How to Iron: A Home-Ec 101 Guide

Stephanie says:

Let’s work to iron out the wrinkles.

I love ironing. I do. Roll your eyes. Scoff. Mutter, “whatever, who loves ironing?” I do. There is something satisfying about taking a pile of clean clothes and one by one getting all the wrinkles out, then putting them away. I don’t iron every morning. Heavens no. I need my beauty rest, and more importantly a cup of coffee and an egg sandwich that I can eat at a pace that will not force it to repeat on me. I iron on Sundays. You see, during the week, I do laundry, usually Thursday’s and Friday’s, and anything that I would like to be ironed goes in the “ironing basket.”

How to iron

I hope you are reading this, Husband, the only thing that goes in the “ironing basket” is clean, un-ironed clothes, not your nasty socks or bath towels.

Set aside a time for ironing – or it won’t get done.

Once all the laundry is done, or as done as it’s going to get, I iron. In my house, ironing happens on Sunday afternoon.

Sometimes I pull out all the hangers and say, “once these hangers are full I’ll be done,” and there’s other times where I will put a time limit on the ironing. I may say, “from 4:00-5:00 I will iron.” And whatever gets done gets done, anything that’s leftover gets ironed next week.

You just need to make sure you have an enough clothes for the week.

What do you need to iron?

  • Sizing
    A laundry product that adds body to fabric. Sizing is most often used for synthetic fabrics and makes ironing at low temperatures easier. The spray also helps clothing to be more stain resistent by reducing it’s ability to absorb soil.
  • Starch
    Made from vegetable cellulose starch adds body and stiffness to fabric. It works best on clothing made from natural fibers like linen and cotton as it needs to be ironed at a higher temperature than sizing
  • Water
    Using distilled water will prevent mineral build up on the soleplate of the iron -that’s the part that comes in contact with the clothing.
  • Iron – the linked iron is just one example. If you iron regularly you may want to invest in an iron with a self-cleaning setting. This will eliminate the need for hot-iron cleaner
  • a padded ironing board.

There is a debate in my family, starch or sizing? I’ve always sworn by starch. I like my clothes stiff and pressed. My parents use sizing, which gets the wrinkles out but still allows for some body and movement to your clothes. Here’s the deal, on linens, non-knit cotton, wool, durable fabrics, use starch. Things like knit skirts, or like my husband’s polo’s, use sizing. Why? Because if you use starch on these fabrics the iron sticks to them and creates more wrinkles that you will just need to use sizing to get out.

How to iron

First, fill your iron with water. There should be a fill line on the side. If you overflow, no big deal, your ironing board will just get a little wet, but it’s water, it will dry. I would suggest using distilled water if you have invested in a really nice iron because the minerals in tap water can end up shortening the life of your iron.

Second, do a quick spray of starch on the piece of fabric you are starting with. There is a technique. It involves a little dance, spraying from side to side in time with the rest of your body. Make sure you shake the can well before you use it because whatever magic is in that can settles and you don’t want that on your clothes. Give the sizing or starch time to absorb, if you begin ironing too quickly, the starch may flake rather than coat the fibers that make up your material.

Button down shirts are easy, start with the front panel that is on the side in which the rest of the shirt will be hanging off the back of the board Then just work your way around until both front panels and the back panel have been sprayed with your starch or sizing. You’ll follow this routine for the ironing, too.

Expect to move the shirt four times. I love a nice, crisp sleeves. You can button the sleeve if it is not already, if you don’t want to mess with it, just fold the cuff as if it were buttoned and lay the shirtsleeve flat on the board. When you lay the sleeve on the board line up the rest of the shirt as if you were buying the shirt. You know when you buy a new button down shirt and it looks like whoever is going to wear it walks around with their arms at a 45-degree angle? Iron sleeves like that, use the seam in the sleeve as a guide for where to make the crease. If a previous crease exists, try to match the fold along it or you may create a second crease

With button downs, the collar is easy, lay the shirt face down with the collar “popped” and spay and press it. Once it’s done, fold it over, and hang up your shirt. Time to move on.

Polo’s are next. Grab your sizing. You will  want to put the shirt on the board as if you were putting it on your body, the bottom goes on the end of the board first. Situate the shirt like you’re going to move it 4 times again, just like the button down. I usually do the front left first then rotate the shirt away from me until all four “panels” are done. Remember, every time you move the shirt, spritz it with some sizing and give it a moment. Make sure you shake the sizing well too. Collars on polo’s are a little trickier because you can’t lay them flat, so like you did with the rest of the shirt, “pop” the collar and putting the shirt head-first on the end of the board, work your way around. Now sleeves. Depending on the size of the individual wearing the shirt, you can either get the sleeve on the end of the board or just lay it flat, try not to create a crease.

What do you want to do next? Shorts? I love ironing shorts. And I love wearing nice pressed shorts. I feel so preppy in my crisp white khaki Gap shorts with a gingham button down. *sighs* OK! Shorts are different than pants for ironing. Shorts you can put on the board, pants you cannot, typically. Shorts are easy, depending on the size, you can put them on from the top or from the bottom, spray them down, and press. Work in circles until both legs are done. Pay extra attention to pockets. If there is a flap pocket, they are notorious for getting all bunched up in the wash, if this happens, get it with the starch, and carefully help the fabric lay down while you iron over it. Once you have the whole pocket under the iron, hit it with the steam. You did make sure your iron had water, right?

Pants are another beast. You want to do these in sections. You can’t probably “dress” the board like we have been depending on the size of the pants. So you will need to lay them flat on the board. Well-made pants you will be able to flatten in no time, on both sides. If where ever you got your drawers cut some corners you may end up with some creases on one side. It’s the price of doing business. I usually do the front right leg first and if I can’t get up toward the top of the pants, I scoot them down and quick press that portion. Then I flip the leg of the pants over, and move to the next side.

Some special stuff with pants: pleats and creasing. Both of which are a wee outdated, but we will cover them here just for the sake of being well-rounded.

Pleats, not necessarily just with pants, I should correct myself, I have tunics with a back pleat. The key to ironing a pleat is to lay the item on the board as you want the pleats to appear and then press the pleats.  If you try to navigate that big old iron in those little creases, you will just drive yourself insane, so just don’t.

Creasing, my dad, up until like 2009 creased his jeans. It wasn’t until one of his golf buddies took him aside like, “dude…you don’t iron jeans, and you certainly don’t crease them.” My mother was overjoyed knowing that she didn’t have to iron my dads jeans anymore.

To iron a crease you want to hold the pants like you’re looking at them from the side and you want to turn in the front flaps, like where the button and fly are, until you look like you have the crease where you want it. Then lay both legs piled on top of each other on the board and press. You will want to use steam here to really get a sharp crease.

Some final thoughts and quick tips:

Make ironing as enjoyable as possible.

  • I have an ironing playlist in Spotify that I listen to when I iron. It gets me pumped up, it’s actually what I am listening to as I write this. Put your favorite songs that will get you dancing and singing along, it makes this boring task go much faster.
  • Don’t get distracted, especially if you have kids. I’m guilty of this, it seems like everyone I have ever met wants to talk to me during “ironing time.” Draw the line. Scorched clothing = more work.
  • Try not to feel overwhelmed, I find if I separate my clothes from my husband’s on the bed and take one from each pile, it seems to go faster and I don’t feel guilty if I get burned out half way through and he has no shirts for the week.
  • Think ahead, check the weather, if you have multiple seasonal clothes in your basket, plan out that you may need long sleeves and short sleeves during that week, iron a few of each.
  • Finally, stay dedicated, ironing everything at once is actually a time-saver. Would you rather spend an hour on a Sunday and save all that time every single day of waiting for the iron to heat up, and adding water, and setting up the board then ironing? Knowing that everything in my closet is ironed and ready-to-wear any day of the week is very comforting, especially on mornings where I can’t seem to get moving.

Happy Ironing!

Stephanie Coccaro is married to @jaredwsmith and lives with him, and their 3 dogs in West Ashley.  She is currently enrolled for the rest of her life at the College of Charleston majoring in English.


2 Comments

  1. Pam on April 19, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    You are an ironing expert! A goddess of steam! A startchaholic! Which is why I save all of my ironing for your visits

  2. Pam Smith on April 19, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    Absolutely loved this article and am happy to subscribe and get back to basics and rediscover the joy in homemaking. Thank you Stephanie and Heather

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