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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

Pressing Matters: 10 Tips to Iron Like a Pro

My mother knew how to iron. I should have paid more attention. I remember her standing over the ironing board, forming crisp fresh-smelling stacks of linens. I did not take further note because, back then, women’s lib was the rage, and I cottoned to the idea that ironing was a domestic detail I would have nothing to do with. I figured that the advent of perma-press would free us (mostly women) from the domestic minutiae of wrangling wrinkles. (Now look at me. I’m all about domestic minutiae.) That failing, I intended to be successful enough to hire someone to keep my linens in line.

Neither plan worked out.

As a result of my miscalculation, I have been bumbling along pressing hot metal to fabric all these years as if I knew what I were 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, as if everyone knows: “Don’t steam iron cottons and linens. Iron them damp. If they’re dry, sprinkle or spritz with water then iron.”

Where have I been? Certainly not at my mother’s elbow. I have been steam ironing my cottons and linens — for years. “Why not steam iron?” 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.”

Sorry, Mom. I know you tried.

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.”

I told him about my friend who lives in a small town in Nevada, where, she says, “Dressing up means having a crease in your jeans.”

“Exactly,” he said. “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, which happens when you iron directly on a hard surface. The padded surface also gives moisture a way to escape.

2. Follow the care label. Look at the fabric content to know what you’re dealing with. Natural fibers like cotton and linen will 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 all 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. Think twice about ironing anything with a lining, as you could harm the layers. Leave that to the professionals.

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 sole plate 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. Don’t use steam and keep the iron on the cool side.

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.

CAPTION: Hot tip — To iron properly, you need a good heavy iron, a sturdy padded ironing board, and a firm hand. Photo courtesy of Bacho/

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