Steam Iron gets plenty steamy, heats up in a lightning-fast 39 seconds, does a great job tackling creases and wrinkles and at a nice and light 3.3 pounds, makes nimble work of the often-loathed ironing chore.
The Rowenta Digital Display Steam Iron outperformed all the other models tested, putting out a huge amount of steam and taking our clothes from frumpy to dry-cleaner fabulous in the fastest amount of time.
Best overall clothing iron: Maytag M400 Steam Iron (starting at $28.99; amazon.com)
Lightweight, super-steamy, able to get rid of even the stubbornest of wrinkles and priced affordably at less than $50, Maytag’s M400 practically had us looking forward to laundry day.
For starters, it takes less than a minute to get to work — and when you’re in a rush to get ready and need something ironed, stat, there’s no better option. Heating up in a lightning-fast 39 seconds, the quickest of all irons we tested, it also features a handy indicator light that turns green to alert you it’s ready.
As with most of the irons tested, this Maytag model features a self-cleaning setting with an anti-calcium system to keep its steam vents wide open and working well and doesn’t leak. It also comes with an automatic three-way shutoff, turning off after 30 seconds when it’s left lying horizontally or on its side and between seven and 10 minutes when it’s left sitting vertically.
It weighs in at a light 3.3 pounds, and the slightly contoured handle is comfortable to hold. We found the simple settings easy to use. A small dial under the handle allows you to set the temperature for four fabric types: nylon/synthetics, silk/wool, cotton or linen. We appreciate the steam burst and spray buttons on the handle, which are easier to press than those on other irons thanks to their soft touch and smaller size. It’s worth noting that the steam control is adjusted via a nifty slide on the handle rather than behind it, as it is with most models, making it simple to switch between no steam, high steam or something in between without having to hunt behind the handle to do so.
The 8-ounce water tank is on the smaller side, but the tank is easy to fill thanks to an extra-large input hole and it gave us about 15 minutes of total steam output, on average, before needing a refill — plenty for most ironing loads and, except for the Rowenta DW9280, a longer time output than the other irons we tested with bigger water tanks. Our biggest nit is the tank cover, which opens at a hinge to fill. Made of flimsy plastic it seems susceptible to breaking off if pulled too hard.
This iron did a great job of de-wrinkling clothes. After the Rowenta Digital Display, it did the best job at making our linen shirt look like it came straight from the dry-cleaner. Since it’s lightweight, combined with its high steam generation and the way it easily glides over fabric, the Maytag saved our upper arms from tiring as we worked. It was also one of the best at getting creases out of jeans, a synthetic shirt and a silk scarf. And, to move from one material to another, such as going from denim (high heat/steam) to silk (low heat/no steam), just slide the steam control to off and adjust the thermostat.
At 1500 watts, it doesn’t deliver the fastest results of the testing bunch, but it puts out a spectacular amount of steam, giving us crisply ironed fabric in just a few minutes.
Agile, easy to fill, comfortable to use, and priced well, the Maytag is an excellent iron that shouldn’t disappoint — a real value for less than $50.
Best high-end clothing iron: Rowenta DW9280 Digital Display Steam Iron ($109.99, originally $149.99; bedbathandbeyond.com)
At a glance, all the irons we tested look fairly similar: in size, shape, general functionality — you, know, the basics.
But after investigating and comparing the details, from settings and build materials to the most important factor — performance getting creases and wrinkles out of fabric — the Rowenta DW9280 simply stands head and shoulders above the rest of the pack.
Plug in this German-designed model and it heats up quickly and is ready to go in a scant 50 seconds, with a handy LED indicator letting you know it’s ready. Like most of the models tested, it has an 8-foot cord and features a three-way auto-shut-off system that kicks in when it’s left untouched for eight minutes in the vertical position or 30 seconds while lying face down or on its side. The DW9280 is also anti-drip, which means the water supply automatically shuts off when the iron isn’t in steam-mode and includes an integrated self-clean function as well as anti-calcium technology.
But at a whopping 1,800 watts of power — the highest of all models we tested — and with an impressive 400 steam holes in its nonstick, stainless steel soleplate, the DW9280 truly wows with its steam output. The DW9280 crushed all our clothing tests with the best performance among all models and in the fastest time.
Weighing a bit more than most models — 3.85 pounds without water — it definitely has some heft, but it doesn’t cross the line into feeling overly heavy. The slight contour of the handle makes it comfortable to hold, allowing it to simply glide over fabric. We never felt like we needed to put any real muscle into using it, even on tough creases.
The standard temperature control dial is placed on the body directly behind the handle with typical settings that range from nylon to linen. But this iron also features an LED display that lets you know when the soleplate has reached the correct temperature for linen, cotton, wool, silk or nylon.
For particularly pesky wrinkles, a cool spray mist button is conveniently located on the back of the handle, making it easy to compress with your index finger while ironing. Unlike other models, Rowenta irons are designed with an elongated tip, which allows for greater exactness when ironing pleats or around buttons, pockets, collars and other tricky areas.
As previously mentioned, this thing puts out serious steam. Most of the models tested have only a fraction of the 400 steam holes found on the Rowenta. Steam comes blasting out, decimating wrinkles and creases in our testing. The iron can be set to dry or steam, and it’s also designed with a “smart steam” motion sensor that turns the steam off when the iron is not moving, saving electricity and water and reducing the likelihood of getting a steam burn on your skin. With a large water tank that can hold nearly 12 ounces, however, needing to refill wasn’t an obstacle during our testing process, as the Rowenta is able to put out nearly 30 minutes of continuous steam. The soleplate’s “precision shot” function gives off an extra concentrated blast of steam at the tip of the soleplate as well. Timing-wise, it took us just over a minute to take a pair of line-dried, balled-up jeans from wrinkled mess to perfectly pressed, and our linen shirt took 2 minutes and 59 seconds, our synthetic blouse took 2 and a half minutes and our silk scarf took a mere 1 minute and 50 seconds. All looked straight-from-the-dry cleaner when we were done.
With a price tag north of $100, this iron isn’t for everyone. But for everyday ironers who have the room in their budget, the DW9280’s features, performance and incredible capacity for producing steam make it a worthy investment.
How we tested
In shopping for a new iron, there are several features to examine. All the models we tested come with an automatic shut-off, meaning if you forget to unplug it or are called away from your chore, the item will turn off after around 10 minutes when left standing up or, generally 30 seconds when lying flat or tipped on its side.
All but one of the irons also come with a self-cleaning and anti-calcification system, which removes any mineral scale from the water that has built up in the iron’s vaporizing chamber. This can help make your iron last longer and work better by keeping the steam vents clear. Most of the irons tested feature a stainless steel soleplate — the underside of the iron that glides across your clothes — which offers even heat, is durable and can be easily wiped down with a damp cloth if needed.
Steam output — which is necessary for getting rid of deep wrinkles and creases — is extremely important in a clothing iron. You definitely want a model that comes with a steam burst button that gives off an extra shot of steam to help smooth clothes faster. Luckily, every model we tested had one. All the models tested also have steam controls that allow you to set the iron to dry (for silk and synthetic fabrics), medium or high (for thicker fabrics like cotton and linen).
Every iron we tested featured temperature control dials to adjust the heat for different types of material. Many also can be used as vertical steamers, but we did not test that feature. Water tanks, of course, are necessary for the iron to create steam, but the maximum volume each iron can accommodate ranges from 4 to 14 ounces. Bigger tanks mean less refilling when you’ve let the ironing really pile up. More water also adds to the iron’s weight, but in our testing we didn’t find those added ounces to make a difference in comfort or function.
After considering these features and searching for bestselling, highly-rated and critically lauded clothing iron options, we narrowed things down to a test group of nine irons receiving great reviews for function, build and overall performance.
We put all of the irons to the test by giving them marks for how well — and how fast — they worked on various pieces of wrinkled or balled-up clothing, including a linen shirt, pair of jeans, synthetic shirt and silk scarf. We also looked at a variety of features, from water tank size to cord length to the number of settings each iron includes. This is a breakdown of exactly how we evaluated each iron:
- How quickly it heats up: We pulled out our stopwatch app and noted how quickly each iron reached its selected temperature (for consistency we chose the iron’s highest heat setting). We also noted whether or not the iron had an indicator to show it was ready for use.
- How well it ironed creases out of clothing: We took notes on how well the iron worked on balled-up linen, a notoriously wrinkly material, jeans, a synthetic, pleated blouse and a silk scarf. We also timed the amount of time it took to iron each item.
- How easy it is to clean: We assessed whether each iron came with a self-cleaning function or built-in anti-calcification system. We also noted how easy it was to clean the soleplate and whether cleaning caused any scratching.
- Auto-off features: We noted whether the iron featured automatic shut-off, paying attention to how long it took for the iron to shut off on its own in various situations.
- Number of settings/buttons/dials: For each iron, we counted the number of features such as variable steam, spray, steam burst, etc., awarding more points for more options.
- Overall build: We assessed the quality of materials used for the soleplate and body of the iron. We also paid attention to each iron’s size, noting how much space it takes up when stored in a closet or cupboard. However, as most irons measured roughly the same in dimensions, size did not end up being a factor in our rankings.
- Tank size/ease to fill: All the irons we tested need to be filled with water to access steam, so we measured not only how much water each tank could hold (more room can mean fewer refills when you’re ironing multiple items) but also how easy it was to fill the tank and whether there was much spill-over or leakage.
- Weight: We used a scale to weigh each iron, generally giving higher scores to lighter models, but also noting whether we had to put much muscle into those irons to release tough creases and leave clothes wrinkle free.
- Comfort of use: We compared the irons in terms of how comfortably they fit in our hand, how easy the controls were to access and adjust and how easy they were to pick up.
- Cord length: For each corded iron, we used a measuring tape to record its length, giving more points to longer cords, which allows more room to maneuver. For cordless models, we measured the cord on the unit’s base. We also noted when cords were retractable and could be stored in the iron or base.
- Leaking: We filled each iron’s water tank to the maximum fill line and looked for any leaking.
How we rated
Based on the testing methods and subcategories listed above, we gave all nine steam irons a score, then combined those numbers for a maximum score in each category. We then totaled those numbers for a final overall score, which were broken down as follows:
- Function had a maximum of 60 points: how quickly it heats up (5 points), how well it irons a balled-up linen shirt (10 points), how well it irons balled-up denim (10 points), how well it irons a balled-up synthetic shirt (10 points), how well it irons a balled-up silk scarf (10 points), how easy it is to clean (5 points), automatic shut-off (5 points), number of settings/buttons/dials (5 points).
- Build had a maximum of 40 points: overall build (10 points), tank size/ease to fill (5 points), weight (5 points), comfort of use (5 points), design (5 points), cord length (5 points), leaking (5 points).
In addition to the overall score, we also factored in the price of each iron, as well as any included warranty (all irons tested include one- or two-year limited warranties).
Other clothing irons we tested
Black+Decker D2030 Digital Advantage Professional Steam Iron ($39.99; bedbathandbeyond.com)
If you’re on the hunt for an iron that takes the guesswork out of temperature control, is lightweight, a snap to use and does a fine job smoothing out wrinkles, Black+Decker’s Digital Advantage is a great option. This model takes a tick longer than others we tested to heat up — about a minute and a half. Although it eventually did a great job, especially on the linen shirt, it took a while to get all the wrinkles out of the clothing tested. But it receives high marks for its performance on jeans and a synthetic blouse, with slightly lower marks for how well it ironed a silk scarf. Lightweight and comfortable to use at 3.3 pounds, we like that it comes with a filler cup for the large 12-ounce water tank and an easy-to-read LCD digital display window that allows you to choose between seven temperature options. We also appreciate that the fabric material descriptions and whether they should be ironed dry or with steam are spelled out on the body of the iron under the handle for reference. At 1,500 watts, it’s not as powerful as the Rowenta, nor does it output steam like the Maytag, but for its affordable price tag and the convenience of its digital display, we recommend it as a great under $50 option.
Rowenta Focus DW5080 Steam Iron (starting at $124.99; amazon.com)
If you’re willing to pay close to $100 for your next iron, we think you’ll be quite pleased with the performance of this 1,700-watt higher-end model from Rowenta. Sleek in its design and featuring the brand’s signature angled and elongated tip (to better navigate around pleats, buttons and the like), this workhorse puts out heavy steam thanks to 400 steam holes in its stainless steel soleplate. Its tank holds 10 ounces of water — which is among the largest of the models we tested — and while it’s one of the heavier irons of the bunch at 3.4 pounds without water added, it’s comfortable to hold and we didn’t need to press hard at all to remove wrinkles from the clothes we tested. Still, for about $10 more, we found Rowenta’s Digital Display Iron to be more user-friendly in its design and more powerful in its ability to eliminate creases and wrinkles.
Pur Steam Professional Grade Steam Iron ($39.99, originally $59.99; amazon.com)
A fine option when you’re looking for an iron priced at less than $50, the Pur Steam, a No. 1 seller on Amazon, gets plenty of five-star reviews from users for its comfort — at 2.2 pounds it was the second-lightest iron we tested — easy-to-use controls and vertical steaming capability. We were very impressed with how this 1,700-watt iron heated up in a super-fast 25 seconds, and appreciate the indicator light that turns green letting you know it’s ready to use. We also like that it has an extra-large 14-ounce water tank, which means you may not need to refill it when ironing several pieces in a row. But although it features a stainless steel soleplate and handy built-in anti-calc feature, it takes longer to iron the items than our winners and doesn’t quite give off the same amount of steam. We also prefer the larger steam/spray buttons on other models and found the small type on the dial harder to read.
CHI Steam Iron for Clothes ($64.99; target.com)
From the brand known for its hair styling tools — especially its ceramic flat irons — comes this steam iron that uses a titanium-infused ceramic soleplate in place of the standard stainless steel one, promising powerful steam and professional results. With 1,700 watts and more than 300 steam holes, it does deliver plenty of steam. We also love its extra-long 10-foot, retractable cord, large 12-ounce water tank and its comfortable-to-hold weight of just under 3 pounds. But the CHI lost points for just average results when it comes to getting creases out of clothes and the fact that we had to really press down on the iron to diminish wrinkles. We also don’t like the placement of the steam dial, situated right under the handle and right above the temperature dial: We accidentally changed the steam dial as we were trying to adjust the temp. For the price, there are better options.
Black+Decker Vitessa ($28.96, originally $34.99; amazon.com)
If you’re looking for an entry-level iron — perhaps for a first apartment or dorm room — this model does a decent job for its low price. The lightest iron we tested — at just 2 pounds — heats up in about one minute and earns extra points for having a retractable cord. But while it does a great job ironing out creases in a pair of jeans with a decent amount of steam output, it did drip a bit as we ironed our linen shirt, and performed a just average job on it as well as on a silk scarf. It did a poor job on the synthetic blouse, leaving wrinkles behind even after several minutes of ironing. It also took about two minutes longer on average to iron all of those items than most of the other models. At 1,200 watts, it lacks the power of other irons we tested and is by far the most difficult one to fill with water. Instead of the usual round input hole, the Vitessa’s water input hole is narrow and rectangular, causing us to spill all over the place. So, for around $20, it’s OK. But for a little more, you can do a lot better.
Panasonic Contoured Cordless Iron ($84.95; amazon.com)
We must admit, we were super-jazzed at the idea of a cordless iron — no wrestling with an annoying cord while trying to get the right angle on a tricky pleat, button or collar, right? We also like that it comes with its own heat-resistant carrying case, making it convenient to store away in a linen closet, even while the iron is still hot. But because it’s not plugged in, it starts to lose its temperature when it’s removed from the base, and there’s no indicator to tell you when it needs to be reheated. We found this to be a pain. First, you need a flat, sturdy surface nearby to set your base on — we had to use the floor — so we were constantly forced to bend down and stand back up again as we ironed. (Bright side: we got a small squat workout in.) It also takes longer than most of the irons tested to heat up at almost two minutes. Even with 1,500 watts, it takes a lot longer to iron all the clothing we tested which is partially due to having to put it back into its base rather than just resting on the ironing board each time we needed to move our garment. While we like that the water tank is removable and easy to fill, it holds just 5 ounces, so refills are likely necessary, causing even more delays in how quickly you can finish your chore. It turned out this wasn’t the iron of our dreams after all.
Panasonic 360-degree Freestyle ($84.60, originally $89.99; amazon.com)
Very similar to the Panasonic Contoured Cordless model, this cordless iron receives pretty much identical reviews. While it is nice to cut the cord, the execution of this technology misses the mark because the iron must be placed back in its base each time you set it down in order to stay heated. With 1,500 watts, it does an average job getting creases out of clothing, but we noted that there isn’t a whole lot of steam output. It also does not come with a self-cleaning option, although it does have an anti-calc system in the water reservoir. We like the touch-button settings, as well as the detachable water tank, but it’s also small, so more refills may be needed. Quilters and crafters, however, who often work with large pieces of fabric, recommend both tested Panasonic versions for their lightness and the fact there’s no cord to get tangled up with, making it easier to maneuver, especially when you’re spending a lot of time at your ironing board.
Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing: