How to Clean a Steam Iron Base Plate and Reservoir

Closeup on woman cleaning iron with cloth

Nobody likes ironing, but trying to iron when your steam iron is leaving marks on the clothing is an even more frustrating process. You may find your iron sticks or the water comes out dirty, ruining your clean washing and adding to your workload.

If so, you need to clean it, and we’ve got some great tips on how to do that.

Why Your Steam Iron Base Has Burn Marks

There are a few potential causes for those annoying burn marks on your iron soleplate; they’re often something you’ll see appear without any apparently reason. You might notice them if you have used spray starch that has burnt on to the metal.

They may be caused by water having turned rusty in the reservoir, but the most common cause is synthetic fabric particles melting onto the hot soleplate. These tiny fibers build up over time, leaving that black stuff that can cause dirty streaks across your clothes, and preventing the iron from gliding smoothly.

You may also find that limescale and other minerals from the water reservoir tank build up around the steam holes on the base plate – even blocking them.

Whatever the reason, you’ll probably see these marks from time to time as a general part of using an iron. It’s important to remove them quickly before the problem gets worse or you’ll end up with marks on your clothes, and that will be an even bigger problem to remove.

8 Ways to Remove Burn Marks off a Steam Iron Sole Plate

There are quite a few different tricks for taking the burn marks off a steam iron, and sometimes the method will depend a bit on what has caused the marks.

Method 1) Magic Eraser

Use a Magic Eraser. There are many brands around, such as the popular Mr Clean Magic Eraser and Flash Ultra Power Magic Eraser. They’re made from Melamine foam which has abrasive properties – think of it like an ultra fine grain sand paper. It grips the most ingrained stains, pulling them off surfaces to leave them like new, and they work incredibly well on steam irons.

  • First, wet a magic eraser sponge and give it a ring out.
  • Take your hot iron and rub the base plate across the sponged.
  • Or leave the iron upright and rub the marks off with the sponge
  • With repeated passes and a bi of elbow grease, the marks will rub away.

Method 2) Salt

Sprinkle salt over a sheet of baking paper on a flat surface. Warm your iron and gently run it back and forth over the salt, changing the direction and circling around. Let the iron cool a bit and wipe away any excess salt, and you should have a shiny base, ready for use.

Method 3) Baking Soda

Mix two tablespoons of baking soda and one tablespoon of water to create a paste. You can also add a splash of lemon juice or vinegar to help deal with any limescale stains. Gently rub the paste over the surface of the iron, removing the stain as you go.

This method can clog up the holes at the bottom of the iron; if that happens, don’t worry, but simply clean them with a toothpick or a cotton swab.

Method 4) Dish Soap

Everyone has dish soap to hand and it’s cheap. Mix some warm water and dish soap, and then use a clean rag to gently wipe over the iron’s surface. You may have to rub a little to lift the stains, but this should take care of most residue, especially if you do it regularly and don’t allow it to build up.

Method 5) Toothpaste

It might sound odd, but toothpaste is a great cleaning agent. Blob small amounts of toothpaste directly onto the marks on the iron’s soleplate and use a clean cloth to gently rub it in. Leave it to stand for a few minutes, and then use a fresh cloth to wipe off the toothpaste.

You might need to add a bit of water to remove any final toothpaste-y smears, but this is a very low-labor way of cleaning up your iron, and again, it’s cheap!

Method 6) Newspaper

Newspaper, surprisingly, can also clean your iron quite effectively. Lay a sheet out on your ironing board and heat your iron to hot, but don’t use any steam. Run the dry iron back and forth across the sheet of newspaper, allowing grime accumulated on the iron’s surface to transfer to the paper.

Again, you can use a sprinkle of salt for extra abrasion if you want to, but this isn’t necessary most of the time. Once you have finished, cool the iron and wipe it down with a clean, damp cloth to remove any ink picked up from the newspaper.

Method 7) Hydrogen Peroxide

Perhaps less eco-friendly, you can also use hydrogen peroxide. Soak a rag in hydrogen peroxide for a little while, and then spread this out and gently iron over it on a low heat for a few minutes.

This should lift burn marks and stains off the iron’s surface. Discard the rag and wipe the surface of the iron with a clean, damp cloth to remove any residue (it should evaporate anyway but this is a good precaution to take).

Method 8) Use a Hot Iron Plate Cleaner

There exists special creams and lotions that are formulated to remove burned-on marks, melted fusible, washing detergents, and starch, that can build up on chrome, metal, and ceramic steam iron base plates. These cleaners will easily remove these stains to bring back the shine and glide of your irons base.

How To Keep Your Iron Base Plate Clean

Prevention is better than cure. It’s not easy to totally avoid those marks appearing, unfortunately, as they come from multiple causes and are a result of general use. However, you can reduce them by being careful about what kind of water you use in the iron.

You shouldn’t use solely distilled water as this will cause the iron to spit, but if you mix distilled water 50-50 with tap water, you’ll find that you massively decrease the amount of limescale and other minerals sticking to the surface of your iron.

Always make sure that your iron is set to the correct temperature before ironing. An iron that’s too hot will melt certain fabrics, causing burn marks to appear. For example, linen should be ironed at a temperature of around 240 °C, wools around 150 °C, and cotton around 200 °C.

Check the laundry label to see what the fabric is made of, and to check which ironing symbols are displayed. It would be a good idea to split your laundry into batches, starting with the low temperature fabrics first, and move your way up in heat.

Check the Iron Manufacturer’s Cleaning Guidelines

Every new steam iron comes with specific instructions for cleaning various portions of the unit. These instructions override all other advice that you find! This is especially true when it comes to descaling. Most newer irons have built-in descaling systems that can actually be damaged if you use a do-it-yourself method that involves vinegar or cleaning solvents.

If you’ve misplaced the manufacturer’s directions, you can often reach out directly to the manufacturer to inquire about cleaning instructions for your specific model of steam iron.

How Often Should You Clean Your Steam Iron?

The cleaning frequency needed for a steam iron largely depends on usage. The bare minimum is to clean your steam iron sole plate at least seasonally. A good rule to follow is to simply clean your iron whenever you switch over your wardrobe for summer, fall, spring and winter. If you iron daily, you might need to clean your iron once a month.

The soleplate on a steam iron should be wiped clean whenever you notice a dull film building up on the surface with your eye. However, the time to clean a soleplate is not when you notice the scorch marks while in the middle of an ironing session. Make sure that an iron is unplugged, turned off and fully cooled prior to cleaning the soleplate.

Descaling should be done every two or three months, depending on whether you live in a hard or soft water area. The harder the water, the more often you will need do descale.

How Do You Know You Need to Descale Your Iron?

Descaling is the process of removing limescale deposits from your iron. These deposits are typically white, chalky deposits that get stuck inside your iron water tank or around the steam hole on the base plate. Their size and bulk can “back things up” to make your iron less efficient. If ignored, the buildup can actually prevent the components within your iron from working properly.

Here are the tell-tale signs that it’s time to descale your iron:

  • Your iron has lost its glide.
  • You’ve noticed white mineral deposits on your clothes after ironing them.
  • Your soleplate has a sticky residue.
  • Your iron leaves marks on your clothing.
  • Your iron is spitting water instead of steam bursts
  • There’s white chalky deposits inside the water reservoir and steam holes

As stated earlier, many modern irons have built-in descaling systems. Simply follow the manufactures process for clearing limescale. However, if you determine that your iron does not have a self-descaling feature, you will need to handle descaling manually – here’s how.

  • Purchase an appliance descaler such as Scale Away.
  • Warm up your iron to a medium temperature
  • Unplug your iron and empty out the water reservoir rank
  • Fill the water tank with the limescale remover solution
  • Turn you iron back onto a high heat
  • Press the steam button repeatedly to work the solution through
  • Give the iron a shake to wash the solution around the inside of the tank
  • Empty out any leftover solution
  • Refill the tank and use the steam function repeatedly
  • You’re done!

Remember, this process of only for steam irons that do not have Calc or anti-scale feature.

How to Clean Blocked Base Plate Hole

If you find that the holes on the base plate are very clogged with limescale, then fill a making tray up with a limescale remover solution of about 1cm – just enough to submerge the soleplate. Place the iron (cold and turned off) into the making try, submerging the holes and base plate. Leave for 10 minutes then remove and use a brush to clean inside the holes.

Turn your iron on and blast some clean water through the steam holes to clear them out completely.

A Hack for Removing Melted Plastic From a Soleplate

A common issue with soleplates is that the heat from an iron can sometimes melt a surrounding object, sometimes clothing can have plastics attached to them.

When this happens, you have a couple of options. First, wet a magic eraser and wide over the sole plate. This will gradually lift the plastic away. Second option is to allow the iron to cool completely so that the plastic becomes brittle – then use a plastic knife to scrape the melted plastic off.

Conclusion

You can prolong the lifespan of a steam iron by following a very simple cleaning protocol. Don’t assume that a steam iron is “clean enough” just based on the fact that the exterior looks good. There are many things going on inside a steam iron that may not “bubble over” for a while.

If your steam iron is marking the clothes, it’s worse than useless. You need to take care of any marks on the surface of the iron before you end up with them all over your washing.

How you clean your iron will depend little on what has caused the marks, but these methods are very effective.

Remember to empty the water out of your iron before storing it, and to rinse and clean the water reservoir as well, especially if the water looks dirty when it leaves the iron. Storing it dry will prevent any build up of rust or mold inside the water reservoir.

A quick clean will soon have your iron sparkling and bright again, and let you whizz through that pile of clothes, ensuring everything you wear is clean, pressed, and free from stains.