I once received an email from a blog reader who asked this question:
When I’m ironing just a few small pieces at a time, I use a Rowenta PowerGlide2 steam iron that I’ve had for years. When I have a lot of ironing – or large tablecloths – I use a 1940s Ironrite ironer.
I suspected, however, that the iron really wasn’t my blog friend’s problem. Let me show you the basic steps I take when ironing linens.
Start with a clean iron! That may seem obvious, but you just might be surprised … Your iron needs to be clean both inside and out. It’s a good idea to check your manufacturer’s recommendations for what products to use, but I’ll make some suggestions.
Caring for the inside of your iron If you are filling your steam iron with tap water, STOP! Many times there are substances in tap water that transfer to the clean fabric you’re ironing and leave a stain. Then you have to re-wash. Not worth it!
If you’ve been using tap water, I suggest you purchase some steam iron cleaner the next time you’re out shopping and follow the directions. You may even have to use it a couple of times to (hopefully) get out all of the “gunk.” Once your iron is clean inside, it’s important to check your manufacturer’s suggestions for which type of water to use. Mine calls for spring water, but other manufacturers say to use distilled. Both spring and distilled water come in gallon jugs, and should be located in the same section of your grocery store.
Tip: If your steam iron leaks, it’s possible you really need to replace it. But before you do, try this. Turn on your iron and let it heat up on the hot/steam setting for 1-2 minutes each time before you start ironing. Very often the leaking problem will stop.
Caring for the outside of your iron This is actually the easy part! You want to purchase an iron soleplate cleaner. There are several brands available (often called “hot iron cleaner”), and I’ve had equally good success with all that I’ve tried. Common instructions are for you to set your iron on the hottest setting and turn your steam to “off” (or as low as possible). Once the iron is hot, squeeze some of the soleplate cleaner onto an old towel or cloth that has been folded so it is THICK. Then rub the soleplate cleaner directly on the hot iron. (Now you know why you want your cloth to be THICK — so you don’t burn your fingers!) You’ll begin to see the thick, dirty substance on your iron start to disappear. Use as many applications of the cleaner (and as many clean cloths) as it takes to get the entire soleplate (sides included) completely clean.
Now that your iron is clean …
Tip: If your ironing board doesn’t have a padded surface, cover it with a fluffy towel or smooth quilt and iron on top of that.
The question for some of you may be, “How do I know which is the front side and which is the back side?” That may seem like it should be an easy question, but actually it’s sometimes very difficult to tell. When someone is extremely good at handwork, often the back (wrong side) looks as pretty as the front! On occasion I’ve had to pull out a magnifying glass just to know for sure.
On the front (right) side, however, they aren’t visible …
To starch … or not to starch? If I want starched linens, my personal preference is to starch only when I’m ready to use them. I don’t recommend storing starched linens because the starch can attract insects. (I’ll cover the topic of proper linen storage later in this series.) You can use either canned spray starch or liquid starch. I prefer the liquid because it saturates the entire fabric rather than staying mostly on the surface – and it doesn’t flake! I just add a small amount of liquid starch to some water in the sink (almost always less starch than the directions call for), mix well, then add my linens; swishing to wet them thoroughly. I might let them dry slightly, but usually I iron them when they’re wet.
What about using fragrance? As with starch, whether or not to scent your linens is a personal choice. Occasionally I do, but more often than not I prefer to spritz a bit of fragrance on a freshly-made bed … or add a sachet to the linen closet. If you want to use fragrance when ironing, there are many ready-made linen waters available as well as many online recipes for making your own. Caution: Linen water should be sprayed on when ironing, not added to your steam iron.
If there’s something I haven’t covered here that you’re wondering about, PLEASE leave a comment and ask me! Someone else may have the same question …
I hope you’ll find these pointers to be helpful the next time you’re ironing your linens. Remember … the best thing you can do for your vintage linens is use them!Have a wonderful week! I’ll see you in a few days for Tablescape Thursday.
I’m linking this post to Metamorphosis Monday at Between Naps on the Porch. Thanks for hosting, Susan!