We’ve been asked time and time again – what is the different between ironing your clothes and steaming them? It’s a very common inquiry. A lot of people don’t seem to understand what makes one better than the other. While both processes are technically similar, the way an iron works and the way a steamer works is entirely different.
Today, we’re going to go over the biggest differences in these two methods of getting wrinkles out of clothes. We’ll be talking about their origins, the machines used for each method, and more. This way you can find out exactly what sets them apart and determine for yourself which one is the better choice.
Ironing vs Steaming
Ironing and steaming vary in a few ways. The biggest is the general way in which each one works. With an iron, for example, heat is distributed through a flat piece of metal which is pressed against fabrics to smooth them out. A steamer, on the other hand, works by heating water up to a high enough temperature that it converts to steam. The steam is then directed at clothing to release wrinkles.
This is the biggest difference, but it is not the ONLY difference. Below we’re going to talk more about each method.
The Art of Ironing
Ironing is the most common and traditional way to smooth out shirts, pants, suits, dresses, and more. It’s quite the archaic practice, though. It dates all the way back to the mid 1800s! That’s just what we know, too. Theories suggest heating a piece of iron and using it to smooth clothes originated in China long before the 1800s.
In other words… it’s a very, very old method.
The electric iron, the device we’re used to having in our linen closets today, was actually invented in 1882 by a man named Henry Seeley. Yes, that’s right, we’ve been using essentially the exact same technology for nearly 200 years.
Ironing is rather effective, though. It’s just also a major pain. You have to deal with tripping and
Old Electric Iron
stumbling over short power cords, burning your hands or fingers accidentally on the piping hot surface, pulling out a cumbersome ironing board, etc.
On top of all that irons also tend to leave odd marks and discolorations on garments. This is mainly from the buildup of oils on either the iron or the clothes themselves. It also comes from using starch. Plus, if left on a single area a bit too long, you can completely ruin your favorite pieces of clothing.
Clothing irons are available from practically any home company. They range in price from a mere $10 to $100 or higher depending on the make and model. Some incorporate a steam function, but they are not nearly as powerful or effective as an actual steamer.
The Rise of Steam
Using steam to get rid of wrinkles in garments has actually been around longer than most think. The process was originally developed by the Jiffy Steamer company back in 1940. Until recently, however, fabric steamers were mostly used in commercial and small business, not in the home.
Steamers use heating elements to bring water up to high temperatures that convert the liquid into a cloud of steam. The steam is then funneled through a hose to a hand unit which is directed directly at clothing.
While the process may seem similar to ironing, it’s actually quite different. Irons actually use heat to flatten clothes. Steamers, on the other hand, use heated water to help relax fibers, releasing wrinkles without ever actually touching the fabric. This process is much gentler and faster than ironing. Plus, it completely eliminates the possibilities of scorching or staining.
Floor models have been used for many years in tailor shops and clothing retailers to make clothes look cleanly pressed and high-quality to encourage sales. They are just now becoming popular for home use. More portable versions, often referred to as travel or handheld steamers, are also becoming hot items to use both at home and while on the go.
Fabric steamers are available from a number of companies including Conair, Shark, Norelco, SteamFast, PurSteam, Emerson, Emjoi, and more. Different models cost different prices. Travel sized steamers typically run anywhere from $30 to $50 or more. Full-sized garment steamers typically cost $50 to $100 or more.
Buy a Steamer
Looking to purchase a garment steamer of your own? Well, there are plenty to choose from. Below we’ve provided a list of the most popular and effective floor and travel steamers on the market today. Each link will take you to a full review of the product.
NOTE: This is not an exhaustive list. There are tons of other steamers available. The ones listed above are generally the best models to buy based on performance and price.