Clothes iron

An electric steam iron
Charcoal iron (Hungary)

A clothes iron is a small hand-held appliance with a handle holding a flat, roughly triangular surface that, when heated, is used to press clothes to remove creases. It is named for the metal of which the device is commonly made, and the use of it is generally called ironing. Ironing works by loosening the ties between the long chains of molecules that exist in polymer fiber materials. With the heat and the weight of the ironing plate, the fibers are stretched and the fabric maintains its new shape when cool. Some materials, such as cotton, require the use of water to loosen the intermolecular bonds. Many materials developed in the twentieth century are advertised as needing little or no ironing.

Before the introduction of electricity irons were heated by combustion, either in a fire or with some internal arrangement. An "electric flatiron" was invented by US inventor Henry W. Seeley and patented on June 6, 1882.[1] It weighed almost 15 pounds and took a long time to heat. The UK Electricity Association is reported to have said that an electric iron with a carbon arc appeared in France in 1880, but this is considered doubtful.[2]

History and development of flatirons

A charcoal iron
Typical English irons of the 1800s (Collection Tranby House, Australia). The shape was used by Victorian antiquaries to describe a style of medieval shield, termed by analogy heater shield.
Flat iron (Minalin, Pampanga, Philippines Museum).
A 1950s Morphy Richards iron with original box
Irons museum in Pereslavl

Metal pans filled with hot coals were used for smoothing fabrics in China in the 1st century BC.[3] 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 outages are frequent. Other box irons had heated metal inserts instead of hot coals.

Another solution was to employ a cluster of solid irons that were heated from a single source: As the iron currently in use cooled down, it could be quickly replaced by a hot one. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there were many irons in use that were heated by fuels such as kerosene, ethanol, 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 polished to be as smooth as possible; it is sometimes coated with a low-friction heat-resistant plastic to reduce friction below that of the metal plate. The heating element is controlled by a thermostat that switches the current on and off to maintain the selected temperature. The invention of the resistively heated electric iron is credited to Henry W. Seeley of New York City 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 first commercially available electric steam iron was introduced in 1926 by a New York drying and cleaning company, Eldec, but was not a commercial success. The patent for an electric steam iron and dampener was issued to Max Skolnik of Chicago in 1934. In 1938 Skolnik granted the Steam-O-Matic Corporation of New York the exclusive right to manufacture steam-electric irons. This was the first steam iron to achieve any degree of popularity, and led the way to more widespread use of the electric steam iron during the 1940s and 1950s.

Types and names

Historically, irons have had several variations and have thus been called by many names:

The general name for a hand-held iron consisting simply of a handle and a solid, flat, metal base, and named for the flat ironing face used to smooth clothes.
Mentioned above, meaning "solid" or heavy iron, where the base is a solid block of metal, sometimes used to refer to irons with heavier bases than a typical "flatiron".
Mentioned above; the base is a container, into which hot coals or a metal brick or slug can be inserted to keep the iron heated. The ox-tongue iron is named for the particular shape of the insert, referred to as an ox-tongue slug.
A type of flat iron or sad iron named for the goose-like curve in its neck, and (in the case of "tailor's goose") its usage by tailors.
This type of iron, now obsolete, consists of a metal cylinder oriented horizontally on a stand. It was used to iron ruffs and collars.[4][5]


Modern irons for home use can have the following features:


One of the world's larger collection of irons, comprising 1300 historical examples of irons from Germany and the rest of the world, is housed in Gochsheim Castle, near Karlsruhe, Germany.

Many ethnographical museums around the world have collections of irons. In Ukraine, for example, about 150 irons are the part of the exhibition of the Radomysl Castle in Ukraine.[6]

Ironing center

Ironing center, where one can see the separate tank.

An ironing center or steam ironing station is a device consisting of a clothes iron and a separate steam generator-tank. By having a separate tank, the ironing unit can generate more steam than a conventional iron, making steam ironing faster. Such ironing facilities take longer to warm up than conventional irons, and cost more.

See also

Josephine Baker ironing (1956)


  1. U.S. Patent 259,054
  2. "DU FER A REPASSER" [The smoothing iron]. Musée du Lavage et du Repassage (Museum of Washing and Ironing) (in French). Retrieved 27 May 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 4 "History of ironing and irons - flat-irons, sad-irons, mangles". 2002-02-07. Retrieved 2014-06-17.
  4. "Goffering Irons, Victorian, Original | Object Lessons - Houses & Homes: Victorians". Object Lessons. Retrieved 2014-06-04.
  5. "Crimping, fluting, goffering, Italian irons: smoothing frills, ruffles, puffed sleeves". Retrieved 2014-06-04.
  6. Богомолець. О. "Замок-музей Радомисль на Шляху Королів Via Regia". — Київ, 2013
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