Yuck, what's that black splotch on the dress you're ironing? It definitely wasn't there before, so that's clue #1: The iron did it.
All the dust, dirt, detergent residue, spray starch and melted fabric fibers that stick to your iron's soleplate aren't doing your clothes any favors. When your iron is dirty, the grime drags across fabrics and leaves marks.
But you don't have to toss your iron in the garbage or send it back — not yet, anyway. Cleaning an iron is actually a lot easier than it sounds.
Before you decide which method below to try first, flip your iron over and look at the bottom. If it's made of stainless steel, Teflon or other materials that scratch easily, be extra careful when cleaning it so you don't damage the surface.
Also, open a window before you start. Some of these cleaning methods give off gross odors.
Method 1: Baking soda and water
Mix some baking soda with a little water to create a paste, and rub the paste across the iron. You can use a soft brush to scrub the soleplate and dissolve any gunk. Wipe the iron clean with water. You'll probably need to clean out the steam holes with a damp cotton swab.
After you've wiped off all the baking-soda residue, fill your iron with water and turn it up to the steam setting. Run the iron over a thick towel using lots of steam, to make sure there's no baking soda paste still lurking in the vent holes.
Method 2: Dryer sheets
Grab a dryer sheet and lay it on top of a thick, folded towel draped over the edge of your ironing board. Turn your iron to a low setting and let it heat up. You don't want any steam, so make sure the reservoir doesn't have any water in it.
When your iron is ready, run it over the sheet until the dirt comes off.
The dryer sheet may leave its own oily residue on the bottom of the iron, so after the iron cools, wipe down the soleplate with a damp towel. This method works well if you have a buildup of starch or just a small amount of dirt on the iron.
Method 3: Newspaper
Lay some newspaper on top of a thick towel draped over your ironing board. Make sure the reservoir is empty, then turn the iron to a high setting. After it heats up, drag it across the newspaper to remove the buildup. Gunk begone!
You can also scrunch up the newspaper and use it to scrub the iron surface. If you go that route, wear an oven mitt so you don't burn your hand.
Method 4: Acetone nail polish remover
This method may be a little unorthodox, but it works! A cotton ball or piece of scrap cotton fabric soaked in acetone nail polish remover is magic.
First, plug in the iron and let it heat up, then unplug it and quickly dab the acetone-soaked cotton on the hot surface. (You'll want to bust out the oven mitt again.)
Since acetone evaporates quickly, you can only clean small areas at a time with this method. But it's worth it when you watch that stuck-on grime totally dissolve. When you're done, wipe the iron down with a wet cloth.
Method 5: Kitchen cleaning sponges or pads
You can use household sponges and scrubbers to clean the surface of the iron, but it's more of a workout.
Make sure to use the non-scratch kind, and better yet, the white eraser-type sponges. If you have a no-scratch cleanser too (the type you'd use for a ceramic cooktop), use that on your iron. But as with baking-soda paste (see Method 1 above), you'll need to get all the cleanser out of the vent holes before using the iron on your sewing or quilting projects.
Method 6: Commercial iron-cleaning products
Truth: Everyone puts the hot iron down on the glue side of the interfacing at some point. It's a total disaster, but you can fix it. While the iron is still hot, grab an old towel and use the dragging technique described above: Run the iron over the towel to scrape off most of the interfacing.
Some fabrics can melt on the iron and create a stubborn mess that won't scrub or scrape off no matter what method you use. When this happens, your best bet is a commercial iron cleaner. You'll find those in the notions area of sewing and quilting stores.
Follow the directions on the package to make sure you're using the cleaner the right way. They'll usually tell you to squeeze the cleaner onto a folded towel and then press down on the towel with your hot, dry iron, continuously moving the iron and cleaning the whole surface.
Here's the scary part: The towel will sizzle and it may even smoke a little. The smell is no joke either, so you might want to turn on a fan and open multiple windows to get a cross-breeze going. But when all else fails, this method will save your iron from the garbage can — and save you from shelling out cash for a new one.