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Garment Steamer vs Steam Iron 

By  Carol

We explain the difference between a garment steamer and a steam iron. The majority of people in the UK will be very familiar with the steam iron. The large majority of homes in the UK will have one of these. Invented in 1926 by Thomas Sears, they really didn't become popular until 1938. Since then lots of household brands have made thousands of different models.

Steam generator irons are now becoming more popular. These are essentially larger versions of steam irons with bigger water tanks, higher pressures and produce a lot more steam. They have been around in the UK for the last 10 years and continue to grow in popularity.

Garment steamers also referred to as clothes steamers have only become popular in the last 10 years. Commercial garment steamers have been around since the 1900s and used in commercial settings such as large dry cleaners. The handheld garment steamer, also referred to as a travel steamer, or portable steamer has become very popular in the last 10-15 years in the UK.

Handheld portable garment steamers are similar to steam irons. Professional or vertical garment steamers are similar to steam generating irons. Below we explain the important differences between a steam iron and a portable handheld garment steamer.

Handheld Portable Garment Steamer vs Steam Iron Benefits Comparison Table

Handheld Garment steamer

  • Uses steam to remove wrinkles from clothes and can be used for both horizontal steaming and vertical steaming
  • Perfect for removing wrinkles and no ironing board required
  • It is safe for almost all fabrics including delicate fabrics and those that are hard to iron
  • Has a small water tank so good for removing wrinkles from daily outfits
  • They are light, small and ideal for travel use

Steam Iron

  • Uses stem and a hot soleplate for removing wrinkles and for a crisp finish
  • Better for longer ironing sessions when used with an ironing board
  • Better for crisp results on formal cotton shirts for example
  • Better for a bigger pile of clothes
  • Better suited for home use and not suitable for travel.

Handheld Portable Garment Steamer vs Steam Iron Price Comparison

In the UK, the average price for a steam iron is around £35. Depending on which brand you pick and which model you pick the price variation can be from £14-65. Mainly the price is determined by the quality of the iron, the steam output and a range of other features.

In the UK, the average price for a handheld garment steamer is around £35, so pretty much the same as a steam iron. Depending on which brand you pick and which model you pick the price variation can be from £12-70. Mainly the price is determined by the quality of the steamer, the steam output and a range of other features.

So as you can see, there is no real price difference between a steam iron and a portable handheld garment steamer.

Is a garment steamer better than an iron?

This is a question that we are often asked. It really is in our opinion a lifestyle choice. A garment steamer is better than an iron as it is less harsh on fabrics. That is because a garment steam uses only steam, whereas, a steam iron uses both steam and a very hot soleplate.

On the other hand, if you are someone who likes crisp ironing with neat creases in shirts, trousers etc, then a steam iron is a better choice that a garment steamer.

We mentioned earlier lifestyle choices and it really does come down to this for many people. Most people hate ironing and do only the bare minimum that they require. The majority of people will buy and use a steam iron and try to blitz their ironing once or twice a week. Some people upgrade to a steam generator iron and do one large batch or ironing once a week in about half the time. And some people will just iron what they need for that day.

We all have different circumstances. Some people live alone, there are couples, and there are small families and large families. They all have different ironing requirements.

Holidays, Travel and Business Travel

Business Travel

Many people travel with business. This could be to a meeting, training or conference with an overnight stay. Some hotels have trouser presses and some have irons but many have neither. Travel irons are small, take a long time to heat up and don't really do a good job of ironing. Taking a normal steam iron with you is heavy and most people don't. A portable handheld garment steamer is the perfect choice.

You can quickly get rid of creases, freshen up suits and dresses and look smart each and every day.

Short Breaks

Short holidays are normally used for a quick getaway break. Time is limited and you don't really want to be spending time with an iron. Again a garment steamer is a fairly quick method of getting rid of wrinkles from clothes that have been packed into a suitcase, holdall or backpack.

Longer Holidays

We would also recommend a garment steamer for longer holidays. They are compact and light and can quickly remove wrinkles from clothes that have been packed.

Weddings Abroad

Likewise if you have to go abroad for a wedding we would recommend packing a garment steamer. They are the best choice for delicate fabrics such as wedding or bridesmaid's dresses and also for suits. They are also great for hats.

Who & When to use a steam iron?

Steam irons are the better choice for normal laundry ironing. It is more to do with the process of getting the ironing done and out of the way. This involves setting up the ironing board, filling the iron with water, plugging it in and sorting out the iron. In essence, you have allocated some time to getting this chore done. When you have gone through this the steam iron just lets you get on with this and helps get the laborious task finished.

If you are someone who likes a good crease on some types of trousers, then a steam iron is the only real choice as garment steamers just can't do that easily.

Anyone with a family will be better off using a steam iron as overall the process is quicker. Those who live alone can use either as there is not as much ironing to do.

Who & When to use a garment steamer?

Clothes Care - Garment steamers are less harsh on your clothes than a steam iron. That means that your clothes will last longer if you use a garment steamer. If you own expensive good quality clothes then a steamer is a much better choice.

Travel - We would also recommend using garment steamers for travel of almost any kind. They are compact and portable and can be used to remove wrinkles from your clothes quickly and effectively.

Daily Use - If you are working and wearing a suit for example, wrinkles around the back of the knees and the elbows build up over the day. Running a garment steamer over these can keep them looking fresh and wrinkle free.

Curtains, Bedding & Upholstery - A steamer is the best option for larger surfaces such as curtains, bedding, mattresses and upholstery. We appreciate that not everyone irons bedding but for those that do, then a steamer is best. Vertical steaming of curtains is easy with a garment steamer. Likewise running a garment steamer over upholstery keeps it fresh and great for removing odours. You can also put a duvet cover on, spread it on the bed, and steam out any wrinkles. That is much easier than trying to iron it with a steam iron.

Delicate Fabrics - There are a number of delicate fabrics used in dresses such as wedding dresses, formal dresses and ball gowns. some people will cover these with a tea towel and iron them. There is a still a risk involved. With a good quality garment steamer there is no risk, so we think it is a better choice.

Our Summary of a garment steamer vs a steam iron

Based on our extensive knowledge and research, the reality is that almost every home will have a steam iron. Many homes will also have a garment steamer and having both is actually a very good idea. There will be some people who will use just a garment steamer but they will be a small number.

At the end of the day the best choice is that which suits your current lifestyle. Some people pay to get their ironing done. Some people do it as they need it. Others plan a time slot each week and blitz it.

Both the steam iron and the garment steamer have their uses. If you own both you can decide which works better for you depending on your own circumstances at any given time.

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