How to clean an iron: Easy ways to get rid of marks, scales, and general gunk

Kate Hilpern
1 Jun 2018

Smooth out the crinkles in your grimy iron’s performance using these simple methods

If your iron has started to splutter water, or leave chalky white deposits on your clothes – or if it just doesn’t work as well as it used to – it’s almost certainly in need of a clean. Here’s our guide to the best, most effective ways to clean your iron, and the top products that will leave your iron sparkling clean and working as well as the day you bought it.

How can I tell when my iron needs cleaning?

Your iron needs cleaning when any of the following occur:

  • The iron leaves chalky white deposits (limescale) on your clothes
  • The iron leaves marks and stains on the fabric
  • There is a sticky layer of gunk on the soleplate
  • The iron starts dragging instead of gliding
  • It’s three months since you last cleaned it

Of course, if you only do the ironing once in a blue moon often then you don’t need to religiously clean your iron four times a year. Conversely, if you iron mountains of clothes every week, you may need to do it more frequently.

READ NEXT: Best steam generator irons

What parts of my iron should I clean?

With irons, there are three different parts to clean separately – the soleplate, the steam vents and the inside. When cleaning the soleplate, the important thing is not to use abrasive cleaners – these will destroy its delicate coating. Here’s some safer approaches that work well:

  • Turn the iron onto low, then wipe the soleplate with a clean damp cloth
  • Turn the iron onto low, then wipe the soleplate with tumble dryer sheets (you’ll need to use a few at once)
  • Apply commercial soleplate cleaner cream – see our recommendations below
  • Rub a bit of white toothpaste onto the cold soleplate, then wipe off with a damp cloth
  • Mix together one tablespoon of water (filtered or distilled if possible) with two tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda; apply the mixture directly to the soleplate with a finger or a spatula, leave it for a few minutes, then wipe off with a clean wet cloth
  • Mix together equal quantities of salt and white vinegar, then heat to dissolve the salt. Rub the mixture onto the bottom of your iron with a cotton cloth, then finish by wiping with a clean cloth

How do I clean clogged steam vents?

Vents can be easily cleaned with a cotton bud: simply dip it into some fresh distilled water and clean out each steam hole in turn. For a more thorough clean, use a mixture of equal parts water and vinegar – not forgetting to wipe the vents clean afterwards. Depending on how much gunk is in your steam holes, you might need to use multiple buds.

How do I clean the inside of my iron?

Most irons have a self-clean or anti-calc setting – check your manual to see how often these need running, carefully following the instructions.

Alternatively, empty out any water left in your iron and pour in distilled or filtered water until it’s a third full. Then, turn the iron onto its highest setting, with the steam setting on, and wait for all the sediment to be flushed out.

Finish by ironing a clean cloth or piece of kitchen towel for a few minutes, to catch any last bits of gunk that might drip out. If your iron has a manual steam button, press it repeatedly to clear out the system as thoroughly as possible.

As with steam holes, you can also use a mixture of water and white vinegar – although note that some types of iron specifically advise against this. If you’re using a vinegar mixture, turn the iron onto a medium heat and let it steam for five to ten minutes until the liquid has all been expelled; then refill it with fresh water and turn on the iron again to flush the system, and finish by ironing a clean cloth as above.

Should I clean my steam generator iron in the same way?

You can clean the soleplate of a steam generator iron in the same way as a regular steam iron – but most have built-in systems for cleaning the insides, so check the instructions and be sure to thoroughly rinse out the tank with distilled water.

How do I clean a scorched soleplate?

Unplug your iron immediately and remove the scorched fabric from the soleplate as best you can. If there’s any melted material stuck to the soleplate, wait until it cools, then try to pull it off with tweezers.

To remove marks, heat up some white vinegar, then dip a clean cloth into it and gently wipe the scorched sole plate until the marks are gone. Finish by cleaning off the surface with a cloth dipped in water. If this doesn’t get rid of stubborn marks, try dissolving a few teaspoons of table salt or bicarbonate of soda into the hot white vinegar.

How can I take better care of my iron?

It’s easy to minimise the build-up of limescale deposits: just be sure to empty out the water chamber each time you've finished ironing. 

Best products for cleaning an iron

Faultless Hot Iron Soleplate Cleaner Cream: Best soleplate cleaning cream

Price: £6.99 | Buy now from Lakeland

Commercial soleplate cleaning products can be hit and miss – but this non-abrasive cream, which hails from the USA, was a clear winner among our testers. It’s quick and easy to use and successfully gets rid of sticky residue, as well as stopping any dragging. You can use it on all metal, Teflon and Silverstone coated soleplates – just be ready with a clean, pure cotton tea towel that you’re prepared to throw away, and be warned that it might take a few repetitions to get rid of the most stubborn marks.

Buy now from Lakeland

Prym Iron Cleaner: Best soleplate-cleaning stick

Price: £6.99 | Buy now from Amazon

This soleplate-cleaning stick has an odd tendency to melt like wax – you’ll want a piece of kitchen towel or old newspaper ready to catch the mess. Even so, it works fantastically. You simply heat up the iron to non-steam level two, rub the stick on the soleplate, then wipe with a clean tea towel until clean. Finally, put the iron on its steam setting and test it on an old tea towel a few times before you turn it loose on your clothes. The stick is suitable for all types of irons, and ticks all the boxes in terms of getting rid of sticky residue, dirt, limescale and even scorch marks. Our only caveats: it’s pretty stinky, and the instructions could be clearer.

Ecozone Kettle and Iron Descaler: Best iron descaler

Price: £6.99 | Buy now from John Lewis

This impressive descaler restored an iron that had completely stopped steaming to full working order in under half an hour. It’s easy to use too, and very affordable. Especially good for hard water areas, this product can also be used on kettles – and we like the fact that it’s environmentally friendly, BUAV approved, not tested on animals and approved by the Vegan Society.

Buy now from John Lewis

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