Despite all the no-iron shirts, pants, and other garments in our closets, you still have to iron occasionally to get ready for that job interview or your cousin’s wedding. Start with a dependable iron like the Rowenta Steamforce DW9280, $140, that was tops in our steam iron tests. Then learn how to iron tricky clothing from the pros behind Consumer Reports’ “How to Clean Practically Anything” and put the snap back in your collar and restore the pleats in your favorite skirt.

Garments will turn out smoother if they are ironed when they are damp, so if possible remove them from the dryer or line before they are fully dry. Smooth out seams and pleats on garments, and pull linens back into shape immediately upon removing them from the dryer or taking them down from the line; even if they still need ironing, the job will be easier.

If you can’t get to the ironing immediately, let items dry fully. Dampen them when you’re ready to iron, sprinkling them with water and rolling them in a towel to distribute the moisture; or use the spray on your steam iron as you go. Most modern irons use regular tap water and often the manufacturer's directions recommend against using distilled water. If your water is very hard, dilute it 50:50 with distilled water. When you are done ironing, empty the iron before storing it. Follow manufacturer's directions for cleaning the steam jets occasionally.

When using starch, spray each item as you go, but allow a few moments for it to soak in so there’s no buildup on the iron’s sole plate. If you have a large quantity of clothes to iron, deal with the garments that need ironing at the lowest temperatures first, such as synthetics and silk; as the iron heats up, work on the wools, then the cottons, and finally the linens.

How to iron with one of our top irons.
From left: T-Fal FV4495, Panasonic Nl-W950A, and Rowenta Steamforce DW9280.

Special Tips for Special Clothing

Lace, silk, and wool. Press inside out. If that’s not possible, use a dry pressing cloth. Lower and lift the iron; don’t slide it back and forth. Prevent imprinting inside detail by placing a piece of brown paper or tissue paper under folds, seams, or darts.

Sequined, beaded, or metallic fabric. Place it face down on a soft surface—such as a thick towel or two—and press on low.

Velvet. Hold the steam iron about an inch or two above the fabric and slowly move it around, or hold the garment over a steaming kettle. You can also hang it in the bathroom and run a hot shower or use a fabric steamer—an appliance sold for this purpose. Many irons can now steam vertically.

How to Iron Shirts, Blouses, and Jackets

  1. Start at the point of the collar, working toward the middle.
  2. Next, iron the yoke by arranging one shoulder over the narrow end of the ironing board. Then repeat the same process for the opposite shoulder.
  3. Do the sleeves next, working down from the underarm. A sleeve board is a big help with ironing. Then open the cuffs and try to iron them flat.
  4. Iron the back of the shirt next, slipping it over the wide end of the ironing board and shifting it as needed.
  5. Iron the two halves of the front. Or if the shirt doesn’t open, slip it over the ironing board.

How to Iron Pants and Trousers

  1. If the pants have cuffs, unfold them and brush out any loose soil.
  2. Turn the waistband inside out and pull out pockets to iron them flat.
  3. Iron the zipper placket.
  4. On the right side of the garment, iron the waistband and the rest of the top. Repeat on the left side.
  5. Put leg seams together in the middle and fold pants the long way. Lay them flat on the board, then fold back the top leg. Iron the inside of the lower leg, then turn and iron the outside. Repeat with other leg.
  6. Iron the two legs together (all four thicknesses at once).

How to Iron Skirts

  • Iron from hem to waist in long strokes, but press (lift and lower) when you reach the gathers.
  • Pleated skirts. Arrange pleats on the ironing board and hold them or pin them in place. Iron from top to bottom, but not directly over the pins.

How to Iron Dresses

  1. Start with the lining.
  2. Continue to the top of the dress as if you were ironing a blouse. A dress that doesn’t open should be pulled over the end of a board; then iron the front and back.
  3. Lift and press underneath the collar, if there is one. Then press the collar itself.