In the world of household appliances, the iron and the ironing board have a tendency to be taken for granted. While the design and features of both the steam iron and its simple companion, the ironing board, have seen many fewer changes than almost any home appliance you can name, they still hold a central place in almost any utility room. While it wouldn’t be fun, it’s still possible to wash your clothes by hand and dry them by hanging them on a line, but it’s not possible to achieve the crisp and unwrinkled appearance that your clothing and linens demand without the services of these unsung heroes of the laundry room.
While there are many variations of features and usability for both irons and ironing boards, their appearance is so universal that a child could immediately draw you a picture of them in use. It’s a very rare household that doesn’t own some form of iron and ironing board, and while advanced in dry cleaning services and wash-and-wear fabrics have diminished the use of ironing equipment somewhat, nothing has come along to make either an iron or ironing board obsolete.
The overall design of both irons and ironing boards is almost unchanged since they first came into widespread use during the Victorian era. An ironing board, sometimes referred to as an ironing table, is generally a narrow, padded metal surface supported on foldable legs that let you stow it away when it’s not in use. Irons have undergone many changes from a simple a slug of iron with a handle that was heated on a stove and then passed over the surface of fabrics to smooth wrinkles; but they’re still basically just an electrified version of the original item. Both the ironing board and steam iron came into widespread use in their modern form around the turn of the twentieth century, and while they’ve become much easier to use and more reliable, they still work in exactly the same way as their predecessors.
Choose From the Three Main Kinds of Ironing Boards
When you’re shopping for ironing boards, there are really only three categories of boards available, and purchasers can choose one or more of them based on their particular ironing needs:
- Tabletop Ironing Boards
- Portable Ironing Boards
- Built-in Ironing Boards
Tabletop ironing boards are the smallest ironing boards you can own. They can be used in cramped quarters and they can be folded up and be stowed away when not in use. The original ironing boards were usually designed for tabletop use, or might be laid across two chairs. Newer versions might fold up even further so that they can be put into a drawer or other small space, making them a favorite for people that travel by RV, often stay in hotel rooms, or have other overriding space restrictions. Workers that deal with garments and other fabrics sometimes favor tabletop ironing boards because they can be moved around and brought almost anywhere. They also make a great second ironing board for users that have another, larger board available where they do a lot of laundry.
Portable ironing boards have legs that fold up so you can stow the board away when it’s not in use, but they’re much sturdier and easier to use than a tabletop board. They usually allow the user to adjust the height of the board so that it’s a comfortable height for working, and some even allow you to work while seated. If you often iron while sitting down, check the minimum height adjustment of a prospective purchase to make sure it’s low enough for you to use comfortably.
Built In ironing boards can be affixed directly to the wall in your laundry room, or even built into the wall so that they’re flush to the wall surface when closed. In some ways, these can be a space saver, because the board takes up less room when not in use than any other models, but even the biggest built-in boards are smaller than even the smallest portable ironing boards, so you might end up with both in your house anyway. A variation on the permanently mounted ironing board is a model that hangs over a door using sturdy brackets. If you’re a renter, or don’t want to permanently affix your built-in ironing board to the wall for any other reason, then this might be the model for you.
More Things to Look for When Shopping for an Ironing Board
Size of the Working Surface
All other things being equal, a larger work surface is almost always preferable to a smaller one. If you have space constraints that don’t allow you to choose a large ironing board, you should still look for the largest work surface that you could find that meets your space requirements. Remember that the length of an ironing board isn’t the only important dimension. Take into account the width of the ironing board as well. If you iron long dresses or linens and curtains, you’ll appreciate the extra wide work surface, along with avoiding having your work trailing on the floor while you’re working on it.
Ironing boards are easiest to use when they’re at waist level. When shopping for an ironing board, check the amount of adjustability it offers so you’ll get a model that suits you, especially if you’re very tall or very short, or if you prefer ironing while you’re seated.
Portable ironing boards need to be sturdy, but if they’re too big and heavy for you to move around comfortably, you won’t be able to take advantage of their portability. Compare the weight of portable ironing boards along with their size and sturdiness when shopping for one for your home.
It’s easier to move around a very light ironing board, but look out for boards that are too lightly built to be safe during use. If an ironing board tips over easily, or collapses suddenly, you could have a significant accident that hurts yourself, a child, or even a pet. Look for a wide, steady base and dependable hardware to get the most from your portable ironing board while staying safe.
What to Look for When Shopping for a Steam Iron
Compared to a generation ago, there are fewer garments and linens that require ironing than ever before. Despite that, sales of steam irons continue to grow. That’s because even though the total quantity of fabrics that require ironing is decreasing, people are still using their irons to give a boost to their everyday appearance by wearing crisply ironed clothing, and by keeping fabrics in their home looking sharp. A steam iron is still one of the first appliances people choose when they first set up a household, and that’s likely to continue into the foreseeable future. Here’s how to shop for this most basic of homegoods:
Choose an Iron for the Type of Fabrics You Iron Often
Almost any modern steam iron will do an adequate job at any ironing chore. That doesn’t mean there’s no difference between them. Look for an iron that suit the work it’s most likely to do. Choose a heavier iron with more steam for tough, thick fabrics like denim or heavy curtains. Choose a lighter iron to glide over bigger items like sheets.
Complexity Doesn’t Always Deliver Superior Results
Steam iron controls are growing ever more complicated at the number of tasks one iron can handle grows. In many cases, simpler might be better if you don’t often use all the bells and whistles on your iron. Look for the most important features for your everyday use, and leave the fancier controls for people that need them. Almost everyone would prefer an easy to read indicator that the water reservoir need refilling, or an easy-to-read dial with all the main setting on it, rather than have to refer to the owner’s manual every time you want to use your iron.
Key Functions to Shop For
- Adjustable Steam – Some fabrics need more steam than others to get satisfactory results, so an iron that delivers plenty of steam can come in handy. Make sure you can turn it off, though; delicate fabrics can be ruined by steam.
- Spray Mist – While steam that exits the iron directly through the soleplate is the heart and soul of any steam iron, when you encounter tough wrinkles, you’ll appreciate being able to mist your ironing with mist, or supply a burst of steam with the press of a button. This function is unexcelled at setting permanent creases in pants or curtains as well.
- Self Cleaning – Every supply of household water contains some amount of minerals. Self cleaning irons prevent the buildup of these minerals inside the iron, which will make it last longer and work better. It’s much less expensive in the long run to purchase a self-cleaning iron than to use distilled water to avoid mineral deposits.
- Auto-Shutoff – A feature that turns your iron off after a certain period of inactivity can give you a lot of peace of mind. A hot iron can be dangerous when left unattended, and even cause a fire.
- Vertical Steam – Many irons now offer the ability to use your iron as a steamer for hanging clothes or draperies.
Steam irons and ironing boards work best when they’re chosen at the same time. Shop for an ironing board that works along with your steam iron to get the best results. A heavy iron on a light board is a recipe for tipping, and a small iron won’t get the most out of a big ironing surface. If you choose wisely then ironing might even become a quick and enjoyable task.