How to Iron: A Step-by-Step Guide to Erasing Wrinkles

Here's everything you need to know to achieve that crisp, fresh-pressed look at home.

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There’s nothing like a freshly pressed outfit to build self-confidence, make you hold your head a little higher, and help you look instantly put together. But, as experts agree, ironing has become a lost art, and very few of us really know how to get wrinkles out of clothes.

“Ironing takes time, effort, and practice in order to get great results,” says Jerry Pozniak, managing director and owner of Jeeves New York, a luxury dry cleaner first established in London more than 50 years ago. “It really is an art to iron properly,” agrees Wayne Edelman, president of Meurice NYC, which has cared for high-profile garments for A-listers from Mariah Carey to Princess Diana.

Wondering how to iron the right way—and why should you even think about doing it yourself when it’s so much easier to drop off clothes at the dry cleaner? We’ve got the answers to both of those questions, as well as some recommendations for the best steam irons that can help you get the job done.

The benefits of ironing at home

At a few dollars per garment, dry cleaning can really add up. Ironing at home costs nothing other than the price of your iron. Plus, dry cleaners tend to use harsh chemicals that can cause fabrics to deteriorate over time. Water and a gentle detergent may actually be better at removing stains and leaving your clothes smelling fresh and clean. Some people also genuinely find the rhythm of ironing soothing and feel a sense of accomplishment afterward. It can relaxing and productive. Ready to give it a whirl? Excellent! But before you get started, there are a few things you need to do first.

Check labels first

Although most fabrics can be ironed, it’s important to refer to the care label inside the specific garment before forging ahead. You’ll usually be able to find an illustration of an iron with one, two, or three dots in it, meaning you should use low (about 230 degrees), medium (about 300 degrees), or high (about 390 degrees) heat, respectively. If there’s a photo of an iron with an “X” through it, don’t iron that item at all! For very delicate fabrics, you might want to consider using a steamer or, of course, enlisting a professional.

Get set up

Make sure garments are clean before ironing. “You don’t want to iron dirt into clothes,” warns Edelman. “Ironing stains can set them into the garment, ruining the integrity of the textile and making them much harder to get out.” FYI, here’s what else you need to know about removing stains from clothing and nearly everything else.

Make sure your iron is also clean. “Rust can easily get on whatever you’re ironing,” Edelman says. “Try using white vinegar to get it off the base plate. If rust does get on your garment, lemon juice and salt will usually do the trick. Then, wash it as usual. Never use bleach on rust stains.” Learn how to clean an iron so it doesn’t damage your clothes.

Get out your ironing board. Although any sturdy ironing board with a thick, padded cover will work, Pozniak particularly likes this Brabantia ironing board. What if you don’t have an ironing board? “It’s not recommended to iron without a board because the shape makes it much easier,” he says. “But in a pinch, you can fold a large clean towel and iron on a table.”

Unbutton and unzip garments. Clothes that are buttoned or zipped won’t sit right on the ironing board and won’t lay as smoothly. Make sure you use the pointy part of the iron to get in between buttons—never iron over them—and, if you have time, consider wrapping delicate buttons in aluminum foil before ironing the garment.

Once you’ve got everything in place, fill your iron with water for steam. If you’re ironing garments that require different temperatures, always start with the coolest setting and work your way up. In general, synthetics should be ironed first, and cottons and linen fabrics last.

Iron and spray water bottle on ironing boardkaorinne/Getty Images

How to iron like a pro

1. Place your unbuttoned/unzipped garment on the ironing board, lengthwise and, to be cautious, with the right side facing down. Dark colored fabrics and wool should always be ironed inside out to avoid getting a shine on them. You may even want to use a press cloth (or a clean cotton handkerchief or napkin) as an extra layer of protection between them and the iron.

2. Cotton and linen fabrics should be ironed damp, so use a spray bottle with clean water to spritz each section as you go along. All other fabrics should be completely dry when you’re ironing.

3. Iron down the length of the garment in straight lines. “Don’t iron in a circular motion, which can distort the fabric,” says Edelman. “Straight up and down motions are best.”

4. Use steam to remove wrinkles as necessary. According to Pozniak, “steam relaxes the fabric, and the hot, dry iron makes the fabric look crisp.” Steam the area you are ironing first, then iron it without steam. That’s how to get wrinkles out of clothes. Again, check the care label before using steam since some fabrics require a dry iron only.

5. Iron large areas first, then move on to sleeves and collars. Pozniak suggests using a smaller board that fits into the sleeve in order to iron it without creating a crease. He also recommends opening collars and laying them out flat for easier ironing. For areas that have double layers of fabric—like cuffs, collars, pockets, and hems—iron the inside first, then do the outside for a final smoothing.

6. Hang garments on good hangers (not wire ones) immediately after ironing to allow them to set properly. For button-down shirts, button the top button and at least two others so the shirt doesn’t fall off the hanger or get wrinkled once it’s back in your closet.

To starch or not to starch

Starch works best on cottons and linens, but because it can cause premature wear in fabric over time, it should only be used to add stiff collars and cuffs for a crisp look. “We used to have a customer who starched his boxers, but I’d never want that,” laughs Edelman. “Really, starching is a matter of personal preference.” Next, read through this helpful guide on how to do laundry the right way.


Lois Alter Mark
Lois Alter Mark is an award-winning travel, lifestyle, shopping and entertainment writer for Reader's Digest, Forbes and USA Today 10Best. Her work has taken her to all seven continents and introduced her to new people, food and—her latest obsession—pickleball! An avid cruiser, she loves introducing readers to the joys of travel.