Freshly ironed clothing looks pretty great: clean, crisp and tidy. In theory, ironing is great and once you get started it’s not even that bad, but it’s also cumbersome and something that a lot of people tend to put off. Plus, you may be a little scared of ruining your favourite shirt or dress.
If you have questions about ironing, you’re in the right place. Here, we’ll break it down into the three simplest, most common cases: Shirts, pants and skirts. Some fabric types might need special attention, but other than that it’s all pretty much the same.
What you’ll need:
A clean iron (without rust or burnt starch, because that ruins clothes!)
An ironing board
A bit of water, preferably in a spray bottle
Some light starch (if you like to use it)
Yes, an ironing board really is necessary. “Any old flat surface” can do in a pinch, but that’s more of an emergency measure than anything else. Ironing boards are specially made to make the job easier, but more than that, they’re wrapped in special material that’s not only flame retardant, but also breathable so that steam is able to escape from underneath the item you’re ironing.
Ironing shirts is quicker and easier than you might think. Like T.M. Lewin says in the video above, it should only take an average of three minutes to properly iron a shirt, and that’s doing it the right way.
It’s best to start with the sleeves, since they’ll be just fine hanging off the sides of the ironing board while you finish the rest of the shirt. Doing it the other way around, and leaving the sleeves for last, will end up causing wrinkles in other parts of the shirt that you’ve already ironed.
Open the cuffs! This is something that many ironing newcomers get wrong all the time, but it’s not just easier to open the cuffs and lay them flat, but it lets you do a better job ironing the whole sleeve, too.
When doing the collar of the shirt, make sure you open it up and lay it flat. Just like the cuffs, people tend to think that this is opposite of what they should do, since they’re used to seeing the collar in the down position at all times.
Afterwards, let the shirt hang for a few minutes to fully cool down. Ironing heats the fabric to a very high relative temperature, and the “flatness” actually sets in during the cool-down phase, so wearing it immediately could negate some of the hard work you just put into ironing it in the first place.
There’s a reason people say “press” instead of “iron” for pants. Even though you’ll still be using an iron, it’s gentle pressure and steam that are going to do the work, not so much the motion and heat of the iron itself.
If you’ve lost your main crease, finding it again is easy. Just lay the pants flat on the ironing board, and line up the seams of the leg to match. The crease is as far from those seams as the fabric goes.
The crease should go all the way up the leg, stopping at about six inches below the waist. If there are pleats, then the crease can go all the way to the pleat. Always set the front crease first.
If you’ve pressed in a crease, the pants should hang by the waistband for at least an hour or two to set. If you don’t put creases in your pants, don’t worry about it! Just give them a few minutes to cool.
For most skirts, it’s as simple as starting at the top and working your way down. An exception would be for skirts that flare out suddenly at the bottom, with what are called “flounces.” For flounced skirts, you’d want to start at the bottom, and iron each flounce first, then work your way up toward the waist. Basically, skirts are just plain easy—you just need to be careful about the fabric.
Use the right heat for the right fabrics
Fabrics like silk and polyester both need special attention, because it doesn’t take much to ruin them with an iron. For either one, make sure you’re always using the lowest setting your iron has. Though it’s not required, you should also use a barrier cloth made of linen (something like baking paper also works pretty well). Linen is used instead of cotton because it doesn’t shed lint, and it’s very breathable—which allows steam to pass through it.
Use the medium setting for wool and rayon, while keeping the iron set to high heat for cotton and linen. If you’re unsure about the fabric type you’re about to iron, go one step below just to be safe. If the wrinkles aren’t coming out, then you can try lightly ironing on a higher setting.
Getting wrinkles out in a pinch (without an iron)
Sometimes you just don’t have time to sit and actually iron something, or you might not even have an iron readily available and just can’t find one. In those cases, there are a couple of tricks that can get you by without much of a headache.
Use the shower: As funny as it sounds, hanging your clothes up directly outside the shower curtain or door while running hot water is actually a very easy way to get rid of most of the wrinkles in your clothing. The only problem with this method is that clothes can get soaked pretty easily with one wrong splash, and creases that were there on purpose will likely disappear soon afterwards.
Water spritzing: Using a spray bottle is already a trick used during ironing to help get steam deeper into fabric, but if you don’t have an iron around and need to get rid of some serious wrinkles, just using the water itself can help you out immensely. The best way to do something like this would be to also make use of something flat and heavy, like a phone book. Spray some water on the wrinkled area, rub it in gently, and try to flatten it by pressing the book down over it on a flat table. Don’t hold it too long, though, or you may be causing a whole new set of wrinkles near by.
Use the dryer: If you’ve got a good half hour to spare, you can spray heavy amounts of water on the wrinkled item, and throw it in the dryer for a quick and hot tumble. The trick here is to pull it out of the dryer while it’s still hot—then either put it on or hang it up immediately. Nearly all the wrinkles can be taken out of a single item this way. You can also throw in a few ice cubes instead of spraying the clothing with water ahead of time.
This story was originally published in 2011 and was updated on 11/19/19 to provide more thorough and current information.