My mother knew how to iron. I remember her standing over the ironing board, forming crisp fresh-smelling stacks of linens. I should have paid more attention.
Instead, I have been bumbling along, pressing hot metal to fabric all these years as if I knew what I was doing. That changed last month when, some of you may recall, I interviewed garment-care guru Wayne Edelman, owner of Meurice Garment Care, a high-end cleaner based in New York. Edelman and I discussed how to get whiter whites. (If the discussion of whiter whites didn’t knock the planet off its axis, certainly the hot topic of proper ironing will!)
During that call, Edelman casually mentioned, “Don’t steam iron cottons and linens. Iron them damp. If they’re dry, sprinkle or spritz with water then iron.”
I have been steam ironing my cottons and linens — for years. “Why not?” I asked. “Isn’t that the same as ironing damp fabric?”
“What gives cotton and linen that crisp finish is pulling the water out of the damp fabric with a hot dry iron,” he said. “Steam ironing forces water in and makes the fabric limp.”
I’ve since used this technique. It’s way better. I pressed him further. “Proper pressing is an art,” he said. “It’s important because when your clothes and linens are well-pressed it tells others you care. Showing up to an interview or a date in an unpressed shirt and wrinkled slacks may make the difference between landing the job or getting a second date.”
Then he offered the following 10 tips to iron like a pro:
1. Get equipped. Proper ironing starts with a good iron. Edelman likes General Electric and Rowenta irons because those companies have been making quality irons for a long time. Pick one with some heft, then lean into the effort. “You need the weight of the iron along with some elbow grease,” he said. You also need a spray bottle filled with clean water to dampen garments, unless you are superhuman and manage to remove items from the dryer while they’re still damp and press them immediately. You also need a sturdy ironing board with good padding. The padding prevents you from “bruising” the material and gives moisture a way to escape.
2. Follow the care label. Natural fibers like cotton and linen handle heat much better than synthetics. If you use the high cotton setting on polyester, chances are good the fabric will melt. You might ruin the iron, too.
3. Don’t ignore the temperature dial. Once you know the fabric content, set the dial accordingly. Use low for delicates and synthetics, medium for wool and silk, and hot for cotton and linen. If you are ironing a pile of items, start with the ones that need the coolest setting and work up.
4. To iron or not to iron. Edelman believes pressed sheets should be pressed. (I’m working on it.) “That best emulates a luxe hotel,” he said. Tea towels should always be pressed, as should table linens if you’re hosting a dinner or holiday party. However, for a casual gathering, your bistro napkins can be rumpled.
5. When to steam. When ironing cotton or linen, if you have a stubborn wrinkle, hit it with steam to relax it, then follow with hot iron. Steam ironing wool or silk can also provide a “soft press,” when you want an easier finish.
6. Clean your iron. If the soleplate of your iron gets dark, clean it. Make a paste of two tablespoons baking soda and one tablespoon water. Rub it onto the cold iron plate with a soft cloth or toothbrush; let it dry then buff it off. Keep holes clear.
7. Starch to taste. If you want a crisper finish, use spray starch as you iron. Let it penetrate the fabric before ironing, so you don’t gum up your iron. Clean any starch residue off the iron when it cools.
8. Iron inside out. Press garments that have embellishments, like beading, lace or appliques, from the reverse side. Keep the iron on the cool side and don’t use steam.
9. Work the angles. Irons and ironing boards have pointed tips for a reason. Use the pointed tip of the iron to press garments with darts or corners. Iron from the innermost part of the dart and work out. When ironing a pillowcase, slide the case over the ironing board and stick the point of the board into the corner of the case then iron, rotating as you go.
10. Need a shortcut? If you’re in a hurry, a handheld steamer can give garments a quick refresh without an iron and still show you care.
Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including “Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go.” Reach her at www.marnijameson.com.
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