Updated May 2018
In our latest round of testing we added the CHI Professional 13101 to the mix. This newcomer is meant to challenge the high end Rowenta models, and in our testing it almost got there. It is precise and powerful but lacks just a bit of glide and wrinkle reducing performance when compared to the Rowenta models. The CHI is still a highly capable and above average iron, but not quite worthy of an Editors' Choice Award
Best Overall Steam Iron
Rowenta DW5080 Focus
Great steam output
For those that want silky smooth glide, the power to conquer even the most unmanageable wrinkles, and the precision required to get into tiny nooks and crannies, the Rowenta DW5080 Focus is for you. Its best in class steam output of 38 g/min can handle the most onerous of wrinkles, even those of the 'this shirt has been stuffed in the bottom of my suitcase for a week' variety. It backs up this performance with simple, intuitive controls and a decently quick heat up time.
The only flaw in the Focus is its price. Thought it usually sells for around $70, which is lower than its $100 list price, this is a bit steep as far as steam irons go. If you're just ironing a few work shirts each week, you can probably get away with our less expensive Best Buy pick. If you're looking for high-end performance for your big sewing project, or spend multiple hours ironing each week, the extra cost of the Focus is certainly worth it.
Read review: Rowenta DW5080 Focus
Best Bang for Your Buck
Hamilton Beach Durathon Digital 19900
High steam output
If your ironing chores amount to a few garments a week, the Hamilton Beach Durathon Digital offers all the power you need for less than $40. This model really sets itself apart with an impressive steam output of 31 g/min, far more than any other model we tested in this price range. It has a relatively smooth glide, considering how inexpensive it is.
The only real complaint that can be levied against the Durathon Digital is that it isn't quite as nimble nor as powerful as the high end models, all of which cost around twice as much. That being said, The Durathon Digital is more than capable of dispatching with most people's weekly ironing.
Read review: Hamilton Beach Durathon Digital 19900
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Analysis and Test Results
On the face of it, all steam irons look the same. Modern designers have leaned into the natural rocket ship shape of irons to try and make them look more like space age, cutting-edge appliances, but they still all look the same. Additionally, clothes tend to look either wrinkled or ironed, with no apparent range of quality on the ironed side of the spectrum. Case in point, you've probably never uttered the phrase, "Your shirt looks so smooth, what iron do you use?" We designed our testing procedures and criteria for evaluation to try and tease out the areas where there might actually be significant differences between irons.
Our overall scores are based on our individual metrics: Ironing Performance, Steam Output, Ease of Use, and Heating. The following sections detail how well each product performed in these testing metrics.
The above chart can help you find the best way to use your iron budget. It compares each model's performance to its price (you can see product names by hovering your cursor over each dot). As you can see, the Rowenta Focus offers the best performance in the field, but at a relatively high price. The Hamilton Beach Durathon Digital offers good but not top end performance, at a much lower price.
Clearly, an iron's ability to smooth out wrinkles is important. In fact, it's the only reason you would spend money on one of these handheld, steam-breathing dragons. In our testing, we found that all irons produce almost identical results in terms of garment smoothness. Are there differences between individual Products? Yes. Are they noticeable? Barely. For our testers to find even minute differences they had to lay down some fabric, iron two side by side swatches with two different irons, and closely examine the results. Therefore, you can rest assured that any model you choose is going to yield nice, smooth shirts and dresses. In the end, our ironing performance metric essentially boiled down to glide performance. While models that glide over fabric more smoothly don't necessarily yield better results, they do make the process feel much easier and hassle-free, which is a noticeable perk when you're stuck surfing the ironing board for an extended period of time. Better glide is also quite noticeable during the precision ironing required in many sewing and quilting projects. For more of our thoughts on what to consider when purchasing an iron, take a look at our buying advice article.
Smooth glide is a large part of ironing performance, and the Rowenta Focus was far and away the best in that category.
The top performer in our ironing performance testing was the Rowenta DW5080 Focus, which scored a 9 out of 10. This was largely due to its gliding performance. It floated over garments much more smoothly than any other model. This lent a feeling of efficiency and streamlining to the process that made this the model our testers were most apt to reach for. Closely following was another Rowenta, the DW7180 Everlast, which earned an 8. It glides very well, but not quite as easily as its sibling. It separated itself from the rest of the pack in its ability to remove wrinkles. While all models performed almost identically in this regard, the Everlast was just incrementally better than the rest, which pushed it up a bit in our scoring.
Four different models scored a 7 out of 10 in our ironing performance testing, which also ended up being the average score. All three of these models were almost identical in performance. If you've got the eyes and sensitive feel of a quality control technician you may notice that the Sunbeam Steam Master and the CHI Professional 13101 glide just a bit more smoothly and that the Black & Decker D2030 and the Shark Ultimate Professional are just a tad more efficient at getting wrinkles out. However, the vast majority of people will be satisfied with, and will not notice any difference in performance between these four models.
Though inexpensive, the Hamilton Beach Durathon Digital does a decent job of getting out tough wrinkles.
At the bottom of the scoring table were the Hamilton Beach Durathon Digital 19900, which scored a 6, and the Oliso TG1100, which scored a 5 out of 10. This again came down to glide. The Hamilton Beach's glide felt significantly less smooth than that of the top performers, and the Oliso was just a bit worse. This isn't a dealbreaker and did not affect the quality of the job performed, but it did make the process feel a bit less efficient.
The worst scorer in this metric was the Sunbeam Hot-2-Trot, which scored a 4 out of 10. It can get wrinkles out, it just takes a lot more passes than the full-sized models do. It's small size also means it takes more time to get the job done. This may be okay if you're traveling, but not for weekly chores.
Unlike ironing performance, we saw clearly differentiating results in our steam output test. While we found all models yield almost identical results when you iron properly, the difference that steam output makes is speed. All of the models we tested are going to be able to smooth out all of the wrinkles and creases you'll encounter. However, for a particularly stubborn wrinkle, a more powerful model with higher steam output will force said wrinkle into compliance with fewer passes than a less powerful model. While this does save a minute amount of time, you would have to be ironing a lot for it to add up to anything significant. Like better glide, however, this can make your ironing experience feel a bit easier and more streamlined. Therefore, if your fancy clothes tend to spend most of their lives in wrinkle-inducing heaps on the floor, a model with greater steam output will make you feel like a steam-powered deity, rather than a Cinderella toiling over a steaming iron. Steam output is determined by two factors: how much steam is produced, and how efficient (read: numerous) the holes in the soleplate are at transferring that steam to the clothing. We didn't rely on manufacturers' claims but measured steam output ourselves. For more on our testing procedures check out the how we test page.
In this metric the Rowenta DW5080 Focus again took top honors, scoring a 9 out of 10. It produced an impressive 38 grams per minute of steam in our test and has plentiful well-placed steam holes to take full advantage of this output. The only model that was able to come close to this performance was the CHI Professional 13101, which spat out 35 g/min of steam in our testing. It also has a lot of soleplate holes, though not quite as many as the Focus, which has a clear edge in terms of pounding out stubborn wrinkles.
Taking the silver medal with a score of 8 was the Rowenta DW7180 Everlast. It has the same superior steam hole layout of the Focus but put out a bit less steam at 29 g/min. The Hamilton Beach Durathon Digital 19900 also scored an 8. It actually put out a bit more steam than the Everlast at 31 g/min. However, it has only triads of steam holes around the periphery of the soleplate with the center being completely impermeable, so it was slightly less effective at pushing steam into garments.
The Focus put out an impressive amount of steam.
There were three models that fell into the middle of the steam output pack. The Black & Decker D2030 scored a 6 out of 10, producing a respectable 24 g/min of steam. It lost some points because it has a relatively small number of steam holes, all near the edge of the soleplate. The Sunbeam Steam Master scored a 5, putting out steam at a rate of 21 g/min. This was relatively low, and its soleplate design was somewhat lacking with only a small number of steam holes. The Shark Ultimate Professional also scored a 5. Its steam output was fairly low at 19 g/min, but it has an excellent soleplate design with a multitude of well-distributed steam holes, which partially makes up for its low output.
Generally, we found that models with more holes in their soleplates, like the Rowenta Focus (left), had better steam output than models wither fewer holes, like the Sunbeam Steam Master (right).
The Oliso TG1100 fell well behind the rest of the field in steam output, scoring a 3 out of 10. It only produced 11 g/min of steam in our testing. This is less than a third of the top performer, and barely half of the closest performing model. The Sunbeam Hot-2-Trot was at the very bottom of the scoreboard, earning a 2 out of 10. It produced just 7 g/min in our testing. Not bad considering its small stature, but still quite weak overall.
Ease of Use
While we did find appreciable differences in ease of use performance between irons, those differences were small enough that they may feel insignificant to many people. If there is one aspect of ironing that you absolutely hate, like refilling the water tank, then ease of use will be an important consideration in your purchase decision. If you're more concerned with performance attributes like steam output then ease of use is a less important consideration (if you're still a bit confused about what to look for in an iron check out our buying advice article). We considered a number of ease of use factors in our testing including cord length, general handling and ergonomics, ease of filling the water tank, and how conducive soleplate shape was to smoothing out oddly shaped items of clothing. Many people complain of water leaking from the soleplate. We found that all models did this when they weren't at a high enough temperature, so we didn't dock any points for this. While we were iron testing our office looked like the costume department of a Broadway production, and our testers ironed a wide variety of garments with multiple different models, so the bottom line is we have a good feel for how easy (or frustrating) these products are to use.
Continuing their reign atop the leaderboard, both Rowenta models shared the top score of 8 out of 10 in our ease of use testing. The DW5080 Focus and the DW7180 Everlast share nearly indistinguishable soleplates, user interfaces, and general weight and feel, so they provide almost identical user experiences. The soleplate is wide enough to allow for efficient passes but has a narrow point that allows for precise maneuvering on oddly shaped garments. Rowenta's wide body designs shield your hand from steam and make it easy to fill the irons directly from the sink.
Some models opted for digital interfaces (Hamilton Beach Durathon Digital,left) while kept it classic and analog (Sunbeam Steam Master, right). Unless you're bothered by the small type of most digital interfaces, we didn't find either style to be better or worse.
Next up in our ease of use testing was the Shark Ultimate Professional GI505, which scored a 7 out of 10. The Shark has a nice cord design, handled well, and was able to get into tight spaces with ease (though with not quite as much aplomb as the Rowentas). It lost some points due to the opening of its water tank. It tends to splash a bit if you don't pour the water perfectly, which can make filling it directly from a sink a messy affair.
The Oliso TG1100 also scored a 7. It has the longest power cord of any of the models we tested and was one of the easiest models to fill up with water. Its only real downside was its heavy weight, which made it feel a bit clunkier in terms of handling. It also has a foot that automatically raises the iron off the board if you let go of the handle. This was a very polarizing feature, half our testers loved it and the other half hated it, so we left it out of our scoring.
We really liked the Steam Master's retractable cord.
The final model that scored a 7 out of 10 was the CHI Professional 13101. It handles quite well, well-designed controls, and an extra long 10' cord. However, without much space around the tank opening, it is difficult to fill without spilling water, which can be a bit annoying.
Leading off the last group in our ease of use testing is the Sunbeam Steam Master, which earned a 6 out of 10. It endeared itself to our testers with its retractable cord, which made clean up and storage a breeze. However, its handling felt average, and the fill hole for the water tank is awkwardly placed, making it near impossible to fill it directly from a sink faucet. The Hamilton Beach Durathon Digital 19900 matched the Shark in ease of use, scoring a 6 as well. It earned this score by being just slightly above average across the board. Its cord has a decent design that doesn't get in the way too much, it's fairly lightweight and handles relatively comfortably, and while its water tank is not the easiest to fill, it can be done directly from a sink faucet without too much trouble.
At the bottom of the ease of use bracket was the Black and Decker D2030, which picked up a score of 5. While getting the lowest score sounds bad, a 5 is not a terrible score in the scheme of things, so it's no reason to completely write the D2030 off. However, it did feel a bit less ergonomic and pleasant to handle than the other models we tested, and Its cord design and ease of filling the water tank were just mediocre. The Sunbeam Hot-2-Trot also earned a 5. with its small size it is very easy to fill the water tank and move it around, but it also means the ironing takes much much longer to complete.
We all want to get our clothes ironed as quickly and efficiently as possible, so it makes sense to assume that the faster a model heats up the quicker you can put the ironing board back in the closet and get back on with your life. While this is true, our testing revealed that the differences are not all that meaningful. We put all of our irons on their highest setting and measured the soleplate temperature with a thermocouple after two minutes, and the spread in temperatures was only 40˚F, meaning they all heated up at very similar rates (to put these temperatures into context, see the ironing temperatures chart below). So the differences in heating speeds are more like swimmers shaving their legs to gain a few milliseconds, rather than upgrading from a Subaru to a Ferrari. If every second matters to you then it is worth getting one of the top scorers in this category. If 30 seconds here and there doesn't sound like a big deal to you, then heating speed doesn't need to factor into your purchase decision.
The CHI Professional 13101 heated up the fastest in our testing, hitting 440˚ after two minutes. This means it would be 400˚ and ready to iron cotton in well under two minutes, which impressed our testers and saves a lot of time if you're ironing fabrics that require high temperatures.
The Rowenta DW7180 Everlast was the second fastest heater in our test, scoring an 8 out of 10. It reached a scorching 430˚ after two minutes of preheating. Next up was the Black and Decker D2030, which earned a score of 7. It hit a temperature of 420˚ at the two-minute mark. Both the Hamilton Beach Durathon Digital 19900 and the Rowenta DW5080 Focus earned a score of 6, hitting 405˚ and 400˚ at the two-minute mark, respectively.
The Rowenta Everlast got upt to temperature and had us ironing faster than any other model.
Three models earned a score of 5 out of 10 in our heating testing. While this score is not far off the average, it is the lowest score in the bunch. Both the Sunbeam Steam Master and the Shark Ultimate Professional reached 390˚ after two minutes. The Oliso TG1100 was slightly behind, hitting 380˚ after two minutes. The Sunbeam Hot-2-Trot also hit 380˚ after two minutes. While these models did heat up a bit more slowly than the competitors, it would not be restrictive for most people as they still reach cotton ironing temperatures in just over two minutes.
Why We Didn't Score Safety
Steam irons are a potential fire hazard. All the irons we tested have fairly standardized safety features to avoid this danger. This includes a 30-second auto-off timer if an iron is left stationary when lying flat or on its side, and an 8-30 minute (depending on the model) auto-off timer when the iron is left standing on its heel. We test these features on all of the irons we review to make sure they function as advertised, and all of the irons in this review worked perfectly in that regard.
All of the models we tested have some sort of auto-shut off safety feature.
Choosing an iron from the numerous and seemingly identical options available can be a confusing and tedious experience. We hope that our testing results have helped you identify the ironing attributes that matter most to you, and find a reasonably priced model that delivers what you're looking for. Here at TechGearLab we're always striving to make chore time a little less painful.