electric iron

Iron (appliance)

An iron is a small appliance used in ironing to remove wrinkles from fabric.


Modern irons for home use can feature the following:

  • A method for setting the iron down, usually standing on its end, without the hot soleplate touching anything that could be damaged;
  • A thermostat ensuring maintenance of a constant temperature usually fitted with
  • a temperature control dial allowing the user to select the operating temperatures (usually marked with types of cloth rather than temperatures: silk, "wool", "cotton", "linen", etc.);
  • Electrical cord with heat-resistant Teflon (PTFE) insulation.
  • Ejection of steam through the clothing during the ironing process;
    • A water reservoir inside the iron used for steam generation;
    • An indicator showing the amount of water left in the reservoir;
    • Constant steam - constantly sends steam through the hot part of the iron into the clothes;
    • Steam burst - sends a burst of steam through the clothes when the user presses a button;
    • (advanced feature) Dial controlling the amount of steam to emit as a constant stream;
    • (advanced feature) Anti-drip system
  • Cord control - the point at which the cord attaches to the iron has a spring to hold the cord out of the way while ironing and likewise when setting down the iron (prevents fires, is more convenient, etc.).
  • (advanced feature) Anti-burn control - if the iron is left flat (possibly touching clothes) for too long, the iron shuts off to prevent scorching and fires;
  • (advanced feature) Energy saving control - if the iron is left undisturbed for several (10 or 15) minutes, the iron shuts off to save energy and prevent fires.
  • Cordless irons - the iron is placed on a stand for a short period to warm up, using thermal mass to stay hot for a short period. These are useful for light loads only. Battery power is not viable for irons as they require more power than practical batteries can provide.
  • (advanced feature) 3 way auto shut off
  • (advanced feature) self-cleaning



Metal pans filled with charcoal were used for smoothing fabrics in China in the 1st century BC. From the 17th century, sadirons or sad irons (from an old word meaning solid) began to be used. They were thick slabs of cast iron, delta-shaped and with a handle, heated in a fire. These were also called flat irons. A later design consisted of an iron box which could be filled with hot coals, which had to be periodically aerated by attaching a bellows. In Kerala in India, burning coconut shells were used instead of charcoal, as they have a similar heating capacity. This method is still in use as a backup device since power outage is frequent. Other box irons had heated metal inserts instead of hot coals. Another solution was a cluster of solid irons that were heated from the single source: as the iron currently in use cools down, it can be quickly replaced by another one that is hot.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there were many irons in use which were heated by a fuel such as kerosene, alcohol, whale oil, natural gas, carbide gas (acetylene) as with carbide lamps, or even gasoline. Some houses were equipped with a system of pipes for distributing natural gas or carbide gas to different rooms in order to operate appliances such as irons, in addition to lights. Despite the risk of fire, liquid-fuel irons were sold in U.S. rural areas up through World War II.

In the industrialized world, these designs have been superseded by the electric iron, which uses resistive heating from an electric current. The hot plate, called the sole plate, is made of aluminium or stainless steel. The heating element is controlled by a thermostat which switches the current on and off to maintain the selected temperature. The invention of the resistively heated electric iron is credited to Henry W. Seely of New York in 1882. In the same year an iron heated by a carbon arc was introduced in France, but was too dangerous to be successful. The early electric irons had no easy way to control their temperature, and the first thermostatically controlled electric iron appeared in the 1920s. Later, steam was used to iron clothing. Credit for the invention of the steam iron goes to Thomas Sears.


The world's largest collection of irons, encompassing 1300 historical examples of irons from Germany and the rest of the world, is housed in Gochsheim Castle, near Karlsruhe, Germany.


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