The last thing you want when you're ironing a load of clean laundry is for your iron to leave brown, smeary marks all over it. But over the years, water leaves mineral deposits on the base – the soleplate - of an iron, and products like spray-on starch add to the build-up.
Quick and easy methods
There are a number of ways to clean up your iron so the base plate is free of sticky substances:
Non-scratch cream cleanser
While your iron is still warm – but not hot – clean it with a nylon pan scourer and a non-scratch cream cleanser, then wipe off with a damp cloth. Warning: do not do this if your iron has a non-stick (Tefal, say) base because it will remove the coating.
Tumble dryer sheet
Turn your iron onto its lowest setting – you need it warm, not hot – and rub a fresh tumble dryer sheet onto the soleplate until all the dirt has disappeared. Then turn up the heat and iron a clean cloth to get rid of the last of the residue.
Fill the iron's reservoir with white vinegar (check the manufacturer's guide to see your iron can tolerate vinegar) and distilled or filtered water. Turn the setting to 'steam' and iron a thick cotton tea towel for five minutes. Empty the reservoir and wipe the base with a clean, damp cloth.
Squirt some toothpaste directly onto the problem zone on a cool soleplate. Rub off with a clean cloth, then set the iron to steam and iron a cotton cloth for five minutes.
Newspaper and salt
Turn the heat up as far as it will go, keeping the steam function off, then run the hot iron over a piece of newspaper until it is clean. Still sticky? Sprinkle some salt onto the newspaper and repeat the process.
DIY cleaning fluid
Using two parts white vinegar to one part salt, heat the mixture until the salt is dissolved, then allow to cool. Rub over the cold soleplate with a clean rag or soft brush. Wipe with a clean, damp rag, then turn on the heat and run the iron over a piece of kitchen roll or a tea towel to remove any remaining residue.
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For tricky deposits
Mix together 1 tablespoon distilled or filtered water and 2 tablespoons of baking or bicarbonate of soda. The paste should be thick enough to stick to the soleplate of a cold iron (make sure it's not plugged in).
Spread the paste directly onto the dirty bits on the iron’s plate using your fingers or a spatula. Leave for a few minutes to sink in.
Wipe off the paste with a clean, damp cloth.
Using distilled or filtered water, fill the reservoir to about a third. You can add some white vinegar to the mix but do check your iron can tolerate it.
Turn on the iron to its highest setting and steam-iron an old, clean cloth, tea towel or piece of kitchen roll for a few minutes, pressing the steam button to release more steam. You may get a few brown streaks to start with but the clean steam should flush out any remaining deposits.
Turn off the iron and empty out any remaining water. Leave to stand on newspaper in case any more muck drips out.
Clogged steam holes
If the steam holes on your iron are clogged up, use a toothpick, cocktail stick or cotton bud to get the bits out when the iron is cold (and unplugged).
Prevent mineral build-up
To prevent mineral deposits building up again, always empty the iron’s reservoir after use, and use distilled or filtered water.
Find out what to look out for when buying a new iron