How to clean an iron – 12 of the best ways to tackle a stained dry or steam presser

Knowing how to clean an iron is an indispensable part of acing laundry day. Straighten out those stains on your burnt iron bottom by following our top tips.

A dry iron on white ironing board with blue and white floral wallpaper wallcovering wall decor in background
(Image credit: Steven Errico / Creative #75904035)

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... Hence why cleaning an iron is a 'pressing' part of laundry day.

Thankfully, by using household ingredients like vinegar, salt, baking soda and more – including a couple of items from your medicine cabinet like paracetamol and toothpaste – you'll be able to tackle a stained iron base, limescale and any general grime buildup to keep your best steam iron efficiently straightening out kinks and creases in your clothing.

How to clean an iron plate

A grubby and stained iron bottom needs regular cleaning to remove sticky gunk and all sorts of buildup 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, when cleaning an iron, ensure it is completely turned off, unplugged and cool before starting. Some of the following methods require you to turn your iron on and off, we will tell you when and still do this with care.

Things to consider before cleaning an iron

You might believe that cleaning an iron is easy-peasy, but just like any electrical appliance, you need to handle it with care to prevent damaging it.

So, to make your we got the process right, we spoke to Sarah Fishburne, director of trend and design, Home Depot (opens in new tab) to work out how to clean an iron correctly. This includes not using H2O straight out of the faucet.

She says: 'Always use distilled water to clean your iron. Tap water may contain minerals that will clog vents and cause more damage.'

The Crystal Springs distilled water from Home Depot (opens in new tab) is the perfect product for the job – and it's super cheap too.

1. How to clean an iron with toothpaste

You will need:

  • White toothpaste
  • Microfiber cloth (we suggest adding the MR.SIGA (opens in new tab) ones to your Amazon basket)
  • Old rag or piece of fabric

How to:

  1. First ensure you're using white toothpaste – avoid those blue and red stripes. Then simply rub it onto the plate, either with your finger or with an old but clean toothbrush.
  2. That done, remove the toothpaste with a clean, microfiber cloth. Repeat the process if necessary.
  3. 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 onto the old fabric to remove any traces of toothpaste that have been left over.

2. How to clean an iron with vinegar

You will need:

  • White vinegar
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Distilled
  • Old fabric/towel/tea towel
  1. To clean with vinegar, create a mixture of half a cup of water with half a cup of white vinegar.
  2. Dip a clean microfiber cloth into the solution and work on the dirty parts of the plate.
  3. Refill the iron's water tank with distilled water 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. 
  4. 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 will need:

  • Newspaper or brown paper bag
  • Table salt
  • Kettle
  • White vinegar
  • Microfiber cloth
  1. Simply layout your newspaper or brown paper bag 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.
  2. 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, microfiber cloth into it and take it to the iron's plate.
  3. Repeat the steps above, refilling the tank, plugging in the iron, setting it 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

Baking soda cleaning couldn't be simpler as our step-by-step shows:

You will need:

  • Baking soda or bicarbonate of soda
  • A pastry brush
  • Two microfiber cloths
  • White vinegar
  • Distilled or de-ionized water

How to:

  1. When cleaning an iron, you'll want to empty the water tank first. Next, combine two teaspoons of baking soda/bicarbonate of soda with water and make a paste. 
  2. 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, microfiber cloth. Use another clean microfiber cloth to clean the excess paste off the iron. 
  3. If there are stubborn marks, mix another baking soda paste, this time switching the water for white vinegar. 
  4. Finally, plug in the iron and refill the water tank with the distilled or de-ionized water. Once it's heated up, set it 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 (like the Ecozone Kettle & Iron Descaler on Amazon (opens in new tab)) – following the manufacturer's instructions – or try descaling your steam iron by using a tangy ingredient you'll find in your store cupboard. Yep, using cleaning the reservoir with white vinegar is cheap and you don't have to worry about your clothes smelling either.

You will need:

  • White vinegar
  • Distilled or de-ionized water
  • Piece of old fabric

How to:

  • 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.

These natural, biodegradable organic cotton buds from Sky Organics, available on Amazon (opens in new tab) are much better than their plastic counterparts and have almost 25,000 highly-rated reviews.

You will need:

  • Cotton buds

How to:

  • Simply dip the q-tip ends in white vinegar and rub the steam holes until clear. 

7. How to clean an iron soleplate with paracetamol

If looking at your dirty iron is giving you a headache, reach for some painkillers to revive your appliance. While we never thought we'd clean with paracetamol, it's a great way to clean a stained iron soleplate.

You will need:

  • Paracetamol
  • Microfiber cloth

How to:

  • Start by turning your iron on to the hottest setting and then carefully press and rub the tablet over the burnt area (watch out as it will be piping hot). 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 microfiber cloth and repeat if needed.

8. Clean an iron with tumble dryer sheets

You will need:

How to:

  1. With this method, you should have your iron on – but on a low heat.
  2. Very carefully, rub the iron's metal plate with a clean tumble dryer sheet.
  3. As the sheet warms, the dirt should begin to come loose.
  4. 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

You will need:

  • Kitchen towel / old tea towel / old fabric (like a t-shirt)

How to:

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

a woman wearing a white round neck t-shirt and medium grey cardigan ironing a blue and white checkered shirt

(Image credit: Getty Images)

10. Clean a sticky iron bottom with a scourer

You will need:

Whether your kids are completing a DIY textile project, or you've used your Cricut machine (opens in new tab) to create custom iron-on vinyls, using a steel wool scourer will help lift glue and sticky residue from your steam iron.

11. How to clean an iron that has plastic on it

Ice can remove melted-on plastic (helpful if you're worried that you might scratch or damage the metal on your iron with a Brillo pad).

You will need:

  • Ice cubes
  • A saucepan (or a small bowl or bucket will do)
  • Blunt plastic knife

How to:

To do this, fill a pan with ice cubes and place the part of the iron with the plastic residue on ice for about 10 minutes (or until it hardens). Then, use a blunt plastic knife to scrape away the hardened plastic. Never use a metal knife to clean an iron as the metal-on-metal can be abrasive.

12. Use a magic eraser to wipe out stains

A magic eraser is the whizz-kid when it comes to cleaning smudges and discolorations on your cleaning device. We suggest buying the pack of 10, as you can use them around the house for a whole ton of things.

For example, if you're weary about washing sneakers in your washing machine, or just have a small scuff – use these. That way, you can have fresh kicks and freshly-laundered clothes (that aren't decorated with unattractive marks from your iron).

You will need:

How to:

  1. Prep your specialist sponge by saturating it in water, then squeezing away the excess water.
  2. Glide it along the black marks on your iron and watch as the blotches disappear. With a few firm swipes, your iron should be sparkling.

Expert tips on how to take care of an iron

Lynsey Crombie aka Lynsey Queen of Clean (opens in new tab) cleans her iron with salt, using tin foil instead of newspaper. She says: '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 (opens in new tab) reminds us all of how often we should be cleaning our irons. Together, they say: '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.' 

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 on the garment 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. Because slow and steady wins the race, right?

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. Alternatively, if you don't feel like creating this cleaning cocktail, buy a ready-made solution. The Laundress ironing water, available from Bloomingdales (opens in new tab) contains just deionized water, essential oils, and fragrance, and is marketed as an organic and eco-friendly cleaning product.

Why should you clean an iron?

'Dirty irons can damage the fabric you press with it,' says Fishburne.

'When you know how to clean an iron, you can keep it and your clothes in top shape. Create a regular cleaning schedule to make sure you remember to clean your iron often.'

Lucy is Global Editor-in-Chief of Homes & Gardens having worked on numerous interiors and property titles. She was founding Editor of Channel 4’s 4Homes magazine, was Associate Editor at Ideal Home, before becoming Editor-in-Chief of Realhomes.com in 2018 then moving to Homes & Gardens in 2021. 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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