AskDefine | Define ironing

Dictionary Definition



1 garments (clothes or linens) that are to be (or have been) ironed; "there was a basketful of ironing to do"
2 the work of ironing washed clothes

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. present participle of iron


  1. The act of pressing clothes with an iron.
    I hate ironing.
  2. Laundry that has been washed and is ready to be ironed.
    I really should make a start on the ironing soon.
  3. Laundry that has recently been ironed.
    I really should put the ironing away.

Related terms


act of pressing clothes with an iron
laundry that has been washed and is ready to be ironed
laundry that has recently been ironed

Extensive Definition

Ironing or smoothing is the work of using a heated tool to remove wrinkles from washed clothes. The common tools for this purpose are called "irons" (sometimes clothes irons, flat irons, or smoothing irons). Modern designs are no longer made of iron, and are heated electrically rather than on a fire.
Ironing works by loosening the bonds between the long-chain polymer molecules in the fibers of the material. While the molecules are hot, the fibers are straightened by the weight of the iron, and they hold their new shape as they cool. Some fabrics, such as cotton, require the addition of water to loosen the intermolecular bonds. Many modern fabrics (developed in or after the mid-twentieth century) are advertised as needing little or no ironing.
Ironing may also be used as a germ/parasite killing hygienic operation.



Metal pans filled with charcoal were used for smoothing fabrics in China in the 1st century BC. From the 17th century, sadirons or sad irons (from an old word meaning solid) began to be used. They were thick slabs of cast iron, delta-shaped and with a handle, heated in a fire. These were also called flat irons. A later design consisted of an iron box which could be filled with hot coals, which had to be periodically aerated by attaching a bellows. In Kerala in India, burning coconut shells were used instead of charcoal, as they have a similar heating capacity. This method is still in use as a backup device since power outage is frequent. Other box irons had heated metal inserts instead of hot coals. Another solution was a cluster of solid irons that were heated from the single source: as the iron currently in use cools down, it can be quickly replaced by another one that is hot.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there were many irons in use which were heated by a fuel such as kerosene, alcohol, whale oil, natural gas, carbide gas (acetylene) as with carbide lamps, or even gasoline. Some houses were equipped with a system of pipes for distributing natural gas or carbide gas to different rooms in order to operate appliances such as irons, in addition to lights. Despite the risk of fire, liquid-fuel irons were sold in U.S. rural areas up through World War II.
In the industrialized world, these designs have been superseded by the electric iron, which uses resistive heating from an electric current. The hot plate, called the sole plate, is made of aluminium or stainless steel. The heating element is controlled by a thermostat which switches the current on and off to maintain the selected temperature. The invention of the resistively heated electric iron is credited to Henry W. Seely of New York in 1882. In the same year an iron heated by a carbon arc was introduced in France, but was too dangerous to be successful. The early electric irons had no easy way to control their temperature, and the first thermostatically controlled electric iron appeared in the 1920s. Later, steam was used to iron clothing. Credit for the invention of the steam iron goes to Thomas Sears.

Modern household irons

Modern irons available for sale to consumers have some or all of the following features (more expensive models have more features, as one would expect):
  • A method for setting the iron down, usually standing on its end, without the hot soleplate touching anything that could be damaged;
  • A thermostat ensuring maintenance of a constant temperature usually fitted with
  • a temperature control dial allowing the user to select the operating temperatures (usually marked with types of cloth rather than temperatures: silk, "wool", "cotton", "linen", etc.);
  • Electrical cord with heat-resistant Teflon (PTFE) insulation.
  • Ejection of steam through the clothing during the ironing process;
    • A water reservoir inside the iron used for steam generation;
    • An indicator showing the amount of water left in the reservoir;
    • Constant steam - constantly sends steam through the hot part of the iron into the clothes;
    • Steam burst - sends a burst of steam through the clothes when the user presses a button;
    • (advanced feature) Dial controlling the amount of steam to emit as a constant stream;
    • (advanced feature) Anti-drip system
  • Cord control - the point at which the cord attaches to the iron has a spring to hold the cord out of the way while ironing and likewise when setting down the iron (prevents fires, is more convenient, etc.).
  • (advanced feature) Anti-burn control - if the iron is left flat (possibly touching clothes) for too long, the iron shuts off to prevent scorching and fires;
  • (advanced feature) Energy saving control - if the iron is left undisturbed for several (10 or 15) minutes, the iron shuts off to save energy and prevent fires.
  • Cordless irons - the iron is placed on a stand for a short period to warm up, using thermal mass to stay hot for a short period. These are useful for light loads only. Battery power is not viable for irons as they require more power than practical batteries can provide.
  • (advanced feature) 3 way auto shut off
  • (advanced feature) self-cleaning

Ironing boards

On 16 February 1858 W. Vandenburg and J. Harvey patented an ironing table that made pressing sleeves and pant legs easier. A truly portable folding ironing board was first patented in Canada in 1875 by John B. Porter of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The invention also included a removable press board used for sleeves.

Commercial ironing equipment

Commercial dry-cleaning and full-service laundry providers use a large appliance called a steam press to do most of the work of ironing clothes. Alternately, a rotary iron may be used.
  • Some commercial-grade irons have a boiler unit separate from the handheld iron.
  • Most ironing is done on an ironing board, a small, portable, foldable table with a heat resistant top.
  • Some commercial-grade ironing boards incorporate a heating element and a pedal-operated vacuum to pull air through the board and dry the garment.
  • Permanent press clothing was developed to reduce the ironing necessary by combining wrinkle-resistant polyester with cotton.
  • Commercial laundries use steam presses to iron clothes
  • Irons cause many fires and burns each year


Continuous manual ironing can be a cause of repetitive strain injury to the user's wrist. For alternatives, see Robots and major home appliances.


The world's largest collection of irons, encompassing 1300 historical examples of irons from Germany and the rest of the world, is housed in Gochsheim Castle, near Karlsruhe, Germany.


See also

commons Ironing
ironing in Bulgarian: Ютия
ironing in Czech: Žehlička
ironing in Danish: Strygejern
ironing in German: Bügeleisen
ironing in Estonian: Triikraud
ironing in Modern Greek (1453-): Σίδερο (συσκευή)
ironing in Spanish: Plancha de ropa
ironing in Persian: اتو
ironing in French: Repassage
ironing in Scottish Gaelic: Bòrd-iarnaigidh
ironing in Korean: 다리미
ironing in Indonesian: Setrika
ironing in Icelandic: Straujárn
ironing in Italian: Ferro da stiro
ironing in Hebrew: מגהץ
ironing in Lithuanian: Laidynė
ironing in Dutch: Strijkijzer
ironing in Japanese: アイロン
ironing in Norwegian: Strykejern
ironing in Norwegian Nynorsk: Stryking
ironing in Uzbek: Dazmol
ironing in Polish: Żelazko
ironing in Portuguese: Ferro de passar
ironing in Russian: Утюг
ironing in Simple English: Ironing
ironing in Slovenian: Likalnik
ironing in Serbian: Пегла
ironing in Finnish: Silitysrauta
ironing in Swedish: Strykjärn
ironing in Samogitian: Pruosos
ironing in Chinese: 熨斗
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