The precursor of today's electric iron is a bit more recent - an American invention dating from the 1880s. It was a crude appliance, lacking not only the spray and steam gadgetry of today but even a thermostat to stop overheating and scorching.
As for the iron of the future, the 21st century is expected to bring a lightweight iron completely made out of plastic. That's the view of David Woodcock, curator for domestic appliances at the Science Mureum, London. "If you consider that there are now plastic kettles," he says, "there's no reason why you shouldn't have an all-plastic iron." So it's possible that the word "iron" could become as anachronistic as the term silver to describe your loose change.
Which iron of the many on the market should you choose? We asked a panel of ironing experts, whose jobs entail being well turned-out or making other people's clothes look smart, to try out two each.
Amanda Cross, fashion and beauty presenter on the cable TV channel UK Living; Joe Allen, a tailor/designer in north London; Christopher Dennis, a cabin crew member with British Airways; Maria Emilia Almeida, a cook/housekeeper with a domestic employment agency, Aunt Jessica Cares.
We asked the panel to assess how comfortable each iron was to handle, how easy the spray or steam facilities (if any) were to use, how convenient the position of the flex was, the quality of the end results, the iron's looks and style, and value for money.
***REMINGTON TRAVEL IRON
This is only an inexpensive travel iron, but our panel would be glad to pack it in their luggage. They thought it compared well with some of the ordinary irons. "It's light, easy to use and produces good results," said Maria Emilia Almeida. Joe Allen commented: "I especially liked the flex position because it took the cord out of the way when pressing. Due to its small size, though, it would take a considerable time to press a garment."
Amanda Cross also had reservations: "As travel irons go, a good one - but I wouldn't totally rely on it to iron a silk or cotton shirt. Comfortable to use, though." This travel iron has both steam and a spray, a folding handle and dual voltage for use abroad - and it fits into a travel pouch. It is only about half the weight of the Tefal iron we tested.
This very basic iron doesn't have steam or spray. It does have the advantage of being very cheap, but the panel nevertheless thought it was worth spending the extra for steam, as this dry iron didn't produce well-ironed laundry. "A false economy," said Amanda Cross. "An iron without steam is like a car without an engine - yes, lightweight, but then so are the results." Maria Emilia Almeida commented: "Without a steam facility, ironing took much longer. If you have a busy household, you can't afford to use this amount of time re-ironing clothes." Even leaving aside the lack of steam, the panel didn't find it very convenient or comfortable to use.
*****TEFAL ULTRAGLIDE 2017
If a really well-pressed outfit is essential to your self-image, it could be worth forking out for this iron. The panel gave it top marks for producing good quality results. "Nearest of all the irons to giving a professional finish," said Joe Allen. "Good on all fabric types and very stylish in its looks." Amanda Cross also declared it her favourite: "Excellent for steaming clothes while hanging - imperative in my profession. Totally worth the money." Allowing you to steam clothes vertically, as you would when hanging suits or curtains, is just one of the features on this iron. It also has a water-filter cartridge to stop lime-scale furring it up, and variable steam settings for different fabrics. Only Christopher Dennis disliked it: "Too gimmicky, and its Aqua System cartridge is difficult to understand."
POWERSTREAM INOX DE471
This iron couldn't match the Tefal on results, but it is much cheaper. It has some good features, including a choice of steam output levels and a control that lets you give the clothes an extra shot of steam. As with the Tefal, you can steam clothes vertically. "Good to handle, with a very good steam jet," said Christopher Dennis. "It gives excellent results quickly and easily. A nice solid iron, heavy-duty stuff." Joe Allen also liked it: "My second favourite after the Tefal, with a nice design aesthetic and easy-to-use steam buttons. Gave a good finish to pressed garments. All in all, good value for money." Maria Emilia Almeida did not like the soleplate (the flat metal part on the bottom), which she felt made the ironing finish less smooth.
The panel gave a fair report on this iron, which gave reasonable quality results - but they pointed out a few drawbacks. Despite some good features, it did not score particularly well on comfort and convenience. Christopher Dennis liked the grip, but found that the flex rubbed uncomfortably against his wrist. Joe Allen found the iron "a bit on the large size, and not easy to manoeuvre". But Maria Emilia Almeida enjoyed using it: "It has a mirror-finish soleplate which made it glide through the ironing. Easy to use, too, and much better value for money than the Rowenta Surfline."
Remington - Boots, Argos and other leading electrical retailers; Rowenta - phone 0372 277511 for local stockists ; Tefal - leading electrical suppliers and department stores. Morphy Richards - phone 0709 582402; Salton - phone 061-681 8321 for local stockists.Reuse content