Steamer vs Iron: Which is Better?

Steamer vs Iron

Caring for your clothes is important, not only for looking great but also to extend their longevity and save yourself money. The simplest way to care for your clothes and to remove any wrinkles is to either press them with a clothes iron or to heat them with a hand steamer.

Both of these methods rely on a combination of heat, pressure and steam to straighten the fabric of your clothes and remove any wrinkles. But which is better? That depends on what clothes you’re dealing with, the amount of time that you have and the condition of the garments when you’re caring for them.

In this article we’ll look at the pro’s and con’s of each method, when they should be used and which products we would recommend to our readers. Without proper care your expensive shirt is going to look cheap, but not all devices are capable of giving your clothes the love that they deserve. Don’t fret, we’ve spent countless hours researching, using and understanding how to care for clothes with both irons and steamers, giving us the expertise to help you.

Steamer vs Iron: Which is Superior?

Clearly, irons and steamers are both useful and each has circumstances that they handle better than the other. Therefore, most men would benefit from owning both, especially if you have an extensive wardrobe that includes dress shirts as well as delicate silks, satins and polyester products.

However, if you can only afford one, the steamer vs iron, which one should you pick?

In most cases, a steamer is going to be the better choice because with a steamer you can remove wrinkles from every type of fabric. That doesn’t mean that it’s the optimum solution, that’s certainly not the case for dress shirts, but without a steamer it’s impossible to care for delicate fabrics and clothes with ruffles, pleats and frills. Similarly, steamers are far easier to use and they can be much quicker, making them ideal for men who want to minimize the time that they spend cleaning, washing and caring for their clothes.

If you are the type of gentleman who regularly wears suits and is unlikely to own many delicate garments, an iron might be the right choice for you. However, you will struggle with certain garments and you will  likely spend more time caring for your clothes.

The beauty of a steamer is that even after wearing your clothes you can steam them to remove any wrinkles that have occurred during the day. This isn’t as easy with a clothes iron because the hot pressure from the metal plate is going to ‘bake’ in some of the sweat and grease from wearing your clothes in the day. Plus, ironing is more time consuming, it’s certainly not something you want to do each night.

The debate of the steamer vs iron will likely never end. The ideal solution is to buy one of each so that you have on-hand the best tool for the job depending on which clothes you are caring for at that particular time.

Steamer Product Recommendation

When it comes to steamers, you want to invest. There are some lower priced options on the market that get the job done, but many have reliability issues. Steamers are built to last for years to come and investing in a high quality steamer today will save you hundreds of dollars down the line because you’ll have a reliable machine rather than having to replace cheaper products on a yearly basis.

J2000 Steamer Review

Jiffy J-2000 Steamer

Our favorite garment steamer

This steamer is by far the most popular and highly-reviewed machine on the market. It heats-up quickly and is incredibly reliable.

Check the price on Amazon

The last thing you want is a steamer that breaks the night before an interview, a funeral or your birthday party.

If you’re in the market for a steamer the best pick is the J-2000 Jiffy Garment Steamer, an industry-leading machine that has thousands of positive reviews and even more happy customers. Jiffy specializes in steamers, making them the perfect brand to trust with your hard earned cash.

Plenty of research has been done by reviewers into the best clothes steamers and time and time again Jiffy comes out ahead. They create superior products and while they may have a relatively heavy price tag, they have the quality that you’d imagine and 3-year warranty which ensures that you will have someone to talk to if anything goes wrong.

The J-2000 uses a 1300 Watt brass heating element which allows the unit to heat-up in only two-minutes, far quicker than most of the competition which often take upwards of 10-minutes just to reach the right temperature to get started.

Once the J-2000 has reached the optimum temperature it will start emitting steam and a full container will last up to 90-minutes, more than enough for your entire load of washing. Unlike some of the cheaper options, this steamer has a 5.5-foot hose, long enough for you to stretch around and care for your clothes without having to move the entire machine.

Iron Product Recommendation

If you’re looking for a new iron that is going to heat-up quickly, last for years and care for your clothes properly the best choice is the Maytag M4000. This iron is arguably one of the top irons on the market, especially when you consider that you can usually find it for less than $50.

Maytag M400 review

Maytag M400 Iron

Our favorite clothes iron

Fast, effective and reliable. The Maytag M400 is also very reasonably priced, making this a great option for younger and older gentlemen.

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Once turned-on it will heat up to its maximum heat in less than 55-seconds, meaning that you can get going almost instantly. This will help to save you valuable time, especially if you’re in a rush during the morning and need to iron a shirt before work.

Unlike cheaper irons, the M4000 is able to supply a consistent flow of steam, meaning that no spot on your clothes will be left wrinkled. All of these features are designed to give you a perfectly pressed shirt, the first time around. No longer will you have to go over the same area multiple times, wasting time and frustrating you to no-end.

You might be aware that some clothes irons also have a steaming capability, being held just a few inches away they will supply constant steam, enough to care for at least a few garments. This makes the M4000 incredibly versatile and this steaming capability isn’t particularly common on machines in this price range.

The Clothes Iron

Clothes irons are large pieces of triangular metal which are heated to a hot temperature and then used to press and simultaneously heat the garment . This heat helps to warm the clothing, giving it more flexibility and removing the wrinkles.

Generally, irons are used with a board which provides a surface to lay the clothes out on and helps to give you a flat layer to press against. By the nature of pressing, clothes irons are best for fabrics that you want to press flat and create creases in. On the other hand, they aren’t particularly useful for frills, ruffles, pleats or sleeves because they don’t press perfectly flat and that makes it difficult to maneuver.

Instead, irons should primarily be used for clothes that you want to press flat, shirts, polos, pants, jeans, underwear, sweatshirts and sports clothes.

Clothes irons come in two main categories, electric and stove-top. Electric irons work as you’d imagine, they are much lighter, cheaper and more portable, making them a great choice for younger men who likely are on tighter budgets. Alternatively, stove-top irons are often constructed of cast iron and steel, making them incredibly heavy. This is actually an advantage to some, the much heavier weight helps to press the clothes in a way that is difficult to match with an electric iron. These older machines give an excellent press, important for when you want to create a crease in your pants.

While it is of course possible to achieve a good press and crease with an electric iron, a heavier machine will give you a more defined line without any extra effort.

To get the most out of your iron you should ensure that your clothes have been recently washed, preventing you from pressing sweat into your clothes. Ideally you should tumble dry the garments before ironing them, this will remove a large proportion of the wrinkles, making your job easier and quicker.

When you iron a garment you should ideally start at a lower temperature and work your way up. Although modern machines tend to have settings for different types of garment, depending on the thickness of your clothes and the materials within them, they will respond differently. By starting at a low temperature and working up you can prevent any marks and burns appearing on your garments. This is more common with cheaper irons, they tend to be quite inaccurate, meaning that they might heat beyond their intended temperature and damage your clothes.

If you don’t wash, dry and then immediately dry your clothes it’s likely that they will have some wrinkles by the time you heat your iron up. To remove these wrinkles you can spray a little water onto the wrinkles. This dampness seems to make the material more pliable, giving to the pressure of the iron and pressing the wrinkle out of the garment. When it comes to water, less is more. If you over-spray you are likely to have to go over a spot multiple times, each time increase the chance of a mistake. You only need the slightest spray, let it soak into the fabric and then iron it out after a few seconds.

On the subject of water, it’s best to use distilled or purified water which has the heaviest minerals pulled out of it. Using tap water and even some bottled waters is going to cause congestion in the iron as those heavily minerals will solidify. This is especially frustrating along the base of the iron plate because it will sprinkle out and then bake onto the surface of your clothes, meaning that you have to pick it off. The only way to prevent this is to use purified or distilled water that doesn’t contain minerals.

If you don’t have the money to afford a steamer, you can often find cheap irons which have a steam setting. These will heat the water until it turns into steam and then pump it out, not at the same frequency as a steamer, but enough the steam thinner garments like shirts if you hold the iron just an inch or two away from your clothes.

The Clothes Steamer

Clothes steamers work on a slightly different principle than irons, rather than applying heat and pressure, they use hot steam to dampen and heat the fabric . Water and heat encourages the fibers in the clothing to relax and straighten, while gravity does the rest, that’s why it’s important to hang clothes while you steam them and after until they are dry.

Steamers usually have a large container at the bottom which carries all of the water, a hose which emits the steam and then a tall clothes hanger which you put the garment on. These all-in-one systems make steaming your clothes quick and easy.

Whiles steamers can be used on all types of clothes, they were originally invented for use on delicate fabrics which don’t respond well to the pressure and extreme heat of a clothes iron. This includes; silk, satin, polyester, jersey and wool. Rather than touching the garment with a hot plate, steam is pumped out onto the clothes and this means there is almost no chance of you burning or damaging your clothes.

Certain clothes types like suits and screen-printed shirts also don’t respond well to hot pressure, while they can be cared for with a steamer. Some people also make the argument that steaming your clothes is much quicker than using a clothes iron, but from our experience this greatly depends on the quality of the steamer and how skilled you are with an iron. An experienced dry cleaner can be tremendously fast with an iron, even on complicated garments like dress shirts and pants.

Similarly, a steamer makes it more difficult to leave a crisp crease in your clothing, making it less than ideal for dress shirts and pants. However, the risk of damage is much lower and that can make it worth it for some people.

When you are steaming your clothes you do need to be careful though, with colored garments it’s possible to over steam and cause the colors to run. The easiest way to avoid this is to use a lower temperature and give the clothes more distance, especially if they are new clothes that haven’t been heavily washed before.

About the author

Jack Prenter

Jack has been fascinated by fashion for decades and spent huge amounts of time researching it and becoming an expert. He's written for many well-known publications and is in the process of opening an online clothing store for men. Jack studied at the University of Nottingham and is now based out of Toronto, Canada.