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Buying Guide

Steamer vs. Iron: Which to Choose

Steamer vs. Iron
A hand holding a clothes steamer attachment toward a garment on the left; An iron standing upright on an ironing board to the right.

Your steamer vs. iron choice begins with understanding these two, distinct household appliances.  

A clothes steamer directs a flow of hot steam onto clothing or household items, such as drapery, from a hand-held component connected to a water reservoir. The steam interacts with the fabric to loosen tightened threading and fibers, thus removing wrinkles caused by washing, drying or prolonged bunching. You control the direction of the steam onto a wrinkled area without ever coming into direct contact with the steam or the material.  

An iron is guided along clothing or fabric by moving the appliance's flat, pointed and heated area directly onto material to press and/or steam out wrinkles. Your hand controls the direction of the iron.  

A good rule-of-thumb is that an iron is a small household appliance that offers full control when maneuvering it over a surface. A clothes steamer allows the hot steam to do the wrinkle removal.

When to Choose a Steamer
A woman steaming a sweater.

The benefit of choosing a clothes steamer is its ease of use, flexibility and ability to remove wrinkles from almost any type of fabric, from delicate cashmere to sturdy cottons and wool.  

  • The versatility of a clothes steamer on different fabrics and styles of garments makes it a go-to choice if you enjoy a variety of interesting fabrics in your wardrobe. Think of a satin wedding dress and a cotton tee: Either garment can get wrinkled; a steamer can be used on both. 

  • A standing, vertical steamer typically takes up less space in a room as it eliminates the need for an ironing board to go along with an iron. Instead, clothes are hung on the built-in rack that comes with a vertical clothes steamer or over a door when you use a portable clothes steamer. Steam is then applied to the fabric wherever you choose to hang the garment.

  • A portable, handheld steamer can also be used when traveling and is great for smoothing out wrinkles on pillows, drapes, large pieces of fabric and miscellaneous household items. 

  • If you enjoy delicate fabrics and textures such as cashmere or silk in your wardrobe, choose a steamer. The clothes steamer will not come in direct contact with sensitive materials so you are less likely to ruin a prized garment from too much heat. 

  • Steamers typically heat the water to generate steam to about 200 to 400-degrees. The higher settings are to steam wrinkles out of denser, studier fabrics such as wool and cotton. Cooler settings are used on more fragile fabrics and will not damage cashmere or silks when used correctly. 

  • Clothes steamers are great for working wrinkles out of the intricate areas of garments such as skirt folds and bodices with pleats. 

  • If you prefer to maintain your clothes yourself vs. take them to the dry cleaner, choose a vertical or standing model of steamer with a large-capacity water reservoir. Hanging garments on the rack attached to most vertical steamers keeps them in place as you direct a hand-held wand or brush attachment toward wrinkles. 
When to Choose An Iron
A woman ironing a shirt on an ironing board.

An iron presses out wrinkles from clothes when it is heated and you guide the appliance over a garment by hand. Most models of irons also come with a built-in steam feature. 

  • If you want more control when smoothing out wrinkles on sturdy fabrics such as wool or denim, an iron is the way to go. Using a steam iron also lets you press in precise pleats and crisp creases to clothing or fabrics, making it a must-have for seamstresses and anyone who likes a sharp edge on jeans, trousers, jackets and dress shirts. 

  • You will need an ironing board with a pad to work best with an iron. Spray starch and laundry room essentials help keep clothes wrinkle-free longer after ironing and work beautifully for cottons and linens. 

  • The drawback of an iron over a clothes steamer is that it can burn you or your valued clothing if it gets too hot. 

  • Always monitor the temperature of an iron by choosing from various settings and temperatures found directly on the appliance to avoid scorching. 

  • Pay close attention to heating instructions when using an iron on clothing made with synthetic materials such as polyester, viscose or rayon. 

  • Understand that the iron, no matter what temperature it is heated to, makes direct contact with any fabric you are working with. 
Use Caution When Using a Steamer or An Iron
A man holding an iron.

Whether steaming or ironing for clothes, be aware of where the heated components are in relation to your hands and skin. You never want any heated appliance to make contact with skin. 

  • Keep hands in front of a steamer's head attachment to avoid contact with hot steam. You may want to reach behind the fabric to keep it steady, but steam can come through material and contact skin. 


  • Irons must always be monitored when in use. Make sure fingers don't accidentally brush up along its heated surface or near the steam component at the front of the iron. 


  • Always turn steamers and irons off when you have completed the work. (However, some steamers and irons contain an auto-off option, which will turn off the appliance after a certain amount of time has passed.)


  • Keep children and pets away from any heated household appliance when they are in use. 


  • Steamers and irons are not recommended for leather, suede, waxed suits or anything that might melt when heated. Use a dry cleaning service for those more complex fabrics. 


  • Check your garment's cleaning guidelines on the inside tag before beginning any steaming or ironing work.  

You will find the steaming vs. ironing choice easy when you decide based on your wardrobe and how you manage your time. Both household appliances are a good choice for wrinkle removal. The ease of using them will grow when you see how great you and your clothes look in the mirror.