Friday, July 07, 2023

How To Clean An Iron - Quilters

Steam Iron

Have you ever been ironing a light colored fabric (maybe your favorite blouse) and all of a sudden there are red/brown rust spots splattering all over the place?  Maybe, you are making a quilt, you forgot that you used the iron for some sort of Steam-A-Seam or other iron type adhesive. You need to clean that iron or it is surely going to make a mess of future projects. There are many reasons that an iron needs to be cleaned.

What Causes a Dirty Iron?

  • Using tap-water to fill water tank.  Sure, most irons say to go ahead and use tap water.   Probably fine if you only use your iron once in a blue moon. Higher end irons will indicate to use distilled or filtered water.
  • Letting water (tap or distilled) SIT in your iron without being used for long periods of time.  Sure, the iron at my house only gets used maybe once a year, I empty the water after every use.  However, the iron(s) at my shop get used on a daily basis.  At the shop, we are adding water a couple of times a day.  My motto "Steam is my friend"  oooorrr "Steam the cxxp out of it".
  • Using a fusible ( such as Heat-N-Bond or Steam-A-Seam) on your ironing surface. There are many products available to protect your ironing surface, such as "Applique Pressing Sheets", "Silicon Sheets" and so on. That extra adhesive can and will stick to your ironing surface AND your iron.

How Often To Clean a Steam Iron

You can ask yourself these questions if you are curious if your steam iron needs cleaning:

  • Are there marks or rusty stains on the area where you ironed?
  • Is the water being sprayed from the water reservoir brownish in color?
  • Does your iron 'spit' nasty colored water on your fabrics?
  • Does your iron glide smoothly over the fabric?
  • Can you see residue (or gunk) on the sole plate of the iron?

If you answered yes to the first two questions, then you should flush your iron to remove any mineral deposits from the water reservoir. It is usually recommended to flush your iron at least twice a year. Always use distilled water as using tap water in the steam iron clogs the steam vents.

If you answered yes to the last two questions too, then you also need to clean the sole-plate of your iron. As you iron, starch and even synthetic fabrics can stick to its sole-plate. When the iron is hot, the residues that are baked get stuck on the plate.

How Do You Unclog a Steam Iron

If your iron sprays dirty (or rusty looking) water instead of fresh steam, here’s an inexpensive and safe guide on how to clean your steam iron. All you need are the following items:

  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Distilled water
  • Toothpick or an old toothbrush
  • Cotton swab
  • A clean damp cloth or towel

Here’s how you do it:

Check the Steam Holes for Residues

Place the iron upright and look for any white residue in the steam holes. Remove build-ups using an old toothbrush, toothpick, or cotton swab. Wipe the iron’s soleplate using a clean and damp cloth or towel. Metals should not be used to clean the soleplate as it could damage the iron’s plate.

Prepare the Cleaning Solution

In a bowl, mix 1/2 cup of distilled water and 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar. Fill the iron’s water reservoir with this solution. Make sure that the iron is unplugged.

Steam Your Iron to Loosen Mineral Deposits

Turn on the iron and select the steam feature to allow it to steam. Wait for it to heat for about five minutes. Press the steam button again for 30 seconds. Allow the steam to flow out of the steam vents. Repeat the procedure at least five or six times.

Cool Your Iron and Remove the Remaining Cleaning Solution

Unplug your iro
n and allow it to cool. Once it’s cool, open the water reservoir and pour out any remaining cleaning solution. Empty the reservoir and let it drain by placing it in an upside-down position for at least one hour.

How Do You Clean The Base of a Steam Iron

Hard abrasives or any metal should never be used when cleaning the iron to avoid scratching its plate. Once the aluminum plating of the steam plate is scratched, it will get rusty and will cause staining on the fabric. Clean your iron regularly, especially if you are using laundry starch.

You can use the following items to clean your iron’s soleplate:

Rubbing Alcohol

Turn your iron to Cotton or hottest setting.  Pour a Tablespoon of Rubbing Alcohol (higher percentage the better) on a scrap of fabric. Rub hot iron on the rubbing alcohol saturated area.  Gunk comes off!

Baking Soda

Make a cleaning paste by mixing baking soda with water. Use a clean cloth to dip it onto the cleaning mixture. Rub it on the soleplate to remove the gunk and grease and scrub away. Using a clean cloth dipped in water, rinse the soleplate and remove any remaining cleaning mixture.

White Vinegar and Salt

Mix distilled water and salt to make a paste. Get a microfiber cloth and rub the mixture on the soleplate to remove excess build-up. Quick tip to remove those pesky build-ups– you can spread the paste on the surface and let it soak for at least 10 minutes. Then you can wipe away the mixture with a clean damp cloth. Note: I used to do this to copper bottom pots when I was a kid.  Was fascinating how the vinegar/salt combination would bubble up and clean the copper pans.  Not sure how this works with irons.  Vinegar is acidic, and salt is an abrasive.

Newspaper and Salt

Turn on your iron and set it to warm. On an ironing board, layout the newspaper and sprinkle it with salt. Iron on top of the salt and newspaper in circular motions until you remove most of the salt. Turn off and unplug the iron. Wipe away the dirt with a damp cloth.
(Again, not sure how effective this method is.   Were these newspapers from when WE were kids, where the ink would get all over your fingers.  Salt seems to be the abrasive.)

Dryer Sheets

Turn on the iron and set the temperature to low. Protect your hands with oven mitts and start rubbing a ball of dryer sheets on the soleplate. Layer more dryer sheets on the ball if the iron gets hot. Turn off the iron once the soleplate is shiny. (OK, I don't know about this one, as hubby is allergic to scents and we don't use dryer sheets.  Oven mitts?  Have heard dryer sheets work miracles).


Ironing can already be a daunting task. However, your steam iron is your best friend when you want to get crisp-looking clothes. Thus, it should also be in your best interest to take proper care of it to keep it in top shape. Don’t forget to bookmark this article so you can visit us anytime for ironing or other household advice!

You may also be interested in:

This Quilting 101 series is a compilation of the demonstrations and lectures that we have been providing to the Mulberry Chapter of the Quilt Guild Of The Villages. (QGOTV) in Florida. We began this series with various speakers. Many thanks to Barb, Dale, and MaryAnn and Betty B. for their contributions. I have been taking the notes and turning them into blog posts to share with other quilters.

Mulberry Quilting is a Chapter under the larger umbrella of the Quilting Guild Of The Villages (QGOTV).  In July of 2023,  QGOTV membership count is 1,238. Chapters are formed in different regions of The Villages, a 55+ retirement community in Central Florida.

Shadywood Quilts is a full service professional business that can help you complete your quilt at most any stage. We also 'fix' quilts made by non-professionals. If you get started, and don't feel you are going to be able to complete your quilt. Take pictures of your quilt in process, email it to us, and we can let you know if we can help you get it finished.


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