Cleaning Your Iron


One of the most asked questions in one of my FB quilting groups is how to clean goop or burn marks or plastic off an iron.  You won't believe the choices!

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Cleaning Your Iron

There are basically two types of techniques for removing sediment from an iron. One is friction such as scraping or rubbing. The other is chemical removal.

Cleaning Your Iron



Let's start with plastic. Yes, I melt plastic onto my iron when I iron over the head of one of my flower or button head pins. This usually occurs when I have a freezer paper pattern pinned to the fabric and I am too lazy to remove the pin prior to ironing it. For plastic, the technique of choice is freezing. Once the plastic is frozen, it's easy to scrape it off the iron.


I've also read about folks using aluminum foil to rub off the substance. I'm not a big fan of this method because it may damage the plate surface. Other suggested abrasives include toothpaste or dryer sheets. Newspaper and salt can also form an abrasive. One suggestion was so interesting that I tried it on a pair of gooped up kitchen scissors – a Tylenol tablet held by tweezers. Yes, it worked. Be sure to use the white, uncoated tablet.


The solution I personally prefer is also a friction method of removal. Magic Eraser is made of a substance called Formaldehyde-Melamine-Sodium-Bisulfite Copolymer. The magic is the melamine. Remember your grandparent's Formica table? Melamine is also used in dry erase boards and sound insulation. The sponge creates micro-friction, so Magic Eraser is an abrasive and therefore does rub the substance from the iron. If you read the package, you won't find out what it is made of, but you will learn that it is made in Germany.




Chemical removal agents vary from the commonplace such as baking soda and vinegar to the more expensive purchased agents. Among the other commonplace agents added to my list was dish detergent. We all know the wonder of Dawn as a degreaser. Acetone nail polish remover was also recommended in this category.


Vinegar is certainly the substance of choice for cleaning the inside of the iron. Following your manufacturer's instructions would be the best method, but if you don't have them or can't locate them online, you can follow any instructions online.


I didn't feel I could recommend purchasing the specialty products without knowing what was in them and, of course, the ingredients are not listed on the package. To find out what the ingredients were, I went to an online database called Consumer Product Information Database (CPID). This is the successor to one of my favorite old online resources called Household Products from the National Library of Medicine (NLM). As a medical librarian, I can highly recommend the resources from NLM. (As an aside, you can find out what's in anything from toothpaste to paint in CPID.)



I found that commercial iron cleaners are made of Sulfamic acid and Hydroxyacetic acid and many are made in the USA. Products which are sold commercially must have a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) available in the US which lists the ingredients and any toxicity. These are collected in the CPID along with any additional information.


Safety precautions are, of course, always recommended. Wearing gloves with any of these methods will protect your hands.


I have used the commercial hot iron cleaners and do find them effective. Magic erasers aren't cheap either, but because they do so many other jobs around the house, I like to keep them on hand. As with most other issues, the simplest solution is probably the best way to begin. If that doesn't solve the problem, work your way up the other suggestions until something works.


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A quilting design of repeated concentric arcs that forms an all-over stitching design usually unrelated to the design of the quilt top. While popular during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, fan quilting is considered by some observers to be old-fashioned and undesirable.
Moving a hot iron while it has contact with fabric. Often ironing can stretch and distort fabrics and seams. A better alternative is to press, where you just lay the hot iron down and lift straight up from the fabric.

See Also: Pressing
Debi Warner
Author and humorist, Debi Warner, retired after many years as a clinical librarian and information specialist. She has her Master’s in Library and Information Science and achieved a Distinguished level in the Medical Library Association’s Association of Health Information Professionals. She has worked on teaching physicians to use computers and electronic resources. She also worked on several grants teaching the public how to use the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus public database and is co-author of several articles on health literacy. She took up quilting after retirement in 2012 and chaired the Rio Grande Valley Quilt Show in 2019. She currently teaches several quilting classes over Zoom and writes for QuiltingHub.
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