How to Clean an Iron Soleplate and Steam Vents

an iron on an ironing board

The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hr, 15 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Ironing isn't usually on the top of anyone's list of fun things to do, and it can be even worse if your iron is sticking to the fabric or spraying dirty water. If you begin your task with a sturdy, versatile iron like the Black+Decker Variable Steam Compact Iron and with just a little maintenance, you can keep your iron working well, looking great, and make ironing easier and more productive. There's even a way to remove accidentally melted plastic from your iron or from the fabric you were ironing.

How Often to Clean an Iron

A schedule for cleaning an iron is highly dependent on how often you use the iron and the products you use (starch or sizing) each time. However, an iron should be flushed to remove mineral deposits at least seasonally.

Clean the soleplate of an iron when you see a dull film or build-up on the surface. Always be sure that the iron is turned off, unplugged, and completely cool before you begin any cleaning process.


Click Play to Learn How to Properly Clean Your Iron

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Large bowl
  • Shallow pan
  • Freezer


  • Toothpick (wood or plastic) or old toothbrush
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Distilled water
  • Table salt or baking soda
  • Ice cubes
  • Plastic knife or old credit card
  • White cloth


Unclogging the Steam Vents

If you have a steam iron that sputters and leaves mineral-filled or rusty water spots on your clothes, it means the steam vents are clogged and the iron needs a good cleaning.

You can purchase commercial steam iron cleaning products that promise to dissolve the clogs, but some iron manufacturers will void the warranty if you use them. They can be harsh and cause additional damage. The best thing to use is distilled white vinegar. It is more gentle and less expensive.

  1. Mix the Cleaning Solution

    Mix a 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar and 1/2 cup of distilled water. Pour the mixture into a cool, unplugged iron.

    person pouring cleaning solution into an iron
    The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija
  2. Inspect the Steam Ducts

    With the iron in an upright position on a sturdy surface, inspect the steam ducts. If you can see any white residue in the holes, use a wood or plastic toothpick or old toothbrush to clear away build-up. Never use anything metal that could scratch the soleplate.

    person using an old toothbrush to clean an iron
    The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija
  3. Heat the Iron to Create Steam

    Next, plug in the iron, turn it on, and set it to the steam feature. Allow the iron to heat for at least five minutes. Depress the steam button and hold for 20 to 30 seconds or until steam flows out freely. Do this at least six times. 

    person heating up an iron
    The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija
  4. Cool and Empty the Iron

    Turn off the iron, unplug it, and allow the iron to cool completely. After cooling, empty any remaining vinegar and water mixture from the iron's reservoir.

    Even if you are meticulous about using distilled water every time you iron, you should use the vinegar and distilled water mixture every few months to keep your iron steaming at its best.

    person emptying out any cleaning solution from the iron
    The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija

Cleaning the Iron's Soleplate

The iron's soleplate should never be scrubbed with anything harsh that can cause scratching. Once the finish is marred, it is nearly impossible to prevent rusting or staining. The soleplate can get gummy and soiled by starch or sizing residue and should be cleaned regularly.

  1. Mix a Cleaning Solution

    Mix table salt or baking soda with a bit of distilled white vinegar to make a paste. If you choose baking soda, the vinegar will cause it to foam so mix in a bowl large enough to contain the foam.

    person mixing vinegar with baking soda
    The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija
  2. Scrub the Soleplate

    Dip a clean white cloth into the mixture and use it to scrub the soleplate. Some areas will need a bit of elbow grease to remove the grime. For really stuck-on build-up, allow the paste to sit for at least 10 minutes before scrubbing.

    person cleaning an iron with baking soda and vinegar paste
    The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija
  3. Rinse the Soleplate

    Rinse the soleplate by using a clean white cloth dipped in clear water.

    person wiping off the baking soda mix with a cloth dipped in water
    The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija

Removing Melted Plastic From the Soleplate

If something plastic has melted onto your iron, it must be removed or it will transfer to the next garment you iron and damage the fabric in the process.

  1. Freeze the Plastic

    Unplug and cool the iron. Fill a shallow pan with ice cubes and place the melted plastic-stained part of the iron on the ice. Let it sit for five to 10 minutes to harden the plastic.

    person placing an iron into a shallow dish of ice cubes
    The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija
  2. Scrape Away the Plastic

    Use a blunt plastic knife or the edge of an old credit card to scrape away the hardened plastic.

    person using an old credit to scrape debris off of an iron
    The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija
  3. Clean the Soleplate

    Mix table salt or baking soda with a bit of distilled white vinegar to make a paste. Gently scrub the soleplate to remove any plastic remnants left on the surface. Rinse with a clean cloth dipped in fresh water.

    person applying baking soda paste to an iron
    The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija
  4. Remove Melted Plastic From Fabrics

    If the plastic has transferred to the clothes you're ironing, place the fabric in the freezer for at least one hour. Use the same technique of a dull plastic knife to gently scrape away the plastic. This will be a slow process and may not remove the plastic completely.

    person removing plastic from fabric
    The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija

Tips to Keep Your Iron Clean Longer

  • Tap water (even if it's filtered) contains minerals that can clog, corrode, and damage the iron, resulting in rusty water spraying your clean clothes. Always use distilled, bottled water when filling an iron.
  • The iron's water reservoir should be filled when the iron is cool and before it is plugged in.
  • After ironing, when the iron has cooled, empty the reservoir before storing the iron. This is especially important if you don't iron frequently. Use a clean cloth to wipe away any exterior moisture.
  • Storing the cooled iron in an upright position (with the soleplate up) will prevent any leaking of water and it will prevent the soleplate surface from becoming scratched or corroded.
  • To protect your soleplate from damage, try to never iron over plastic zippers, metal zippers, snaps, hooks, pins, screen printing, or decals without using a pressing cloth.
  • How do you clean a burnt iron?

    A paste of vinegar and baking soda can be effective to clean burnt marks off an iron. It should then be rinsed with a cloth dipped in plain water.

  • How do you clean a burnt iron with toothpaste?

    Non-gel toothpaste can be buffed onto an iron to help remove burnt marks. The paste’s slightly abrasive nature helps to polish the marks away without damaging the plate.

  • Why is my iron spitting out brown stuff?

    If your iron’s steam function is leaving brown spots on your clothing, it’s time to clean the steam vents and water reservoir. Run a white vinegar-water solution through the reservoir until you see steam flowing properly.