How to Clean an Iron So It Doesn’t Damage Your Clothes

Don't let a dirty iron ruin your clothes. Learn how to clean an iron with items you have on hand. Any one of these easy methods will do the trick.

Ironing is supposed to unwrinkle your clothes and make them look better. But when you notice brown stains on your garments or a funky smell on freshly pressed items, it’s time to pull out your cleaning tools. That’s when knowing how to clean an iron comes in handy.

Of course, you don’t want to wait until your iron damages your clothing. Experts recommend cleaning your iron once or twice a year, but if you use it often, clean it monthly. Even the best steam irons need to be cleaned regularly. Starch, minerals from hard water, and fibers from the fabrics you’re ironing can stick to the soleplate, where the heat bakes them in, causing scorch marks, rust, and brown or black gunk. This residue can cause your iron to work less efficiently and do more harm than good. Worst of all, it can lead to fires.

Knowing how to clean an iron is just as important as knowing how to iron—and it’s easier than you might think. We’re going to show you a variety of methods so you can choose the one that uses items you probably already have in your home. Be sure to first check the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning recommendations in case there are dos and don’ts for your specific model.

Supplies for cleaning an iron

Depending on the cleaning method you choose, you’ll want to gather some of these items before you get started:

  • Iron and ironing board
  • Salt
  • Newspaper
  • Baking soda
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Distilled water
  • Cotton swab
  • Toothbrush
  • White toothpaste
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Tylenol
  • Dryer sheets
  • Nail polish remover
  • Magic Eraser

That looks like a mighty long list, but keep these two things in mind: You won’t use all of those items; one or two will do. And you’re not cleaning your bathroom from top to bottom or anything else quite so involved. Cleaning an iron is a relatively simple process.

How to clean an iron with newspaper and salt

Iron And Salt On NewspaperTMB Studio

This may sound weird, but it works! The coarseness of the salt acts like sandpaper to remove marks and grime.

  1. Set your iron to warm.
  2. Place a piece of newspaper on the ironing board.
  3. Sprinkle a thin layer of salt on the newspaper.
  4. Quickly run the warm iron over the salt in a circular motion.
  5. Repeat, adding more salt as needed.
  6. Unplug your iron and let it cool completely.
  7. Use a damp microfiber cloth to remove the remaining dirt and salt from the iron.

How to clean an iron with baking soda

Cleaning Iron With Toothbrush and baking soda pasteTMB Studio

A safe and natural multitasker, baking soda has so many surprising uses, including cleaning your iron.

  1. Create a paste by mixing two parts baking soda to one part water.
  2. Cover the iron plate with the baking soda paste. Be careful not to get it in the steam vents.
  3. Leave it on for a few minutes, then scrub it with a clean toothbrush.
  4. Use a damp microfiber cloth to wipe it clean.

How to clean an iron with vinegar

Vinegar is another miracle cleaner. Use it alone if your iron shows signs of corrosion, such as rust stains, which can be caused by water left in the reservoir. Or pair it with baking soda to get rid of almost any buildup (more on how to do that below).

For corrosion:

  1. Soak a clean towel in vinegar.
  2. Place your iron, with the plate facing down, on the towel. Let it sit for 30 minutes.
  3. Wipe the iron down.

For scorch marks:

  1. Dampen a clean microfiber cloth with vinegar.
  2. Wipe the scorch marks with the damp cloth.
  3. Use a clean part of the cloth to keep wiping the marks until they’re gone.

How to clean an iron with baking soda and vinegar

Baking soda and vinegar are cleaning staples, and together, they’re a powerful—and safe—combination.

  1. Create a paste by mixing equal parts vinegar and baking soda (or salt).
  2. Dip a clean microfiber cloth into the paste.
  3. Use the cloth to rub the paste in small circles around the iron plate.
  4. Dip another clean microfiber cloth into distilled water (this is especially important if you have hard water) and wipe off the paste until the iron is clean.

How to clean an iron with toothpaste

Cleaning Iron With Cotton Swab and toothpasteTMB Studio

Because of its abrasive ingredients used to clean teeth, toothpaste is a good option for cleaning scorch marks off your iron’s soleplate. For best results—for both the iron and your teeth—you may want to use a toothpaste that contains baking soda.

  1. Use a cotton swab to rub a little plain white toothpaste into any scorch marks. Try to avoid getting the toothpaste in the steam vents.
  2. Wipe off the paste with a damp microfiber cloth.

If toothpaste gets into the steam vents, fill the water tank with distilled water, place the iron in an upright position on a towel on your ironing board, and set the iron to steam. Let it sit for a few minutes. Then hold the steam button for about 20 seconds to release the toothpaste. Wipe it with a damp cloth and repeat until the steam is flowing freely.

How to clean an iron with Tylenol

Yes, the same Tylenol (or any white acetaminophen tablet) you take for headaches also works wonders on a rusty iron. There’s a whole science behind it, but all you really need to know is that it works.

  1. Set your iron to the highest heat setting and let it heat up.
  2. Wearing an oven mitt to avoid burning yourself, rub the pill onto the stain. The heat will melt the pill and turn it into a gel, which will dissolve the stain. Some people recommend using tweezers to hold the pill, but that’s not ideal. If your tweezers scrape the soleplate, they can scratch it permanently.
  3. Repeat as necessary.
  4. Place a clean, damp microfiber cloth on your ironing board and rub the hot iron over it to remove the residue.

How to clean an iron with dryer sheets

Thanks to their light abrasiveness, dryer sheets can also double as iron cleaners.

  1. Set your iron to the lowest setting. You just need a little heat.
  2. Wearing an oven mitt, rub the dryer sheet over the soleplate to remove any gunk.
  3. Repeat as necessary.

How to clean an iron with nail polish remover

Acetone nail polish remover will also remove residue from your soleplate but should be used outside—or at the very least with the windows open—so you don’t breathe in the chemical fumes.

  1. Heat your iron to high.
  2. Turn it off once it gets hot.
  3. Dip a cotton ball or cotton pad into acetone nail polish remover.
  4. Using an oven mitt, wipe the cotton along the hot iron to dissolve any black gunk.
  5. Finish by using a damp cloth over the surface.

How to clean an iron with a Magic Eraser

There’s a reason it’s called a Magic Eraser: It magically erases all kinds of stains, including hard water spots on your soleplate.

  1. Wet your Magic Eraser.
  2. Rub it on the stains or spots.
  3. Repeat as necessary.

How to remove plastic from an iron

If you’ve ever ironed a dress shirt only to have part of the plastic button end up stuck to the iron, this is a good trick to know.

  1. Unplug your iron and let it cool.
  2. Fill a metal bowl with ice cubes and place the (cooled-down) soleplate on them to harden the plastic.
  3. Once the plastic is hard, use a plastic knife (not metal) to scrape it off.
  4. Wipe down the surface with a damp cloth.

Supplies for cleaning a steam iron:

Yep, this is another item you need to clean on the regular, just as you’d clean a typical iron, clothes dryer, and pretty much every other appliance in your house. If you have a steam iron, you’ll want to keep these items in your laundry room so you can clean the inside as well as the outside.

  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Distilled water
  • Cotton swab
  • Towel

How to clean a steam iron

Because a steam iron has vents, which can get clogged simply by using tap water, it’s important to clean them regularly. The water reservoir, which can get smelly or mildewy, also deserves regular cleanings.

  1. Place your cool iron upright on an old towel on your ironing board.
  2. Mix half a cup of distilled white vinegar with half a cup of distilled water.
  3. Pour the mixture into the iron.
  4. Dip a cotton swab in vinegar; then use it to clean out the steam vents.
  5. Plug in the iron and set it for steam.
  6. Wait about five minutes, then press the steam button, holding it until the steam is at its highest.
  7. Repeat half a dozen times.
  8. Turn off the iron, unplug it, and let it cool.
  9. Pour out the remaining water-and-vinegar mixture.

How to keep an iron clean

Here are a few easy tips for preventing black gunk and brown stains from ending up on your soleplate in the first place:

  • Read care labels. The laundry symbols will tell you if a garment can be ironed and what kind of heat it can handle, helping you avoid damaging both your clothing and your iron.
  • Use distilled water. This is especially important if you have hard water, which can clog steam vents and leave spots on the soleplate.
  • Put a layer between the iron and the item you’re ironing. A clean press cloth or thin towel will serve as a barrier so it, rather than the soleplate, will pick up any residue.
  • Wipe down the iron after each use. Your laundry isn’t done the minute you finish steaming or ironing your clothes. Once you’ve shut off and unplugged your iron—and once it’s cool—wipe it down with a damp microfiber cloth so it’s clean when you put it away.

Lois Alter Mark
Lois is an award-winning lifestyle, shopping, travel, and entertainment writer who covers everything from the best consumer products to the best cleaning and organizing tips for RD.com. Her writing has taken her around the world and introduced her to new people, new food, and her favorite new sport, pickleball.