How to clean an iron (the quick & safe way)

Say goodbye to gunk and hello to an iron that glides effortlessly across your clothing

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Some people loathe ironing, while others can find it quite therapeutic (so long as there isn't too much of it). Either way, we can all agree that irons make clothes look great, especially when you want to appear neat, prepared, and put together.

The clean, crisp look that ironing provides is best achieved when the iron itself is also clean. You wouldn’t want to iron clothes with a grimy and sticky iron soleplate; the grime could stick on your clothing, and you might not be able to scratch or wash it all off. 

This is why it’s essential to clean and descale your iron regularly. It’s not that difficult to do, and you don’t need a fancy iron cleaner! Keep reading to learn how to clean an iron using ingredients and supplies that are probably in your home already. But first, what are the signs that it’s time to clean your clothes iron?

Signs your iron needs cleaning

  • You see gummy residue on the iron’s metal plate

  • You notice sticky stains on the clothes you just ironed

  • The iron drags instead of glides on fabric

  • Brownish water is coming out of the steam holes

  • Limescale or chalky white particles are coming out of the iron

How to clean an iron in 10 different ways

getting ready to clean an iron

The best way to clean your iron depends on how bad the situation is. Some experimentation may be necessary, but be sure to review your iron’s user manual first to see if there are specific instructions, warnings, or even details on whether or not your iron has a built-in anti-limescale system.

Once you’re done with that, you can jump into trying the tips below and look forward to having a clean iron plate!

1. Make a cleaning paste using baking soda

Mix baking soda with enough water to create a paste.

Once you have a nice paste, rub it on the soleplate with a soft brush or towel. Let it sit for a while then use water to wipe it away. Make sure that the paste is completely removed and the iron is dry before using it on your clothing.

Related: 10 ways to clean with baking soda

2. Scrunch up some old newspaper to use as a scrub

Before recycling those old newspapers, spare a little to help clean your iron! Just heat the iron to as high as you can, scrunch up some paper, and then scrub the soleplate with it.

It's as simple as that! Just be careful as the iron will be hot, and some sort of protection for your hands (like wearing oven gloves) may be necessary. 

3. Dissolve the grime using acetone nail polish remover

This method will dissolve grime and make it much easier to wipe away for a particularly dirty iron. Once again, you'll have to turn the iron on, heat it up to high, and then soak a cotton ball in some acetone nail polish remover.

From here, dab the wet cotton ball onto the heated soleplate. You'll notice the acetone nail polish will quickly evaporate while dissolving the gunk. When you are finished, wipe the surface with a wet cloth to remove any residue. Then wait until the soleplate is dry before you resume ironing.

4. Wipe with a kitchen sponge

sponge and water for iron soleplate cleaning

Sometimes all your iron requires is a wipe with a non-scratch kitchen sponge or scrubber. Just use soap and water, and wipe the iron with a towel to help it dry completely before use. Easy!

5. Use a few drops of dish detergent

That's right, what's good for your dinner plates is also good for your iron’s plate! Get some water and pour a few drops of liquid dish detergent in, then use a soft rag and wipe away any residue.

6. Use dryer sheets

Yes, dryer sheets are an effective iron cleaner! Rub a slightly warmed-up iron on a few dryer sheets until the gunk detaches itself from your iron.

And yes, this is probably the easiest way to clean an iron!

7. Clean iron with vinegar

This method has been popular for a long time. Use distilled white vinegar on a towel, wiping the soleplate to remove gunk. If the gunk is thick and sticky, you may need to let the soleplate soak for 15 to 30 minutes.

If you want to power up your clean, add a little baking soda to the vinegar and dampen a towel with the mixture. Lay the soaked towel flat and run the iron over the towel for a great clean. Just make sure the iron is off while you do this!

8. Sprinkle some salt

Here’s how to clean an iron with salt: sprinkle a fair amount of salt onto a sheet of paper, then run the warm iron over it. Once done, wipe away the salt with a dry cloth. 

9. Rub toothpaste on the iron soleplate

This may seem a little strange, but if you've ever heard someone ask how to clean a burnt iron with toothpaste, they are not crazy; it works! Rub some toothpaste on the soleplate, and then wipe it off with a damp cloth.

Once again, it's essential to let the iron dry thoroughly before use.

10. Use distilled water to keep steam holes clean

A great way to clean the inside of your iron and the steam holes is by ensuring you don't leave stale water in it for too long. Refill your iron with distilled water every now and then, and set it to the highest heat with a full-steam setting.

You may even have an iron that offers a steam-clean setting, which can achieve a similar result. From here, just let your iron sit and emit steam, which will help to clear the vents. Another method similar to this, or commonly used in conjunction with it, is ironing an old towel allowing the steam to flush the gunk out.

How to descale a steam iron

woman thinking about how to descale team iron

Sometimes, the problem is more about descaling a steam iron rather than cleaning gunk off the soleplate. So, here are some steps to follow to descale iron like a pro: 

  1. Fill the water tank of your iron and turn it on. Some irons with adjustable settings are best set to MAX TEMP and NO STEAM.

  2. When your iron has reached maximum heat, unplug and hold it over the sink with the soleplate in a horizontal position.

  3. Your iron will have a setting that reads CALC CLEAN (or similar) via a button or selector. Press and hold to activate.

  4. Give the iron a gentle shake until it is empty. You will likely see water, steam, and grime coming out of the vents.

  5. Finally, heat the iron and glide it over an old cloth to give the soleplate one last clean. You may need to repeat this process a few times to get all residues.

What not to use when cleaning an iron

Many people are tempted to use things like paper clips or anything hard they can jam into the steam holes or scratch gunk off with. This is a bad idea and should be avoided at all costs! It will more than likely cause unwanted scratches on your soleplate and in the steam holes. 

Don't have time to iron or clean your iron?

Our busy schedule doesn’t always allow us time to clean up serious gunk on an iron. The good news is there are cleaning experts who can help you out. And if you have baskets of clothes waiting for some ironing, why not hire an ironing expert to help carry the load?

Related: How much does a cleaner cost?

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Frequently asked questions

It depends on how bad the buildup of gunk or limescale on your iron has become. If it looks easy to clean, using dry sheets or cleaning with baking soda are two of the best options.

Cleaning once every 2 to 3 months is a good start, but the best answer depends on how often you use your iron. If your iron’s soleplate is gunky with plastic-like residues, clean the plate as soon as possible or at least before using the iron again.

A good alternative is to hire a cleaner for the job.

The black stuff on the bottom of your iron is likely a mix of burnt fabric fibres, dirt, and residues from the spray you use when ironing. This gunk has to be removed ASAP to avoid staining and damaging your clothes.

Drips of brown water coming off of your iron are likely due to gunk buildup in the steam holes, which can be a little trickier to clean.

To clean the steam holes, get a damp cotton swab and dip it in a solution of water and liquid detergent. Then, insert the damp cotton swab into each steam hole for a little scrub. You can also use a toothbrush or pipe cleaner as a handy tool for cleaning the steam vents.

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