How to Clean an Iron

an iron on an ironing board

The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija

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. With just a little maintenance, you can keep your iron working well, looking great, and make ironing easier and more productive.

How Often to Clean an Iron

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

The soleplate of an iron should be cleaned anytime you can see a dull film or build-up of any kind on the surface.

Warning

Always be sure that the iron is turned off, unplugged and completely cool before you begin any cleaning process.

How to Unclog a Steam Iron

If you have a steam iron that sputters and leaves mineral-filled or rusty water spots on your clothes, it means the steam vents have become 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

    To get started, mix one-half cup of distilled white vinegar and one-half 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/water mixture from the reservoir.

    Even if you are meticulous about using distilled water every time you iron, you should use the vinegar/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

How to Clean the Surface of an Iron Soleplate

Iron soleplates 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

How to Remove Plastic Melted From Iron Soleplate

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

  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. Scrub the soleplate. 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 slow going and may not remove the plastic completely.

    person removing plastic from fabric
    The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija

Tips to Keep Your Iron Clean Longer

The cost of an iron can vary widely and selecting the right iron for you depends a great deal on how often you iron clothes and linens and the type of things you iron. There are different sizes and features to consider for seamstresses, crafters, and the once-in-a-blue-moon iron users. Once you have purchased an iron, there are a few things that you should do to prevent problems.

  1. Water from your kitchen faucet, even if you have a filtration system, contains minerals and even chemicals that can cause problems with how your iron functions. The minerals can corrode the water reservoir in the iron and ultimately clog the vents or spray rusty water over your freshly cleaned clothes. Always use distilled, bottled water when filling an iron.
  2. 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 and store with the iron soleplate in an upright position.
  3. Storing the cooled iron in an upright position will prevent any leaking of water and it will prevent the soleplate surface from becoming scratched or corroded. Any damage to the soleplate can transfer to your clean clothes.
  4. To protect your soleplate from damage, try to never iron over plastic zippers, metal zippers, snaps, hooks, pins, screen printing or decals without a pressing cloth.