The Way to a Wrinkle-Free Life

Laundry innovations promise to deliver better results faster

Published: September 24, 2015 06:00 AM

 Ironing to get  that crisp, fresh look may seem quaint in an era when casual Friday has morphed into casual every day. Closets with less cotton and more blends mean you don’t need to iron as much, and studies have shown that about a quarter of all consumers iron only when absolutely necessary. So just how wrinkled does a garment have to be for you to get out the iron? Standards vary—all the way up to that slept-in look. But for those occasions when the wrinkles just can’t be overlooked, an iron that produces plenty of steam will remove stubborn wrinkles faster.  Plus Consumer Reports tested several products that claim to smooth out wrinkles without an iron.

And yet there’s no escaping dirty laundry. The average family does around 300 loads per year. Manufacturers get that your life is hectic and offer ways to take the pain out of the laundry routine, for a price. A large-capacity washer and dryer let you do more laundry at once. The biggest we’ve tested hold about 28 pounds of laundry, or about 20 full-sized bath towels, and the smallest hold only about 12 pounds, or nine towels. Options that trim wash time by 15 to 20 minutes without sacrificing cleaning ability also prevent pileups. And a dryer with a moisture sensor rather than a thermostat will recognize more quickly when laundry is dry, allowing you to get back to your life outside the laundry room.

An End to the Iron Age?

A hot, steamy iron can work wonders on rumpled garments, but what about steam dryers? That feature is meant to reduce wrinkles and odors. Our tests found that the steam doesn’t eliminate wrinkles, though it can help remove more odors than dryers without steam. So we tested products that manufacturers claim banish wrinkles to find out whether any let you put away your iron.

Straight Up

We tested three fabric steamers on men’s cotton shirts and cotton cloths. They reduced wrinkles, but none created that truly pressed look. Fabric steamers are best for quick touch-ups, delicates, and smoothing curtains without having to take them down. The heated pressing bar on the $65 Shark Press & Refresh GS500 made it the best at taming wrinkles and creating creases. The $35 Conair ExtremeSteam GS23 produced hotter—but less—steam than the other two. Its creasing attachment got the job done but was awkward to use. The $60 Steamfast SF-407 was the least impressive. Unlike the others, it sits on wheels, has a clothes hook on a telescoping pole, and has a hose for steaming. It provided the longest steam time, almost 90 minutes with one fill, but the hose and electrical cord reach is limited, so steaming hanging drapes would be tricky. And it was challenging to dewrinkle a shirt using the Steamfast’s pressing pad and steam wand.

Just a Spritz

Downy Wrinkle Releaser Plus works as promised. Wrinkles fell from severely wrinkled garments—a laundry basket of cottons and blended fabrics. Clothes looked better than when we sprayed them with plain water although not as good as when we ironed them. Just spray Downy on garments until lightly damp. Then smooth and let dry, about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on fabric. Downy costs $8 for 33 ounces.

Refresh Without Washing

Wrinkles were smoothed out, odors were removed (or masked), and jeans returned to their original shape during the 10- to 15-minute treatment in the $400 Swash. Whirlpool makes the Swash, which refreshes one garment at a time using heat and a pod that releases a lightly scented mist. The pods, made by Tide, cost $7 for 12. At one pod per garment, that can add up. And don’t toss your iron yet. The clips used to secure clothing inside the unit can make new wrinkles. As for stains, the box gets hot enough to set some, so don’t Swash dirty or stained clothes.

LG says its Styler cabinet, in stores this fall, will get rid of wrinkles and odors from four garments at once. But at $2,000, ironing may not be so bad after all.

Most hated household chore?

What's worse: Ironing, vacuuming, or doing the dishes? Share your opinion below.


Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the November 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.


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