No matter why it is that you want to learn how to unwrinkle your clothes, we got you, fam: Perhaps your linen top has an accordion-like texture after spending winter in the back of your closet. Maybe you’re doing more sewing than usual and want your fabric to stay flat. Or it could be that you’re just trying to look professional from the waist up in a video call. But, before you break out the steam iron, you should know that when it comes to certain materials—natural fabrics, in particular—crinkles are inevitable.
“Traditionally, there is nothing better than a perfectly pressed garment,” says Katie Brown, owner of Rytina Fine Cleaners in Sacramento, California. “Cotton and linen fibers can be pressed with the use of water and a very hot iron, rendering the perfect stiff and polished result.”
All that smooth-fabric satisfaction is short-lived, however; once you put on a cotton or linen garment, Brown says fresh wrinkles will surely start to appear. Knits, silks, polyester, and rayon are less likely to hold creases, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely wrinkle-proof—and anyone who’s haphazardly thrown a silk dress into a suitcase can attest to that.
Knits, silks, polyester, and rayon are less likely to hold creases, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely wrinkle-proof.
So now that your expectations are in check, how do you at least keep the creases to a minimum? Below, Brown shares five important things to keep in mind when trying to iron things out with your wardrobe… or steam them out, as the case may be.
Read on for pro tips on how to unwrinkle your clothes—and keep the creases from coming back too soon.
1. Check the tag to learn how to unwrinkle your clothes
It sounds intuitive, and yet it bears reinforcing: The internet isn’t the first place to check before ironing your clothes. Instead, take a look at the tag inside your garment.
“When ironing your wrinkly pieces, always read and follow the care label,” Brown says. Doing so will tell you if your piece can actually handle the heat. I know, sometimes reading those labels can be feel as confusing as being tasked with decrypting hieroglyphics. So if you’re staring at the tag and wondering, “What the eff does ‘iron with three dots in the middle’ mean?,” consult this key to 53 laundry symbol meanings.
2. Don’t overheat your garments with an iron
Sometimes, when you’re trying to flatten a dress, there’s one crease that will. not. go. down. I’ve been there: I’m reckless, impatient, and wear a boatload of frocks even when quarantined, so sometimes I’ll go hard on the heat. But a higher iron temperature isn’t always better, says Brown. It could end up melting or burning the garment for good. Again, check the care label to get a guideline for which temperature is ideal for your specific item.
3. Know when steaming is the best option to unwrinkle your clothes
Ever pack a sundress for a long weekend and, in a truly desperate moment, you lock it into in the bathroom with you while taking a hot shower? No? That’s just me every (pre-2020) Memorial Day weekend getaway? Cool, cool. Anyway, my point is that steaming can be an effective option when you need to unwrinkle your clothes in a pinch.
In an ideal world, though, you can use the steam setting on your iron because the combination of heat and steam is super-effective at eradicating wrinkles. But, again, this doesn’t work on every fabric—start by reading the garment’s care label to see if ironing is a go.
If you get the go-ahead to iron, start by filling the iron’s water reservoir with distilled water. “When you spray the water and pass the heated iron across the garment, it creates steam,” says Brown. “(This) relaxes the fabric fibers, allowing for a flat press.” Be sure to set your iron to the proper heat setting for the fabric you’re working with. “Cotton and silk respond well to water and high heat. Wools do as well, but at a much lower temperature,” says Brown.
If you’re dealing with a more delicate fabric, steaming might be the better option. Brown says the best candidates for steaming are silks, wools, and polyester. “These fabrics do not need a hard finish, so using a steamer is a great method,” she says. While you technically can steam cotton garments, Brown says doing so won’t provide for that “polished, flat finish” you’d get with an iron. Plastic fabrics, waxed fabrics, suede, and leather should always stay far away from the steamer—and the iron, too, in most cases.
After you read your garment’s label to make sure steaming is acceptable, add distilled water to the steamer reservoir. Be sure to fully heat your steamer and test it first to be sure it is not leaking or spitting water. (Drops of water on certain fabrics, like silk, may leave a watermark). Hang your cotton garment and steam in strokes from the top to bottom.
4. Take your clothes out of the dryer immediately
Many of the most vicious wrinkles are born right in the heart of your dryer. If you dry your clothes on high heat and then leave them in the machine, the fabric can take on that crumpled shape.
“To prevent wrinkles, keep an eye on your dryer, use a lower heat setting, and always remove before the garments are over-dried,” says Brown. “Immediately shake and hang your item and this will prevent hard wrinkles.” The same goes when drying your bed linens, FWIW.
5. Don’t relegate your clothes to “the chair”
Okay, as a betting person, I’d stand to wager that you likely have a bedroom chair you use to chaotically stack laundry that’s not quite ready for the wash. Mine’s a spinny chair, and my parents cover their antique mahogany seat with their sweatsuits—we all do it in some way, shape, or form. But if you really want to minimize the creases in your clothes—and prevent more wrinkling—resist the urge to just flip them wherever.
“At the end of the day, don’t toss your clothes over a chair—it’ll be wrinkles galore—but do take the time to hang them up to breathe,” says Brown. “Let the fibers relax to hang out wrinkles.” Think of it as the sartorial equivalent of hanging from a bar to open up your spine.
Clearly, there are a lot of variables that go into unwrinkling your clothes. The key is to keep your clothes hanging neatly as often as possible and treat them with their preferred combination of heat and steam as needed. And hey, if all else fails, you can always just fill your closet with leggings.