The Best Steam Irons of 2017
Wrinkled clothes? we bought 7 of the best steam irons available and, over the course of more than 80 hours, put them through a series of 10 tests. Our picks cover everybody, from those that want an inexpensive and reliable way to smooth out their work shirts every week, to serious crafters that need powerful and precise steam. In our testing we found that, in the end, all irons are able to deliver smooth garments, but some require a much more frustrating path to get there than others. So read on to make sure you get an iron that will make this chore as painless as possible, rather than one that will have steam coming out of your ears.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated April 2017
After a careful audit of the most popular models on the market, the Rowenta Focus remains our top recommendation for demanding users. The Hamilton Beach Durathon Digital is the best for most people who want to iron some work clothes breaking the bank.
Best Overall Steam Iron
Rowenta DW5080 Focus
We know comparing a product to a Cadillac is a trite and overused turn of phrase, but the Rowenta DW5080 Focus truly is the Cadillac of steam irons, taking top honors in all but one of our testing metrics. It glides over rumpled garments with unparalleled ease, leaving nothing but crisp, pressed smoothness in its wake. It produces the most steam of any model we tested (38 g/min), and its burst function is so powerful it feels like the iron is going to jump off the board. The controls are intuitive and let you dial in your preferred preference with ease, and the water is accessible and easy to fill. Bottom line, with the Focus' top notch glide and high end steam power, it floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. Maybe it's actually the Ali of steam irons.
Great Steam Output
read full review: Rowenta DW5080 Focus
Best Bang for Your Buck
Hamilton Beach Durathon Digital 19900
The Hamilton Beach Durathon Digital 19900 was a solid all around performer in our testing, and was nearly able to match the much more expensive high end models in terms of steam output. Plus, its burst of steam feature was so powerful it rattled the ironing board. It offers all of this power, along with a pleasant digital interface and a reasonably fast warm up time, for a list price of just $40. If you're only ironing a few items a week the Durathon provides plenty of performance for less than half of what the high end models cost.
High steam output
read full review: Hamilton Beach Durathon Digital 19900
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 off 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.
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.
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.
Three 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 glides 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 three models.
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.
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 power. 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 in 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. 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.
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.
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.
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 aspects 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 used improperly, so we didn't dock any points for this (for more on leakage and improper technique see our buying advice article). While we were iron testing our office looked like the costume department of a broadway production, and our testers ironed all that clothing 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.
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.
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.
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 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 counts 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 Rowenta DW7180 Everlast was the 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.
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. 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
Obviously the heat generated by steam irons can be a hazard, so it may seem that our testing procedure is missing a much needed safety metric. All of the models we tested include a 3-way shut off system, which is the de facto industry standard. This mechanism shuts the iron off if it has been stationary for 30 seconds laying flat or on its side, and after 8-15 minutes (depending on the model) when sitting on its heel. In our testing we found this safety mechanism functioned as advertised in all of the models. Therefore we did not include a safety metric because all of the models would have earned the exact same score.
Irons are a difficult category for shoppers. While they seem fairly homogenous in both design and performance, different models offer subtle advantages or drawbacks that will be deal breakers for some, and completely irrelevant for others. We hope that our testing and presentation of the ensuing results has provided all you need to find the model that will fit your specific preferences.
— Max Mutter & Steven Tata
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