Ironing is becoming something of a lost art. Wrinkle free clothes are becoming more popular, and professional pressing courtesy of a dry cleaner is preferred for formal occasions. However, there still comes a time when having an iron and ironing board still comes in handy for presenting a neat professional appearance.

In the following excerpt from Household Magic the authors Joan and Lydia Wilen discuss how to iron clothes, and provide a few professional tips and tricks for different fabrics to get your clothes looking their best before you head out for the day, an event, or date night.


At the end of the 1800s, women would iron their family’s clothes using heavy irons that were heated near an open fire or on the stove. As you can imagine, the handles became red-hot and hands were burned. So…back to the drawing board.

Next came wooden handles and brass hot boxes that were fueled by charcoal and placed in the body of the iron, then lit. OK, so they sometimes caught on fire or simply exploded. Gas irons were the new-and-improved models to replace them. Talk about dangerous…! And this went on well into the 20th century.

We’re telling you all this so that you’ll appreciate the sleek and SAFE irons of today and will regard ironing as a pleasant chore…a task that might be made a bit easier and more efficient with the following hints.

Prepping Your Clothes

Dampen your clothes with warm water—rather than cold—which will help to make ironing faster and more efficient.

Frozen and Fresh-Pressed

 If you have already dampened your clothes but have to put off ironing them, put them in a plastic bag and place the bag in the freezer. Doing this prevents mildew, and when you are ready to iron, you won’t have to redampen them. You may have to thaw them out a bit, but otherwise they’re good to go.

Supercharge Your Iron

Place one sheet of aluminum foil—uncoated, shiny side up—between the ironing board and the fabric ironing-board cover. As a result of the foil reflecting the heat from the iron, the ironing gets done faster and better.

All the Right Moves

Go with the grain of the fabric, using a back-and-forth motion to iron. A circular motion may stretch the fabric.

Keep the iron in constant motion without rushing. After completing a section of the garment, lift the iron and wait about 10 seconds… enough time to let the press set.

CAUTION: Do not iron stained clothes. The heat from the iron can set the stain permanently

Shine Prevention

Dark cottons, linens, rayons and silks should all be ironed inside out. Cover delicate fabrics with a sheet of tissue paper and use a cool iron.

Velvet and Velveteen

Do not iron directly on velvet or velveteen. Instead, use a pressing cloth (available at most supermarkets and hardware stores). Wet the pressing cloth, place it on the velvet and start ironing. Expect to hear a sizzling sound.

NOTE: For a pressing-cloth substitute in a pinch…cut a panel out of a brown, paper grocery bag, moisten it and use it as you would the pressing cloth.

Ironing Sleeves

Slide a small rolled-up towel into the sleeve, and you may be able to iron it without creating a terrible-looking sleeve crease.

Use a Broom to Sweep Up

To avoid sweeping the floor with clean clothes that you’re ironing, use spring-type clothespins to shorten the hanging-down factor of shirt or blouse sleeves, full-skirt hems, tablecloths and scarf ends.

Pucker Prevention

Iron your cuffs, collars and hemlines on the underside first, gently pulling and stretching the fabric away from the iron.

Unsticking the Iron

If the underside of your iron is sticky, wait until it’s cool (very important!), then put some baby powder on a cloth and coat the iron’s bottom. Once it’s coated with powder, turn on the heat and watch the powder disappear.

At this point, the iron should no longer be sticky. It should glide over silks and other delicate, catchy, clingy fabrics. To be sure, test the iron on an inconspicuous part of any delicate garment that needs to be pressed.

Scorch Prevention

If you don’t want to risk scorching a special, potentially scorchable garment, carefully iron the item between two pieces of aluminum foil.

Pleats You can use spring-type clothespins, bobby pins or the old hair-setting clips to hold pleats in place at the waist and/or hemline. Once you have ironed most of the pleats, just remove the holders and complete the job by ironing the waist/hemline.


Cleaning the Water Tank

If you use a good ol’ steam iron, you may need to clean out the built-up mineral deposits, which can create stains on clothes.

Mix 1 ⁄2 cup of distilled white vinegar with 1 ⁄2 cup of water (use distilled water if possible) and fill your iron with it. Let the iron steam until all of the liquid is gone. Once it cools down, rinse the iron’s tank with water, and refill it with water. This time, shake the water through the steam holes. Before using the steam iron on wearable clothes, test it on an old cloth.

CAUTION: Do not put your face or your hands in the path of the escaping steam

Cleaning the Holes

When the steam iron is cold and unplugged, dip a small, fuzzy pipe cleaner in distilled white vinegar to clean its holes.

Mineral Deposit Prevention

◆ Here’s a really easy way to prevent mineral deposits from forming—before ironing, put distilled water in the iron’s water tank.

◆ If you do not use distilled water, then each time you finish ironing, while the iron is still warm, empty the water tank. Any remaining moisture will evaporate, thanks to the iron’s heat. And, as long as there’s no water left in the tank, there will be no mineral deposits — and no damaging spots on clothes.

Clean Off Starch

To clean starch off the bottom of an iron, heat the iron and then run it over a piece of aluminum foil several times.

Filling a Steam Iron

Prevent water spills by using a turkey baster to fill the steam iron’s water tank.

Create a Permanent Crease

Put distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle. Lay out the pant leg on the ironing board, arranging the crease exactly where you want it. Spray the crease with the vinegar, then iron it. Let it set for several seconds and do the other side, then the other leg.


Always iron around buttons, never over them. Otherwise, they may melt…they may break… they may discolor.

For additional tips and other advice for you and your home, purchase Household Magic from

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