hand holding steam generator iron

How to Clean a Steam Iron Inside and Out So It’s Works Like New

Before you toss that steam iron because it refuses to steam. but spits and gurgles like a champ, and the soleplate has turned into a brown, burned-on, gross mess—you might want to give it a little love with a good clean out and clean-up. It’s not difficult to bring a tired steam iron back to working like a dream!

steam iron steaming over ironing board

As always, check the owner’s manual before proceeding with any cleaning process.

Clean the Soleplate

The soleplate is the iron’s flat surface that has tiny holes where the steam comes out—the part that gets hot. Over time, it can get dirty with a buildup of scorched, ugly brown build-up of various stains caused by things like accidentally ironing the wrong side of fusible interfacing to repeated use of spray starch.

steam iron with burned on soleplate mess

A dirty steam iron will not press fabric properly, will not glide smoothly the way it’s supposed to work, and might even leave streaks of dirt and stain behind on your clothing.

While there are myriad sources out there with soleplate cleaning tips suggesting everything from baking soda/vinegar paste, salt, waxed paper, Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, and even a heat-and-scrape option—this is the hands-down the best method because it’s fast, easy, mess-free and foolproof.

Even if the soleplate of your iron is not particularly dirty, try this method to keep it pristine. Your iron will glide like it’s brand new making ironing so much easier and satisfying.

You’ll need:

  1. Empty the iron of water and set it to Steam: Off
  2. Heat it up to blazing hot … the hottest setting. It may smoke a bit because of the residue stuck to the soleplate.
  3. Lay two clean paper towels on your ironing board
  4. Open up a new, unused dryer sheet (yes, a dryer sheet that some use in their dryers to soften clothes) and lay it on top of one of the paper towels (its job is to keep your ironing board clean).
  5. Go from ironing the dryer sheet for about 30 seconds, to the other paper towel (to help remove the gunk) and back and forth again until your iron is totally clean and shiny. Keep at it until all of the goo is gone.



Clean the Inside

You’ll need:

  • plain white vinegar 5% acidity (the regular supermarket variety you cook with)
  • tap water
  • measuring up

Step 1

Read your owner manual to make sure the following will not void the warranty if still active

Step 2

To remove build-up from the inside of the clothes iron and the steam holes, which over time can really clog things up, mix equal amounts of white vinegar and water in a measuring cup, then pour this into the cool, unplugged iron’s water chamber up to the maximum fill line.

Step 3

Plug in the iron and turn it to its hottest and highest steam settings. Leave the iron on and in an upright position sitting on the ironing board for 10 or 15 minutes or so. Do not leave it unattended.


hand holding steam generator iron

Step 4

Lift and hold the iron as pictured so that the soleplate is parallel to the ironing board. Allow it to steam until the reservoir is empty.

Depending on how clogged up the iron is, it may take several steam attempts to bust through. It’s the vinegar that eventually will break down all of that hard-water scale and buildup inside the iron.

Step 5

Refill the reservoir with more vinegar and water mixture. Unplug the iron and take it to the sink. Shake it to loosen the mineral build-up inside, and then turn it upside down over the sink so the vinegar and water can pour out. You are likely to see flakes and chunks of gunk come out with the liquid. Repeat this process until only clear liquid comes out of the iron into the sink.

Step 6

Rinse with clear water several times to remove all traces of vinegar.

Self-Cleaning System

Some newer models of steam irons have an “anti-calc” or self-cleaning feature. Check your manual to see how to operate this feature if your steam iron has that. Generally, these are the steps to follow:

Step 1

Unplug the iron and set the steam to off or the lowest option. Fill the water reservoir.

Step 2

Set the temperature to the highest, hottest setting. Plug the iron into an outlet and allow it to heat up for at least 10 minutes. You want it sizzling hot. Unplug.

Step 3

Hold the iron over a sink so that the soleplate is parallel to the sink. Move the steam level to the anti-calc or self-clean setting and hold it in place. Shake and tilt the iron until it has discharged all the hot water and steam through the holes in the metal plate, then set the steam level back to zero.

Step 4

Plug the iron in and heat it up until the metal plate dries. Unplug the iron and let it cool completely. Rub the metal plate with a dry cloth to ensure that it is fully clean, then polish it up with a clean dryer sheet.

white collar shirt and iron on ironing board


It would be best if you cleaned both the inside and the soleplate of a steam clothes iron regularly to keep it in tip-top condition. How often? That depends on how much you use it. A good rule of thumb is to clean a steam iron monthly or following 30 reservoir fill-ups. 



How can I clean a burnt iron?

There are myriad ways to do that, but none as easy and non-messy as using an new, unused dryer sheet. See the article above for complete details.

How can I clean a burnt iron with toothpaste?

Non-gel toothpaste can be buffed onto an iron to help remove burnt marks. The paste’s slightly abrasive nature helps to polish the marks away without damaging the plate. Make sure you use a cotton swab to clean any residue of toothpaste from the steam vents/holes in the soleplate.

Why is my iron spitting out brown stuff?

If your iron’s steam function is leaving brown spots on your clothing, it’s time to clean the steam vents and water reservoir. Run a white vinegar-water solution through the reservoir until you see steam flowing properly.


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4 replies
  1. Suzanne says:

    I wish that someone would explain to me why using tap water is good/necessary for steam irons. I’m talking about more than the blanket statement that the iron was somehow made to use water from the tap. We have extremely hard water. Over the years it’s destroyed our plumbing fixtures and appliances, including my irons. For health reasons we rejected a whole-house water softener system that uses salt and purchased a saIt-free system, but that didn’t help and was a waste of money. I recently had to purchase a new iron after many failed attempts to remove the mineral buildup both inside and out of my old one. I read the instruction manual for the new iron, and the only concession it made to hard tap water was to use a half and half mix of tap and distilled water. To me, this only postpones the inevitable. And I’m tempted to suspect it’s just planned obsolescence on the part of the manufacturer. So, I’m going to use distilled water exclusively in my new iron. Since tap water would certainly ruin it, even if mixed with distilled, I figure I have nothing to lose.

  2. Clayton Mackie says:

    What brand of dryer sheet was used to clean the soleplate? I used a Downey dryer sheet on a Black and Decker iron and it burned/melted the dryer sheet. Now instead of a little gunk, I’ve got a lot of gunk. I had replaced it do to the initial build-up so I’m not dead in the water, just bummed out. Looking on the bright side, now it’s a garage project iron.


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