We get asked a lot why a steam iron is leaking water? There are a few reasons why this may happen and we shall cover those off below. Hopefully, these will be able to help sort that particular problem, which can be really annoying. With some of the problems there are some easy fixes. There are however some faults that just can't be fixed and it is better to buy a new iron. We have explained those below.
The Iron is too full of water
Steam irons all have a water tank. The size of the water tank can vary slightly depending on the brand and model of the iron. The average size is around 350 ml. In almost all irons you will also see a MAX line written somewhere on the iron. Most irons fill from the top, and somewhere on the body of the iron, there will be a transparent gauge.
That is designed so as you can see how much water you have inside the tank, and when you need to fill it up. You should never fill the tank higher than the MAX line. Our advice is to fill it to just under the MAX line. The boiler inside the iron is made to be able to efficiently heat and boil the amount of water inside the tank.
If there is more water than the recommended amount, the water will not boil, and tends to dribble out of the iron and can easily cause water spots.
Most manufacturers supply a measuring jug. Only use this as a guide as there is likely to be some water left in the iron from the last time it was used.
Check the Water Closure or clip
Most steam irons get filled with a small water jug. On some irons you pull a small cover back and pour in the water. Others use a small opening with a one way valve that allows the water in, but stops it from coming out.
Just be sure if it is a small cover, like the one shown in the image above, that the clip is firmly closed. Most manufacturers design that closure to close with a click, so as you can be certain that it is sealed once you have finished filling up your iron. If it hasn't clicked then water does tend to dribble out of this small gap and run down the iron.
The iron isn't hot enough and water drips
On most steam irons you will find temperature settings. Those allow you to select the right temperature depending on the type of material you are ironing. Some steam irons use numbers for temperature, (usually 1-7) and some just have the fabrics written on a wheel for selection. Those also have a minimum and a maximum setting (MIN/MAX)
Certain fabrics should be ironed at a low temperature. The lowest temperature is for acrylic which should be ironed at around 135 degrees Celsius. At the other end of the scale materials such as linen should be ironed at 135 degrees Celsius. As you can see the difference in temperature is quite large, depending on which selection you pick.
If your iron is set to the minimum setting (MIN), then the iron may not get hot enough to boil the water and turn it into steam. When that happens the water will drip out of the iron. To avoid that make sure the iron is used on the lowest fabric setting rather than the minimum setting.
If you have a very delicate fabric, cover it with a damp tea towel and iron on top of that at a low setting.
Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius (212 Farenheit). If the water isn't at that temperature, then it will run out. Low temperature and a high steam setting is a bad combination and will cause water leaks. You can see this in the video below. Turn the steam off on a low setting, or empty the water out of the iron and use it like a dry iron on a low temperature.
Steam Bursts & water leaks
On most steam irons, there are two steam options. One is called variable steam and the other is a steam boost. The variable steam option is simply the rate of the steam that normally comes out of your iron. That is determined by the temperature setting and produces the right amount of steam for the material you are ironing.
The other is a steam boost. This can be used if you are trying to remove a large or stubborn crease or wrinkle. It gives you like a quick shot of more pressurised steam. You should always use this as a single shot. Once you do that, you then need to leave it for about a minute before using the steam shot again. That allows the iron to heat the water back up again so as you can deliver another steam shot.
If you use 2 or 3 steam shots in a row, without waiting in between those shots, the iron will leak water all over your clothes.
Using the right water in your steam iron
The vast majority of people fill their iron up straight from the water tap. For many users in the UK that will work perfectly well. Some areas in the UK have hard water. That means the water contains a higher concentration of lime from softer limestone rocks.
That water can create limescale within your iron over a period of time. It starts to clog the holes in the soleplate, and also causes a build up of limescale in the boiler. Eventually that will cause leaks in you steam iron. Anyone living in a hard water area in the UK should use 50% tap water and 50% distilled water to avoid limescale build ups.
The iron gets dropped or damaged
If your iron gets dropped or gets a hard knock, then it can get damaged. Most steam irons have an exterior made of a hard plastic. That helps make the iron lightweight, but it also leaves it vulnerable to cracking. In most cases though, it won't do any real damage other than cosmetic damage of ruining the appearance.
However inside the iron, there is a metal boiler, various electrical components and a plastic water tank. If the boiler or tank gets damaged then the water will leak as well. There is really nothing much you can do to stop that from happening. It will either be a repair or a replacement of the iron.
In most cases it is just better to buy a new iron rather then repair it, and you can read why by clicking here.
Water leaking from the soleplate
The soleplate is probably the biggest weak point on steam irons for water leaks. Most soleplates are made from either metal or ceramic, and most of them have small holes to allow the steam to come out. When your iron is new that system works really well. The holes are spaced out so as the steam can loosen the fibres of the garment you are ironing, and that makes it much easier to get rid of wrinkles and creases.
The weakness in the holes of a soleplate is that they start to get clogged up. When you have an appliance where water contacts metal, such as an iron or a kettle, any impurities in the water start to interact with the metal and they can form a limescale inside your iron. This can build up over time.
The steam then struggles to get past the build up of limescale inside the boiler, and inside the holes of the soleplate. This is when you may notice your iron spluttering, or as some people refer to it, spitting and hissing. This creates water spots on your clothes which produce a small stain as the water is not clean.
Over a longer period of time the limescale starts to eat into the metal of the boiler and soleplate and causes rust. When that rust combines with water and steam, the iron then starts to spit our a brown coloured watery substance which will really stain your clothes. (Think a white shirt covered with brown gunk)
You can use a pin to help remove and clear the small holes in the soleplate. You can then buy a cleaner, or use a damp cloth and some vinegar to clean the soleplate. That will help to extend the life of the iron for a while. If you own a steam iron that ahs a water filter or a descale feature, then use these always to keep your iron in the best shape and stop it from leaking.
If none of the above work, then it is time to replace the iron. With prices as low as £15 for a new iron, it is better to spend that, then try to fix a faulty iron that is leaking water.
Cleaning your steam iron
It is a good idea to clean your iron once a month. The more expensive steam irons usually have a self clean feature which makes your life a great deal easier. If it doesn't there is really nothing much you can do in terms of cleaning the inside of your iron. Avoid using something like vinegar mixed with water to do that.
Cleaning the soleplate with warm water and vinegar is fine, just don't use vinegar inside the iron.
Store your steam iron properly
When your ironing is finished allow the iron to cool down before storing it away. Empty out any unused water and then store the iron in an upright position. By removing any water from the iron you help a lot in preventing limescale. Set it on its heel so as any remaining water doesn't leak out through the soleplate.
Steam irons costa anything between £15-50 and on average they last between 3-4 years before they stop working. if you buy one with a de-calc feature, they will last slightly longer as they stop limescale from building up. Generally speaking though, something will eventually go faulty in your iron. That could be anything from the thermostat, the boiler, the automatic cut-off, the soleplate etc.
Water leaks are quite common in irons and if they are dropped on a hard floor, they usually break. Other than that, they will simply wear out over time. If you can avoid the simple mistakes such as overfilling the tank, or having it on the wrong setting, then it shouldn't start to cause problems for the first couple of years.
That is the main reason manufacturers offer a 1 or 2 year warranty - they know how long products last without needing maintenance. If there is a leak and you have avoided the basic mistakes, then get it back to the retailer if it is still under warranty. If the warranty has expired, it is time for a new iron.