It really depends on the task at hand.
woman ironing a pillow case
Credit: Shanna Sullivan

If you're like most people, you may think the only real difference between steaming and ironing is the convenience of not having to break out the ironing board when you steam. However, you'd be wrong: When you iron, a plate uses heat to actually reorient the fibers of your clothes so that they cool into their new, wrinkle-less form. Steaming, on the other hand, relaxes clothing fibers; that causes wrinkles to fall out as they cool, explains Laura Johnson, consumer analyst at LG's research and development lab.

At the end of the day, which method you choose to use may come down to your own preference and the time you have available, Johnson says. "Both methods require set up and wait time," she points out. Here, she breaks down the most important differences between steaming and ironing, as well as the pros and cons of each.

Steaming Is the Safer Option

"Steaming is generally the safest method" for clothing, says Johnson, because "there's no chance of burning, accidentally applying creases in the wrong places, or producing a 'shine' to the fabric." And steaming can be used on most materials, including delicate silks, crushed velvet, and even thick, hairy, woven wool, she says. In fact, steaming is the best method for refreshing these delicate fabrics as they should never be ironed, Johnson cautions, because there's a high probability that an iron will damage the material or put that odd "shine" onto them.

Steaming Refreshes and Purifies Clothes

Steaming can also be used to simply "refresh" worn clothes that don't necessarily need to be washed but could still use a little TLC before being worn again, says Johnson. Steaming can actually kill bacteria and odors from your clothes. (It can also remove allergens that attract mites, and other pests that can harm and cause wear-and-tear on your favorite items.)

Ironing Gets Out Stubborn Wrinkles

"While steam is safer, ironing is necessary whenever you want to put creases into clothing, or get out especially stubborn wrinkles," Johnson explains. For example, linen and cotton clothes are best suited for ironing, because they often have deeper-set wrinkles than other clothing. The same goes for dress pants and shirts since you'll want them to maintain their crisp creases.

Both Methods Can Be Used Beyond Clothes

Steaming can release wrinkles from pillowcases, curtains, and upholstery, and be used to freshen mattresses, too—while home décor items with creases and pleats can (usually) be safely ironed. (Just check the labels first.)


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