How to Iron: Addressing a ‘Pressing’ Need

We live in an age where ironing is almost an archaic chore. Provided our clothes are removed from the dryer as soon as it’s finished, most clothes don’t need it. But there are still some types of fabric that just beg for the extra touch of an iron. We still want our clothes to look fresh, so we need to learn how to iron.

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several crisply ironed dress shirts hanging on a rack

I learned how to iron from my Aunt Emily. As a young woman, she worked at a company called Lyle’s Laundry, and she learned all the tricks. As a birthday gift each year, she gave me one year’s worth of laundry – and it was the best gift I ever received!

However, the day I got married, that gift quit coming. But she gave me another one in its place – lessons on how to do my own laundry, right down to how to iron my clothes. I’ve applied those lessons ever since!

In this post, I will be sharing many of the lessons I got from Aunt Emily. And they all start from the moment they come out of the dryer or off the clothesline.

Dryer or Clothesline?

clothesline with shirts and jeans hanging

It doesn’t matter if you use a clothesline or a dryer. Both will get your clothes dry. But either way, there are certain things you need to do to keep your clothes wrinkle free.

A clothes dryer is the simplest. To prevent wrinkles, work quickly. As soon as the dryer stops, remove clothes and hang or fold as necessary.

Using a clothesline is similar. As I remove an item, I fold it while I am still outside. For clothes that need to be ironed or hung up, I loosely fold them and set them to one side of the basket. In order to prevent taking an extra basket or causing confusion, I usually wash and dry items to be hung up or ironed first, and then have folded items in the next load. That way, while my folded items are drying, I can hang or iron the first load.

First Things First – Understanding your Iron Settings

settings on an iron

Temperature settings on irons vary. Some have numbers, others the type of fabric. This chart may help to take the confusion out of the settings.

4Cotton Blends

Time to Start Ironing


a man's hand holding a spray bottle while ironing a shirt sleeve

One of the first lessons in ironing that Aunt Emily taught me is that commercial spray starch and sizing can cause a sheen on your clothes. Instead, she recommended removing items to be ironed from the clothesline before they were completely dry.

She would then use a Coke bottle filled with water that was first boiled and then cooled completely. She filled the bottle with the water, then placed a sprinkle-type stopper (#ad) securely in the opening. From there, she would give each item a good sprinkle of water, roll them up and place them in a large plastic bag.

(You can omit the boiling step if you use Distilled Water!)

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When she finished with all the items, she placed the bag in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, she would sweep the floor and place a large sheet down. On the sheet she would place her ironing board. Then she would plug in her iron and set it to the appropriate heat setting.

Once it was hot, she removed the first item from the bag. Once she was finished, you would think the clothing came straight from the dry cleaners. It was wrinkle-free, crisp, and clean, with no sheen. I still often do my dressier clothes this way.

But if I am ever in a time crunch, it works almost as well to use a spray bottle. Just place the item on the ironing board, douse it with a generous spray of water, and start ironing.

You may be wondering why she placed a sheet on the floor. The reason is simple. Aunt Emily didn’t just iron clothes. She also ironed sheets, pillowcases, dust ruffles and anything else that could do with a ‘good pressing’.

The sheet prevented any dust or dirt from getting on the larger items. If you have never slept in sheets that have been freshly laundered, hung on a line to dry, and then ironed, it may be something you want to try. You probably will never sleep better in your life!


a woman's hand holding an iron and pressing a bright pink shirt

First, let me tell you there is a difference between ‘pressing’ and ‘ironing’. Pressing is simply placing a hot iron on a seam or section of your clothing without moving the iron. The iron is left in place for just seconds. You then would lift, check to make sure the area is ‘holding’ or wrinkle free. If not, you repeat the process.

Pressing is mainly used when dealing with pleats. Quilters also use this technique when pressing down a seam on a quilt piece. Pressing does not cause the fabric to shift or stretch.

Ironing, on the other hand, is done by moving the iron. However, it is still done gently. Move your iron slowly, without tugging or pulling the fabric. Do not press hard while you are moving your iron from one side of the item to the other. Allow the heat of the iron to do the work for you.

How to Iron Shirts

a man's hand ironing a brown shirt sleeve

To best iron a shirt, you need to work from the outside in. First, iron the collar area. Then lay one arm lengthwise across the board. Start with the cuff, then move toward the shoulder. Place the next arm on the board and repeat.

The next part to iron is the yoke. It helps to slip the inside of one arm on the rounded end of the ironing board. From there, lay the yoke flat on the board. Iron from side to side. From there, iron both shoulders, but slipping it onto the rounded edge of the board.

Next, iron the back. Drape the shirt lengthwise on the board with both front sides hanging off each edge. Iron the flat portions first. If you have a back pleat, manipulate it into place with your fingers, then press it down.

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The last thing to iron is the front section. Lay each side on the board and iron. To do the placket (or button side), it may help to iron from the inside. Be sure to press this area to prevent snagging or tearing off the buttons. If necessary, flip it over and use the tip of the iron to press between the buttons. Once you have completed ironing your shirt, hang it up immediately.

Allow it to cool before hanging it in the closet. The moisture remaining in clothing after ironing can cause it to lose its crispness and may cause it and the garments hanging next to them to have a musty odor.

How to Iron Pants

a man's hand ironing a pair of black slacks

To iron pants, start with the top section. Pull it over the rounded end of the board, and press starting from one front area to the back. Before ironing, be sure to straighten pockets into place. Press these and any pleated areas.

Next, fold your pants lengthwise so the inside seams are on the inside. Lay the pants on the board lengthwise. Gently lift the top leg and fold it over the top of the pants. Check to make sure the inside and outside seams are together. If not, make adjustments until they do.

Starting at the hem, gently iron from the bottom edge to the crotch area, using long smooth strokes. When you finish that side, fold the top leg back in place and repeat the process. Once both sides are ironed, turn the pants to the other side and repeat. Again, place your pants on a hangar as soon as you are finished, and allow to completely cool and dry before placing in the closet.

How to Iron Sheets, Tablecloths, and other Large Items

red and white tablecloth draped across an ironing board

Because of their size, these items are the most difficult to iron. They have to be done in sections. The trick is to keep the already finished portion wrinkle free while doing the remaining areas. First, the sheet on the floor does more than prevent dust and dirt. It allows for a ‘soft’ area to drape the item.

Watch carefully that you do not step on the item. Allow it to gently drape, rather than fold. Start at the top of the item and drape as much as you can across the even portion of your board (don’t iron from the rounded edges, as your item won’t remain smooth).

As you iron each section on the board, gently lift and move it forward across the board. (Check to make sure the protective sheet has enough space to catch the ironed portion). One you have finished with the first side, gently lift and turn the item to iron the other side.

If you are ironing your pillowcases, start at the bottom seam and iron toward the top. If you have decorative trim, such as needlework or crochet, turn the case inside out and iron that portion from the back. If your crochet trim still isn’t neat, use a lower heat setting, and gently press from the front.

The Art of Ironing

an iron and a stack of folded shirts representing how to iron your clothes

With the advent of clothes dryers and fabrics that are designed to reduce or eliminate wrinkles, we may find ironing is too old-fashioned. But when you learn how to iron, you will discover just how beneficial skill of yesterday is. Your clothes look crisp and fresh. They appear to have come straight from the dry cleaner. And freshly ironed clothing just makes you look well put together and more professional.

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But ironing isn’t all about clothes. Your table looks nicer, and your meals more inviting when your tablecloth and napkins are freshly ironed. And one of the greatest treats in the world is to go to bed and slip between sheets that have been line-dried and freshly ironed. Nothing else could say ‘sweet dreams’ better!

Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.

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