To help us provide you with free impartial advice, we may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site. Learn more

How to clean an iron

Close up image of a woman wiping down an iron with a cloth

A dirty iron can stain and mark your clothes, so read on to discover how to keep yours spotless and working a treat

For some, ironing is a relaxing way to spend a few hours, while for others it’s just a job to get done as quickly as possible. But whatever your approach, knowing how to clean your iron is essential if you want to be able to do so with ease.

Even the best steam generator irons need some maintenance to keep them running smoothly. Part of caring for an iron is making sure that they’re kept clean, so you can avoid limescale building up or black marks and sticky stains on your fabrics.

As Hannah Hamer, assistant marketing manager at Russell Hobbs, points out, “Regularly cleaning your iron is crucial to ensure you’re not left with any unwanted stains on your garments. Whether you’re looking to remove marks on your iron’s soleplate or descaling, regular cleaning means you can ensure quality performance time and time again.”

How to clean an iron

Cleaning an iron doesn’t have to be a complicated procedure, so long as you regularly stay on top of it. In this guide we’ll look at various ways to keep your iron clean so you can make sure it’s always running smoothly. A quick safety rule before we start – don’t attempt any cleaning until your iron has completely cooled down and the water tank is empty. Your iron should also be switched off and unplugged from the wall socket.

READ NEXT: Best steam irons

How can I tell if my iron needs cleaning?

Your iron needs cleaning if any of the following occur:

  • It drags across your clothes rather than gliding.
  • There’s a sticky layer on the soleplate or sticky residue on your clothes.
  • After ironing you find marks or stains on your fabric.
  • Chalky white deposits or limescale are being coughed out.

How to clean each part of your iron

Different parts of the iron require different cleaning methods. Let’s look at each of these in more detail below:

1. Surface cleaning

At the most basic level, your iron needs a regular wipe. Komal Sawley, marketing manager at Tefal advises, “We recommend regularly wiping your iron with a soft, damp cloth to remove fluff, dust and clothing fibres as these can easily be sucked up when in use.”

2. Descaling

Limescale can be a real pest, particularly if you live in a hard water area. Hannah explains, “Pesky limescale can leave unwanted marks on your garments so it’s important to also regularly descale your iron to keep your clothing in good condition. Here at Russell Hobbs, we recommend using distilled water (instead of tap water) in your iron, especially if you live in a hard water area. While many “descaling solutions” are on the market, we advise against them as they can destroy the anti-scale agent that’s already within the appliance.

“While every model of iron will have its own descaling instructions, start by filling the water tank to the maximum mark, then set the temperature control to “max” and the steam control to “no steam”. Place the iron on its heel, plug into the power socket and wait until its indicator light turns off.

“Next, hold the iron over a basin or large bowl with the soleplate facing down, and depress the Self Clean button, gently moving the iron to and fro. You’ll start to see water and steam wash scale and dust through the soleplate into the sink or bowl. Once the water tank is empty, release the Self Clean button, unplug the iron and stand it on its heel to cool. We recommend carrying out this procedure each month to thoroughly clean the system and minimise limescale.”

Komal backs this advice up. “The anti-calc systems incorporated in our Tefal irons are also very effective especially if used regularly which is something we would advise,” she explains. “Never use descaling agents as these could damage your iron – use 50% untreated tap water and 50% distilled water instead.”

READ NEXT: Best clothes steamers

3. Cleaning the soleplate

“A clean iron soleplate should glide smoothly over your garments without leaving any marks or dragging, so if you’re experiencing these problems, it’s time to give your iron some TLC,” says Hannah. “We recommend scrubbing the soleplate with either soapy water or a small amount of vinegar using a soft cloth. Avoid using a steel wool scrubber as you could risk damaging the iron plate, and make sure that the iron is unplugged, and the plate has cooled down before you start cleaning.”

woman cleaning soleplate or iron with microfiber cloth

If you’re using vinegar, we would advise using a microfibre cloth that’s been dipped in a solution of half vinegar, half distilled water to gently buff the soleplate clean. When you’ve removed any visible marks, make sure you refill the water tank with distilled water and set the iron to steam over an old piece of thick fabric for a good five minutes. This removes any lingering smell of vinegar.

4. Cleaning stubborn soleplate stains

If the above methods haven’t worked for your iron and you’re still seeing brown marks on your soleplate, white vinegar combined with bicarbonate of soda should do the job. Start by mixing a tablespoon of white vinegar with a tablespoon of baking soda in a large bowl until you’ve made a white paste. Now, take a clean cloth and spread this paste onto the soleplate, making sure to cover the entire area. Leave this solution to rest on the soleplate for around ten minutes, before using the cloth to scrub the area clean. Finally, rinse clean with a different cloth, making sure that there’s no solution left on the soleplate.

5. Cleaning the steam holes

Limescale and gunk can lurk in the steam holes, reducing the steam function or, in extreme cases, stopping it from working altogether. Fortunately, it’s very simple to keep them clean. Simply dip a cotton bud in white vinegar and rub the inside of the steam holes until they’re clean. Follow this up with a clean cotton bud dipped in distilled water to remove any traces of vinegar.

6. Clean hard water stains

Here’s a little trick for hard water stains if you live in a hard water area. These chalky stains are the precursor to limescale, so if you can remove them before they build up any further, all the better. Invest in a magic eraser and simply wet the sponge before rubbing the iron until the stains come out.

7. Deep clean the water tank

You need a clean water tank for the steam function to work its best, but limescale and gunk can clog this area up. To deep clean your iron’s water tank you’ll simply need your trusty bottle of white vinegar again. Make sure the tank is completely empty and that the iron is cool.

Now fill the reservoir a third full with a solution of half distilled water and half white vinegar. Next, leave the iron on its heel, placed on a piece of old fabric and set to steam until the tank is empty. Refill the tank with distilled water and steam again until empty. Repeat this last step at least twice or until there’s no lingering smell of vinegar. If you have some particularly stubborn limescale you can clean it away with neat white vinegar.

8. Dealing with melted plastic

If your iron accidentally comes into contact with something plastic, you’ll have a bit of a messy soleplate to deal with. But it’s simple enough to clean, provided you follow these steps. Firstly, unplug your iron and allow it to cool. To speed up hardening the plastic, you can fill a pan with ice cubes and place the iron onto the ice. Once the plastic is hardened, take a plastic knife and scrap away the plastic. Next, wipe down the surface with white vinegar, making sure to remove every last trace of plastic. Finally, wipe down the soleplate with distilled water to remove any smell of vinegar.

READ NEXT: Best cordless irons

Tips for maintaining your iron

As well as the specific tips above, we’d recommend following these for general maintenance whenever you use your iron to help keep it clean and in tip-top condition:

Clean your iron whenever it needs it, but the minimum we would recommend is twice a year (if you don’t iron often) or as frequently as the manufacturer advises.

Always use distilled water. Tap water contains minerals and deposits and, if you live in a hard water area, the dreaded limescale. These can clog up your iron, block your steam vents and leave nasty marks on your clothes.

Fill the water tank and always make sure to wipe up any drips and moisture on the outside before you plug in your iron.

Wait until the iron has cooled down after use before emptying the water tank and again, wipe away any moisture on the outside.

Once it’s cool, store your iron in an upright position as this will prevent any leakage.

Face the soleplate away from any other items when stored to prevent accidental scratches.

When ironing, follow the recommended settings for different types of fabric and avoid running your iron over any buttons or metal and plastic zippers.

Read more