A clothes iron, also called a flatiron or simply an iron, is a small appliance: a handheld piece of equipment with a flat, roughly triangular surface that, when heated, is used to press clothes to remove creases. It is named for the metal of which the device is commonly made, and the use of it is generally called ironing. Ironing works by loosening the ties between the long chains of molecules that exist in polymer fiber materials. With the heat and the weight of the ironing plate, the fibers are stretched and the fabric maintains its new shape when cool. Some materials, such as cotton, require the use of water to loosen the intermolecular bonds. Many materials developed in the twentieth century are advertised as needing little or no ironing.
The electric iron was invented in 1882 by Henry W. Seeley, a New York inventor. Seeley patented his "electric flatiron" on June 6, 1882. His iron weighed almost 15 pounds and took a long time to warm up. Other electric irons had also been invented, including one from France (1882), but it used a carbon arc to heat the iron, a method which was dangerous.
History and development of flatirons
Metal pans filled with hot coals were used for smoothing fabrics in China in the 1st century BC. From the 17th century, sadirons or sad irons (from an old word meaning solid[vague]) began to be used. They were thick slabs of cast iron, delta-shaped and with a handle, heated in a fire. These were also called flat irons. A later design consisted of an iron box which could be filled with hot coals, which had to be periodically aerated by attaching a bellows. In Kerala in India, burning coconut shells were used instead of charcoal, as they have a similar heating capacity. This method is still in use as a backup device, since power outages are frequent. Other box irons had heated metal inserts instead of hot coals.
Another solution was to employ a cluster of solid irons that were heated from a single source: As the iron currently in use cooled down, it could be quickly replaced by a hot one. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there were many irons in use that were heated by fuels such as kerosene, ethanol, whale oil, natural gas, carbide gas (acetylene, as with carbide lamps), or even gasoline. Some houses were equipped with a system of pipes for distributing natural gas or carbide gas to different rooms in order to operate appliances such as irons, in addition to lights. Despite the risk of fire, liquid-fuel irons were sold in U.S. rural areas up through World War II.
In the industrialized world, these designs have been superseded by the electric iron, which uses resistive heating from an electric current. The hot plate, called the sole plate, is made of aluminium or stainless steel. The heating element is controlled by a thermostat that switches the current on and off to maintain the selected temperature. The invention of the resistively heated electric iron is credited to Henry W. Seeley of New York in 1882. In the same year an iron heated by a carbon arc was introduced in France, but was too dangerous to be successful. The early electric irons had no easy way to control their temperature, and the first thermostatically controlled electric iron appeared in the 1920s. Later, steam was used to iron clothing. Credit for the invention of the steam iron goes to Thomas Sears. The first commercially available electric steam iron was introduced in 1926 by a New York drying and cleaning company, Eldec, but was not a commercial success. The $10 Steam-O-Matic of 1938 was the first steam iron to achieve any degree of popularity, and led the way to more widespread use of the electric steam iron during the 1940s and 1950s.
Types and names
Historically, irons have had several variations and have thus been called by many names:
- Flatiron or smoothing iron
- The general name for a hand-held iron consisting simply of a handle and a solid, flat, metal base, and named for the flat ironing face used to smooth clothes.
- Sad iron or sadiron
- Mentioned above, meaning "solid" or heavy iron, where the base is a solid block of metal, sometimes used to refer irons with heavier bases than a typical "flatiron".
- Box iron, ironing box, charcoal iron, ox-tongue iron or slug iron
- Mentioned above; the base is a container, into which hot coals or a metal brick or slug can be inserted to keep the iron heated. The ox-tongue iron is named for the particular shape of the insert, referred to as an ox-tongue slug.
- Goose, tailor's goose or, in Scottish, gusing iron
- A type of flat iron or sad iron named for the goose-like curve in its neck, and (in the case of "tailor's goose") its usage by tailors.
- Goffering iron
- This type of iron, now obsolete, consists of a metal cylinder oriented horizontally on a stand. It was used to iron ruffs and collars.
Modern irons for home use can have the following features:
- A design that allows the iron to be set down, usually standing on its end, without the hot soleplate touching anything that could be damaged;
- A thermostat ensuring maintenance of a constant temperature;
- A temperature control dial allowing the user to select the operating temperatures (usually marked with types of cloth rather than temperatures: "silk", "wool", "cotton", "linen", etc.);
- An electrical cord with heat-resistant silicone rubber insulation;
- Injection of steam through the fabric during the ironing process;
- A water reservoir inside the iron used for steam generation;
- An indicator showing the amount of water left in the reservoir,
- Constant steam: constantly sends steam through the hot part of the iron into the clothes;
- Steam burst: sends a burst of steam through the clothes when the user presses a button;
- (advanced feature) Dial controlling the amount of steam to emit as a constant stream;
- (advanced feature) Anti-drip system;
- Cord control: the point at which the cord attaches to the iron has a spring to hold the cord out of the way while ironing and likewise when setting down the iron (prevents fires, is more convenient, etc.);
- A retractable cord for easy storage;
- (advanced feature) non-stick coating along the sole plate to help the iron glide across the fabric
- (advanced feature) Anti-burn control: if the iron is left flat (possibly touching clothes) for too long, the iron shuts off to prevent scorching and fires;
- (advanced feature) Energy saving control: if the iron is left undisturbed for several (10 or 15) minutes, the iron shuts off to save energy and prevent fires.
- Cordless irons: the iron is placed on a stand for a short period to warm up, using thermal mass to stay hot for a short period. These are useful for light loads only. Battery power is not viable for irons as they require more power than practical batteries can provide.
- (advanced feature) 3-way automatic shut-off
- (advanced feature) self-cleaning
The collections of irons are possessed by many ethnographical museums all around the world. In Ukraine, for example, about 150 irons are the part of the exhibition of the Radomysl Castle (Radomyshl, Ukraine).
- U.S. Patent 259,054
- "History of ironing and irons - flat-irons, sad-irons, mangles". Oldandinteresting.com. 2002-02-07. Retrieved 2014-06-17.
- "Goffering Irons, Victorian, Original | Object Lessons - Houses & Homes: Victorians". Object Lessons. Retrieved 2014-06-04.
- "Crimping, fluting, goffering, Italian irons: smoothing frills, ruffles, puffed sleeves". Oldandinteresting.com. Retrieved 2014-06-04.
- Богомолець. О. "Замок-музей Радомисль на Шляху Королів Via Regia". — Київ, 2013
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Irons.|
- Charcoal and other antique irons from the White River Valley Museum
- Antique Irons from the Virtual Museum of Textile Arts
- The Official Site of Radomysl Castle