Clothes steamer vs. iron

Updated April 17, 2017

Ironing is a chore most people either love or hate. Fortunately for those in the "hate" category, technology has made ironing quick and easy. Nevertheless, a decision must be made of which ironing invention to use: a steam iron or garment steamer. Base your choice on how frequently you iron, what is being ironed, the results you expect, and where you iron.


Irons have evolved since cast-iron prototypes. With the inventions of electricity and plastic, the basic base model emerged, followed by digital displays, steam and cordless irons.

A garment steamer offers a variety of sizes and portability such as handheld/travel-size steamers. Portable/compact steamers allow maneuverability from room to room. Uprights are designed to take up less closet space.


With the exception of the base model, all types of irons include one or all of the following: steam production for enhanced ironing, drip-free steaming for vertical use, retractable cord or no cord at all, digital display window for temperature control, stainless-steel bottom, self-cleaning feature and time-controlled auto shut-off.

The handheld/travel size may offer everything from 12-minute steam time to bristle and lint brushes, storage pouch or duel voltage. Some brands do not offer any attachments.

A portable/compact steamer is made with a detachable base for carrying as well as a hook for hanging on doorknobs while using the nozzle. It provides 20-minute steam time, a fixed T-nozzle, lint brush and crease tool. When returned to the base, the steamer automatically shuts off.

An upright comes with a collapsible pole for hanging garments, foot-activated power switch, smaller base for optimal space-saving and larger wheels for maneuverability. Higher-priced uprights are equipped with crease tools, lint removers, fur brushes and handheld pressing boards.


An iron applies pressure to the fabric, flattening fibres to give a crisp look. Garment steamers fluff fibres, giving them a soft, clean look that is longer lasting and requires fewer dry cleaning visits.


Irons have a size advantage when pressing cuffs, collars and creases. Steamers are not limited to garments; they can be used to lift pet hair from upholstery, and freshen drapes, comforters and rugs. Steamers are safe to use on all fabrics, including silk and cashmere, and the steam's temperature keeps mattresses and pillows free of dust mites, thus reducing allergens and bacteria up to 99.9 per cent. Steamers are a good investment because of the potential reduction in dry cleaning bills.


As of 2009, irons and steamers run in the range from £13 to more than £65, but according to Consumer Reports, a higher price doesn't mean better performance. Compare products, features and prices, and check with a reputable consumer site to see which product carries its seal of approval.

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About the Author

Torie Combest is a freelance writer from Kentucky. She first started writing for local companies and has recently expanded to include web content. Literature is her passion and she hopes, through her writing, to pass that enthusiasm on to the next generation.