Written by Lisa Truesdale
What’s that awful burnt smell coming from your iron?
Residue from synthetic fabrics and from starch products can easily build up on the iron’s soleplate (the metal part that gets hot). If you live in an area with hard or very hard water and you use the iron’s steam feature, minerals in the tap water can also start to build up on the soleplate and inside the steam holes.
When this residue isn’t cleaned off of the soleplate, it leads to more problems besides the odor of scorched gunk. A dirty iron won’t be able to press your fabrics as effectively, and the marks could also transfer onto your clothing and leave stains there. Continuing to heat up an iron that’s covered in residue can also eventually lead to a fire.
There are many remedies for cleaning a burnt iron. Most are quick and easy methods that require only a few ingredients/tools that you likely already have on hand, including salt, vinegar, baking soda, and toothpaste.
Different methods work best on different types of residue, so if the remedy you choose doesn’t remove the gunk on your iron’s soleplate, move on to another method until you find the one that’s most effective.
With every method below, you can start by cleaning built-up residue from the steam holes. Use a wooden or plastic toothpick, clean toothbrush, or cotton swab to first dab away any gunk in the holes of a cooled and unplugged iron. Never use anything metal to clean an iron’s soleplate, and never leave a hot iron unattended.
Place a piece of parchment paper or paper towel on the ironing board. Pour a thin layer of salt (regular table salt or coarse kosher salt) onto the paper. Turn the iron to the highest setting (no steam). When the iron is hot, rub it quickly over the salt for about one minute, in all directions, as though you are ironing the paper. Add more salt and repeat as needed until the soleplate is clean.
Place a piece of parchment paper or paper towel on the ironing board. Pour a thin layer of baking soda onto the paper. Turn the iron to the highest setting (no steam). When the iron is hot, rub it quickly over the baking soda for about a minute, in all directions, as though you are ironing the paper. Add more baking soda and repeat as needed until the soleplate is clean.
Start with an unplugged iron that has cooled completely. Make a paste with equal parts distilled white vinegar and either baking soda or salt (table or kosher). Dip a clean microfiber cloth into the paste and rub it in circles all over the soleplate. Dip a separate clean microfiber cloth into plain water and thoroughly wipe off any paste residue. (If you live in an area with hard or very hard water, use distilled water instead of tap water.)
Heat iron to highest setting (no steam). Scrunch up a piece of newspaper. Wear oven mitts to protect your hands from the heat. Rub the scrunched-up newspaper all over the soleplate until clean.
Newspaper can also be used for the salt and baking soda methods above, in place of the parchment paper or paper towel.
Start with an unplugged iron that has cooled completely. Rub a small amount of plain white toothpaste onto any affected areas using a cotton swab, piece of paper towel, or clean rag. (Note: Use the paste type, not the gel type. Paste has the desired gritty texture.) Rub the toothpaste only on the residue; not all over the surface of the soleplate. Then wipe off the toothpaste with a clean microfiber cloth.
If toothpaste gets into the steam holes, fill up the water tank. (If you live in an area with hard or very hard water, use distilled water instead of tap water.) Place the iron upright on an old towel on the ironing board, set the iron to steam, and let it sit for a few minutes. Push down on the steam button and hold for 20-30 seconds so the steam works through the holes and dislodges the toothpaste. Repeat approximately 5-6 times until the steam flows freely.
Paracetamol, also known by its generic name acetaminophen or the brand name Tylenol, comes in handy when you have a headache. Amazingly, paracetamol tablets are also a quick and easy way to remove the headache of residue buildup on your iron.
Set your iron to its maximum heat setting. Grasp a paracetamol tablet (the white, uncoated kind) with a pair of tweezers. Rub the tablet all over the soleplate. Be careful not to let your fingers touch the hot surface, and don’t let the tweezers scratch the soleplate. (You can also wear oven mitts to protect your hands from the heat.) The tablet will gradually dissolve into a gel, dissolving residue right along with it. Repeat with as many tablets as necessary to dislodge all the residue. Then rub the hot iron over a clean, damp microfiber cloth to fully remove the residue.
The best way to keep the bottom of your iron clean is to prevent any icky, stuck-on residue from landing there in the first place.