How to clean an iron – 10 of the best ways to tackle a stained plate with salt and more

Knowing how to clean an iron is an indispensable part of doing laundry. Clean your stained or burnt iron bottom with toothpaste, vinegar, salt and more to save your clothes

how to clean an iron on a blue background
(Image credit: Getty)

Keep your laundry fresh with our expertise on how to clean an iron properly. Because, if your iron plate is dirty and burnt, or if the steam holes are blocked with calcium build-up, you are going to know about it and likely ruin some clothes or bedding in the process...

Using household ingredients like vinegar, salt, baking soda and more – including a couple of items from your medicine cabinet like paracetamol and toothpaste too – you'll be able to tackle a stained iron base, limescale and more. Keep scrolling for our top tips on cleaning your best steam iron to keep yours in fine working order.

How to clean an iron plate

A grubby and stained iron bottom needs regular cleaning to remove sticky gunk and all sorts of build up from regular use – well done you. Whether you use toothpaste, salt, vinegar. baking soda or another method to tackle yours, they all work – and in different ways – you just need to find the one you prefer. 

Remember to ensure your iron is completely turned off, unplugged and cool before attempting to clean it. Some of the following methods require you to turn your iron on and off, we will tell you when and do this with care.

1. How to clean an iron with toothpaste

First ensure you're using white toothpaste – avoid those blue and red stripes. Then simply rub it on to the plate, either with your finger or with an old but clean toothbrush. That done, remove the toothpaste with a clean, microfibre cloth. Repeat the process if necessary. Otherwise, if the iron looks clean, refill the tank, plug it in, set to steam, sit it on its end on an old piece of fabric for five minutes, then iron on to the old fabric to remove any traces of toothpaste that have been left over.  

2. How to clean an iron with vinegar

Create a mixture of half a cup of water with half a cup of white vinegar. Dip a clean microfibre cloth into the solution and work at the dirty parts of the plate. Refill the iron's water tank and plug it in, setting it to steam. Pop it on its end on an old piece of fabric (think towel or tea towel), and leave it for five minutes. 

If your iron plate is quite badly burnt you can use white vinegar neat. Simply soak a clean, old towel in it and lay the iron flat so the plate and towel are in contact. Leave this for half an hour or so before wiping it off. 

3. How to clean an iron with salt

You'll need some newspaper or a brown paper bag for this method. Simply lay out what you're using onto a flat non-flammable surface and sprinkle salt all over it. Then turn your iron on to its hottest setting and iron the salt on the newspaper in circular motions until the dirt/burnt stains are lifted. 

Another way to use salt is to boil the kettle then combine half a cup of hot water with three to four teaspoons of salt; combine that with half a cup of white vinegar, and when it's cooled, dip your clean, microfibre cloth into it and take it to the iron's plate. Repeat the steps above, refilling the tank, plugging in the iron, setting to steam and sitting on its end on an old piece of fabric. After five minutes like this, it should be good to go.

4. How to clean an iron with baking soda

Empty the water tank. Next, combine two teaspoons of baking soda/bicarbonate of soda with water and make a paste. Use a pastry brush to apply the paste to the plate. Leave for a few minutes, then rub at the plate, concentrating on the dirtiest areas, with a clean, microfibre cloth. Use another clean microfibre cloth to clean the excess paste off the iron. 

If there are stubborn marks, mix another baking soda paste, this time switching the water for white vinegar. Finally, plug in the iron and refill the water tank. Once it's heated up, set to steam and sit the iron on its end on an old piece of fabric, plate up. After five minutes like this, use the iron on the old piece of fabric. It should now be clean. 

5. Clean the iron reservoir with vinegar

Limescale can make using the steam function of the iron difficult and, more than that, tends to show up on dark fabrics. So, either use an iron descaler – following the manufacturer's instructions – or try descaling your steam iron using vinegar. 

Unplug the iron, let it cool and empty the water tank. Then pour either neat white vinegar or a half-and-half white vinegar/water mix (depending on how bad the limescale is) into the water reservoir, filling it by about a third of the way up. Repeat the process above, putting the iron on its end on a piece of old fabric, plugging it back in and setting it to steam. Once the tank's empty of the vinegar, refill it with water, and repeat the steam-till-empty process. Finally, repeat the water-only steam to dissipate the vinegary smell. 

6. Clean an iron's steam holes with cotton ear buds

Descaling may not always reach the actual steam holes so using cotton swabs (you can also try a toothpick or a stiff toothbrush) to clear them out is a simple and effective way to keep your steam iron actually steaming. Simply dip the cotton swab ends in white vinegar and rub the steam holes until clear. 

7. How to clean an iron with paracetamol

We also never thought we'd clean with paracetamol, but it is great way to clean a stained iron soleplate. Start by turning your iron on to the hottest setting and then carefully press and rub the tablet over the burnt area. It should melt and start to dissolve the stain. Let the iron cool enough for you to wipe away the residue with a damp paper towel or microfibre cloth and repeat if needed.

8. Clean an iron with tumble dryer sheets

With this method, you should have your iron on – but on a low heat. Very carefully, rub the iron's metal plate with a clean tumble dryer sheet. As the sheet warms, the dirt should begin to come loose. Finally, put the heat setting up to high and iron over the old piece of fabric to remove any dryer sheet residue. Job (should be) done.

9. How to clean an iron with kitchen towel

This is another iron cleaning hack that requires the iron to be on. First put it on its highest setting, but without steam. Then, simply iron over the kitchen roll until all the sticky residue is removed. Of course, you could swap the kitchen roll for an old tea towel (or that well-worn piece of old fabric). 

10. Clean a sticky iron bottom with a scourer

A Brillo Pad or scourer will help lift glue from your latest DIY projects – thanks kids! 

woman ironing

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Expert tips on how to take care of an iron

Lynsey Crombie Queen of Clean cleans her iron with salt, using tin foil instead of newspaper. 'Irons can get sticky on the bottom or limescale can leak through the holes and can get stuck on the bottom. So it’s important that we keep the bottom of our irons clean. We don’t want to ruin our clothes. Try this very simple quick tip using salt and tin foil.' 

Martha Stewart alongside Sharon Barodawala, iron expert and associate brand manager at Rowenta USA reminds us all of how often we should be cleaning our irons. 'A good rule of thumb is to clean your iron about once a month, give or take depending on your frequency of iron usage... You may also notice your iron beginning to drag when you use it; this is another sign it's time for a cleaning.' 

Iron troubleshooting

How do you keep an iron from sticking? 

If your iron is sticking and leaving scorch marks on your favorite clothes then check the heat settings, rather than the iron itself. Always check the care label of the piece of clothing that you're ironing; it should give you a clear, upper temperature that you can iron at. If in doubt? Iron at a low setting and work your way up slowly.

Why is my iron spitting brown water?

If your iron keeps spitting out rusty bits or limescale as you're ironing, despite your best efforts to clean it, you're likely filling it with tap water in a hard water area. Depending on which minerals are prevalent in your area, you'll be getting different types of residue in your iron. If you're sick of descaling it all the time, consider using only distilled water for filling your iron. Your clothes will thank you. 

Alternatively, spritz your clothes directly with an ironing water (you can make it yourself from distilled water, a bit of rubbing alcohol or vodka, and a few drops of your favorite essential oil) and operate the iron on a non-steam setting. You'll still get decreasing action as the ironing water evaporates.

Happy ironing! 

Lucy Searle
Lucy Searle

Lucy is Editor-in-Chief of Realhomes.com, having worked on numerous interiors and property titles. She was founding Editor of Channel 4’s 4Homes magazine, was Associate Editor at Ideal Home. She has also written for Huffington Post, AOL, UKTV, MSN, House Beautiful, Good Homes, and many women’s titles. Find her writing about everything from buying and selling property, self build, DIY, design and consumer issues to gardening.

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