Despite their pressing prowess, steam ironing systems aren't as popular in the U.S. as they are in Europe. With their large water tanks, the systems produce prodigious amounts of steam, making it possible to breeze through a batch of dress shirts or linen tablecloths. Consumer Reports tested three steam ironing systems and two earned nearly perfect scores for steaming rate, ironing and ease of use, outperforming many of the traditional steam irons in our tests.
Although they appear bulky, ironing systems typically have a lighter iron and a longer cord. When the iron is in use, the water tank stays put on the ironing board. To better understand the pros and cons of steam ironing systems, also called ironing stations, we talked to our textile expert, Pat Slaven, who tests irons for Consumer Reports and owns six herself.
"Americans iron a shirt once in awhile," says Slaven, so they like appliances that work fast. That's why the Maytag Premium Analog M 800, which heats up in 55 seconds, is a popular model. Steam ironing systems can take as long as 11 minutes to heat up so aren't as convenient for quick ironing jobs.
But once they start steaming, the job goes fast thanks to the steady head of steam coming from the water tank. Most systems can produce about an hour's worth of steam, making them a good choice for someone who irons frequently and in big batches, says Slaven. The systems are also good for ironing silk or other delicate fabrics as well as for people who sew or quilt.
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We tested the Reliable IronMaven J420, $300, the Rowenta DG-5030, $150, and the DeLonghi Pro 300, also $150. In our linen tablecloth test, the Reliable IronMaven and Rowenta earned excellent marks and made our list of top steam iron picks. The DeLonghi was very good, but not excellent, at steaming rate and ease of use.
One drawback of steam ironing systems is that the large tanks don't fit comfortably on standard ironing boards. "Our ironing boards are flimsy," says Slaven, adding that European ironing boards are typically longer and often have a special shelf to accommodate the steaming station. "American ironing boards don't have a spot for it."
At $220, our top-rated traditional steam iron, the Panasonic NI-W950A rivals the ironing systems in price and almost matched their performance. It was excellent at steaming rate and ironing and ease of use was very good. For much less you can get one of our CR Best Buys, the Singer Expert Finish EF, $60, or the Rowenta Effective Comfort DW2070, $50. Both were superb performers, heated up quickly and are just the thing for ironing a shirt when you're in a hurry.
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