How to clean an iron—five simple methods to get rid of limescale

Wondering how to clean an iron to keep it—and your clothes—in the best possible shape? Go full steam ahead with these quick and easy DIY methods

Iron on an ironing board against a blue background
(Image credit: Getty)

Knowing how to clean an iron is actually as essential as owning this home appliance in the first place. Why? Because if your iron's not clean, it's not working at its best, meaning your clothes and linen won't look as smooth, or sharply pressed, as they could. 

And, even if you're among the camp who see ironing as a thankless task, we know this to be true: regardless of how carefully our clothes are folded or hung up inside the closet, many pieces will require a touch-up with an iron before they are actually ready to wear.

If your iron hasn't been properly cleaned, however, it may stop working properly. And, over time, you might see some sticky residue accumulate on your iron, or worse, get transferred onto your freshly laundered clothes. You may also see some stains on the flat, metal soleplate, which can make ironing your clothes much harder, and—if not dealt with promptly—can even damage the clothes themselves. But the most frequent issue with irons? They are prone to accumulating limescale, which can stop the steam mechanism of your iron from working properly. 

If any of this sounds like something you're experiencing with your appliance, it's time to give your iron a good clean. 

Why you should check your iron's instructions first

Before you clean your iron though, check which descaling method is recommended for your specific model. While similar in form and function, irons can differ in their internal mechanisms, which means they may need to be descaled in a very particular way.

The three most common descaling methods are:

  • Pressurized steam: In most irons, pressurized steam is blasted out of the vents to remove any dirt or built-up residue.
  • Flushing: Some irons can connect easily to your tap, allowing you to flush water through the appliance in order to descale it.
  • Chamber: Some irons come with a built-in chamber, which is designed to collect  limescale residue over time. In this case, the chamber can be easily removed and cleaned out. 

As a first option, try the method in your owner's manual to see if cleans out your iron satisfactorily, resolving any issues you may be having during use. If this doesn't do the job however—for instance on an iron that hasn't been cleaned for some time—you may require a more thorough cleaning technique. Try one of the methods below to get your iron fresh, clean and steaming away creases beautifully again.

5 simple methods for cleaning your iron

If you're iron's on the blink, don't automatically dump it—it may well just need a good clean. And you don't even have to purchase a special cleaner to do it; learn how to clean an iron with our five simple methods. 

1. Use a damp cloth with water

First, turn your iron on the lowest heat setting—this will help to loosen some of the built-up residue. Turn your iron off, then immediately (and carefully, if the iron is still warm) use a soft, moist cloth to wipe down the surface of the plate. If the water on the cloth doesn't seem to be doing the trick to lift stains or remove sticky surfaces, you may want to add a gentle detergent, such as dish detergent. You can also use a soft sponge to add a bit more resistance.

2. Apply white toothpaste to the iron's surface

Toothpaste is designed to remove bacteria from hard surfaces, so—surprisingly, perhaps—it also works well when it comes to cleaning an iron. Be sure to use basic white toothpaste, avoiding any gel formulas or fancy micro-granules. For this method, leave your iron turned off—it needs to be completely cool. With an old toothbrush, apply the toothpaste to the surface of your soleplate, lightly scrubbing it before letting the paste sit for a few minutes. Wipe off the toothpaste with a clean cloth. If your iron has a steam function, turn it on for a few minutes before wiping the soleplate again with a damp cloth. 

An iron on an ironing board with clean clothes piled next to it

(Image credit: Getty Images)

3. Create a baking soda mixture

Baking soda can work all kinds of miracles when it comes to household cleaning. In this instance, mix together baking soda and vinegar to form a paste. Be careful to mix the powder properly with the vinegar, otherwise, the tiny baking soda crystals can scratch the iron's surface. After making sure the iron is completely cool, wipe the mixture onto the soleplate. Leave the paste to sit for a few minutes, then wipe off gently. It should look as good as new. 

Note: baking soda is also a fabulously helpful tool for learning how to clean a stovetop, how to clean garbage disposal units, how to clean aluminum, and how to clean walls, too. 

4. Try tumble dryer sheets

Cleaning an iron really needn't be difficult, as this method highlights. If you use tumble dryer sheets in your home, you're about to make them more multifunctional; employ them for this easy iron-cleaning method. Wearing a protective glove, or using two or three tumble dryer sheets to protect your hand from the hot surface, turn the iron onto the very lowest heat and gently rub the hot surface with the dryer sheet. 

If you have dryer sheets left over after this method, you can also use them to learn how to clean a burnt pan

5. Use diluted vinegar

Before employing this method, make sure you consult your iron's manual first; some types of irons don't take kindly to vinegar. If you're good to go, soak a cloth in a mixture of vinegar and water, and then use the cloth to rub the soleplate. You can also place vinegar and water in the steam generator, letting the iron steam for a few minutes before wiping the plate off with a soft cloth. 

Like baking soda, vinegar is a versatile store-cupboard ingredient: you can also use it  to learn how to descale a kettle.

How often should you descale your iron?

Know we know how to clean an iron, how often should we actually be doing it? 

Most irons need descaling every one to three months, but specific timing does depend on the model and manufacturer; check your manual to see if a recommended schedule is provided. If you're not able to locate this information, aim for every two months, especially if you use the iron often. Some irons may stop working if they haven't been cleaned for a while, so make sure you keep an eye on limescale build-up to prevent unexpected hiccups—especially if you tend to iron and go at the start of the day. 

As a general rule, the longer you leave limescale to build up the harder it is to clean. The same applies to other household appliances—so perhaps it will pay off to learn how to clean a dishwasher or how to clean a stainless steel sink, too.

Doing routine maintenance of your home's kitchen gadgets and appliances may not be the most exciting thing on your to-do list, but it will save you tons of time and stress. Set yourself a regular reminder, and make ironing your easiest chore. 

Amy Hunt is an experienced digital journalist specialising in homes, interiors and hobbies. She began her career working as the features assistant at woman&home magazine, before moving over to the digital side of the brand where she eventually became the Lifestyle Editor up until January 2022. Amy won the Digital Journalist of the Year award at the AOP Awards in 2019 for her work on