what is the difference between a garment steamer and an iron?

Keeping clothes looking smart, tidy and crease-free is part of everyday life. With so many different devices we can use to keep clothes looking great, it can get confusing knowing which one to use, especially if you want to buy a new device. So, what’s the difference between an iron and a garment steamer and which one should you be using?

Garment steamers 

Garment steamers are designed for removing those last-minute creases you spot before heading out the door. They can sometimes be referred to as travel or clothes steamers as they’re more portable than traditional iron. 

They’re convenient to use and often lightweight, so make a great option if you’re heading away for the weekend or going on holiday. They also don’t require an ironing board which makes them super handy. 

Another advantage of using a garment steamer is to remove creases from more delicate fabrics. As they are gentler than a traditional iron, they as they reduce the risk of burning the clothes.

There are a few different types of garment steamers you can choose, each one with their own pros and cons:

  • Standing garment steamers – complete with a water tank in the base, upright standing garment steamers can steam for longer. They’re great if you have a few different items you need to steam.
  • Handheld garment steamers – lightweight and portable, handheld garment steamers have a much smaller water tank. They’re suitable for travelling with and perfect for steaming a couple of items.

What to look out for when buying a new garment steamer?

There are a few key things to look out for when shopping for a new garment steamer, these include:

  • Weight – the lighter the better if you want a garment steamer you can take abroad.
  • Steam settings – many steamers come with a variety of different settings, for steaming different fabrics.
  • Fabrics- check the steamer you choose is compatible with the type of fabrics you’d like to steam to avoid any accidents.

Cons of using a garment steamer:

  • Not always as powerful as an iron
  • Often leave clothes damp
  • Can run out of steam quickly depending on the size of the tank


Irons are a traditional quick and easy way to remove creases from your clothes. With a number of different makes and models on the market, there is an iron to suit your every need – depending on your budget.

The heated surface of the iron glides over creases helping to remove any problematic creases but you do need to use an ironing board to lay your clothes on. This can make irons a less suitable choice for some people as the board can take up quite a lot of space.

While irons tend to be much more powerful than a lot of garment steamers, they don’t work well on all fabrics. Ironing ruffles and pleats can be quite challenging, whereas ironing shirts and thicker fabrics always tend to work well.

What to look out for when buying an iron? 

  • Steam options – for the best of both worlds you can shop for irons which have a steamer setting too. These allow you to steam delicate fabrics and iron those harder to smooth fabrics.
  • Heat settings – iron with a variety of different heat settings is a must. Always start on the lowest settings and work your way up to avoid damaging anything delicate.
  • Iron guards – an iron that comes with an iron guard is really handy to prevent delicate clothes from getting damaged by the heat.

Which one should I choose?

Both are essential for making sure your whole wardrobe stays looking great. Irons are perfect for getting the creases out of your everyday clothes, shirts, trousers, jeans etc. But, to make those evening dresses, ruffled shirts and chiffon skirts smooth and sleek, you’ll need a garment steamer too.