Selecting iron settings and ironing clothes has scientific methodology behind the process. Ironing is an important part of wearing clothes and the end result of dressmaking depends on being able to iron at each construction step for a perfect finish. Clothing in your closet, unless it is a permanent press or completely synthetic type of fabric, will need ironing. Check the laundry symbols on your garments to find ironing instructions and then be read this article to know what your iron’s settings mean.
It is interesting to know about how ironing actually works, and why we iron clothing. Before the age of electricity, irons were heated with coals and were very cumbersome. The iron has had different names since it was first invented in 1882. It has been known as a smoothing iron, flat iron, clothes iron and steam iron. You needed to be a weight lifter to get those first irons up and onto the fabric. Today we have sophisticated irons with different temperature controls and steam settings to get the best results for our wrinkled items.
How Does Ironing Work?
The process of ironing is linked to the loosening of the polymer molecules in the fabric fibers. These fibers become loose under the heat of the iron and are straightened by the weight of the iron. When the item cools down it keeps its new straightened shape. Some fabrics like cotton need water or steam to loosen the molecules.
Starting to Iron
Before you start to iron it is a good idea to sort your ironing into fabric categories and iron the items needing a cool iron first. This puts less strain on the iron as you can raise the temperature from cool to warm and then to hotter settings. If you make a mistake and iron hotter temperatures first, always wait 5-10 minutes for it to cool down before ironing something with a lower temperature.
Make sure your iron is clean and have a presser cloth ready for delicate fabrics. If your iron looks marked or dirty, read my article on how to clean an iron. The last thing you want to do is to put dirty marks on your garments.
PRESSING CLOTHS - One of the most useful items for ironing is a pressing cloth. These cotton cloths can be purchased or alternatively, use a simple piece of scrap cotton you have at home. Putting a pressing cloth between the garment and the iron can prevent scorch marks and protect delicate clothing. Some fabrics become shiny when ironed and this can help alleviate this problem.
Ideally, you will have an ironing board to start ironing but if you don't, find a hard surface like a table and put a thick towel on top. Soft surfaces like carpets are generally not great for ironing as you can't get much pressure to remove the wrinkles.
Clothing labels and laundry symbols have iron symbols and these are an essential guide to your choice of ironing temperature. You do not want to spoil a garment by ironing without checking for this important symbol.
Here are the ironing symbols used on labels:
- No dots - Use an iron. This means you can iron the item at any temperature and use steam. You will often see this symbol on cotton fabrics.
- One dot – Use a cool iron with a maximum sole plate temperature of 1100C (230F). It may not be advisable to steam iron this fabric.
- Two dots - Use a warm iron with a maximum sole plate temperature of 1500C (300F).
- Three dots – Use a hot iron with a maximum sole plate temperature of 2000C (390F).
- Crossed out iron – Do not iron or steam iron. This is for fabrics that will damage or melt when touched by an iron.
- Crossed out lines underneath the iron - Do no use steam as it may cause marks on the fabric.
Iron Settings For Temperatures
The symbols on the fabric label will guide your decision as to the correct temperature settings, but it also helps to have an idea of the temperatures recommended for different types of fabrics.
This is especially helpful to dressmakers because when you buy a piece of fabric it may not necessarily come with a label outlining the correct ironing temperatures. You could check on the bolt when you purchase the fabric, but generally speaking, you will have your fabric cut and taken home without the label.
Here is a guide to the temperatures recommended for different fabrics:
- Acetate 1430C (290F)
- Acrylic 1350C (275F)
- Cotton 2040C (400F)
- Linen. 2300C (445F)
- Nylon 1350 C (275F)
- Polyester 1480C (300F)
- Silk 1480C (300F)
- Spandex or lycra 1350C (275F)
- Triacetate 2000C (390F)
- Viscose or Rayon 1900C (375F)
- Wool 1480C (300F)
Iron Settings Dial
Instead of having temperatures, your iron dial may just list the types of fabrics.
This makes it much easier if your fabric matches but you may have to refer to the above list if a fabric is not listed on the dial. Just find a similar temperature fabric. The nylon setting is usually the lowest temperature setting and linen is generally the highest.
The order on most dials from lowest to highest is:
- Nylon - LOW
- Wool - MEDIUM
- Linen - HIGH
Here are some ironing tips for different types of fabrics:
COTTONS - For thicker cotton fabrics, you can iron while the item is still slightly damp.
BEADED ITEMS - As well as using a pressing cloth, put a thick towel on the ironing board. Place the fabric beads face down on the towel and then place the pressing cloth on top. Iron on a very low setting while being careful not to press too hard.
LACE - Always use a pressing cloth as the tip of the iron may snag the delicate lace or get caught in one of the holes.
LINEN - Like cotton, linen can be ironed while the fabric is still damp. Linen will need a very hot iron to get wrinkles out. Hang your item up immediately after ironing as linen is a wrinkle magnet.
RAYON - This semi-natural fabric can become shiny if the iron touches it directly. Use a pressing cloth and iron on the back of the garment.
SATIN - Iron on the wrong side of the item and don't forget your pressing cloth. Satin marks easily with water and steam so keep it all dry.
SEQUINS - You should not iron sequins. They are often metal or plastic and don't like heat. You could try applying steam without touching the iron to the surface but these items often have a dry clean only label so check carefully.
SILK - Silk is delicate and must be treated with care. Press on the wrong side and use a pressing cloth. Do not use water or steam as it will leave marks.
SYNTHETICS/POLYESTER - Man-made fabrics have low melting points and extra care must be taken when ironing. Ensure the iron is on a low setting and use a pressing cloth so you do not melt the fabric. Consider if there is a better method of removing the wrinkles such as putting the item in the bathroom when you have a hot shower and letting the steam in the air do all the hard work for you.
VELVET - Velvet has a nap on the outside and is usually smooth on the back. Turn the item to the wrong side and simply apply some steam without touching the plate of the iron to the fabric. Because this is a delicate fabric that can be made from cotton, polyester or even silk, make sure you check the laundry symbol label very carefully first.
WOOL - Be aware that wool can shrink when heat is applied so proceed carefully. Use a pressing cloth and make sure the iron is on a low setting. It is best to iron on the wrong side in case any shiny marks are created.
Iron Settings with Steam
Many irons have a steam feature. The iron is fitted with a small water container that you fill as and when you need to steam a garment or a portion of it in the case of dressmaking. Steam allows the portion of ironing where it is applied to be set firmly and presses out wrinkles too.
Check the label for the ironing instructions as it may specify whether steam can be applied or not.
The steam setting on your iron may have a button feature allowing the iron to blow steam out on specific areas as you iron. The steam may continually come through holes in the soleplate of the iron. Always use clean, distilled or pre-boiled water to fill the water container of the steam iron. Water from the tap may have impurities and can stain your garment particularly if it is a lighter color.
Alternatives to Using a Steam Function
If your iron doesn't have a steam setting or if it is broken, a spray water bottle is a great alternative. I often use a spray water bottle for sewing since the iron will be on for a long period of time and I don't want to have to keep refilling the water reserve.
Alternatives to Ironing
If your fabric is delicate you may be looking for another way to remove wrinkles.
- After washing, hang the item on a hanger to dry. This will result in a minimal amount of wrinkles.
- If your item can be tumble dried, remove it from the dryer while still slightly damp then hang on a hanger immediately to finish drying.
- Have a lovely hot shower to relax and put your wrinkled item on a hanger in the bathroom. The steam in the air will relax many fabrics without you having to iron.
Iron Settings - In Conclusion
Ironing has revolutionized the clothing industry. Providing the right iron settings, symbols and guidelines is a really helpful feature. There is nothing worse than spoiling a beautiful piece of fabric or a brand new item of clothing with a scorching iron at the wrong temperature. Knowing your ironing symbols, and remembering to iron with care, can avoid some accidents with the iron and preserve your clothing.