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Nov 27, 2015

Irons vs. Garment Steamers



Readers, when it comes to sewing tools, I'm pretty old-school.

Sure, I own a serger (the ubiquitous Brother 1034D), but that's the only modern piece of equipment I use.

Oh, and my Black & Decker "Digital Advantage" D2030 iron.  Actually, the one I'm using now is my second.  The first one I owned, which I purchased in 2009, lasted roughly three years (of constant use), until the digital part conked out and I could no longer turn it on.  My current Black & Decker isn't fully functional anymore either.  About a year ago, the steam stopped pumping reliably.  Rather than purchase another iron, however, I just decided to use the iron without the steam.  I keep a spray bottle on my ironing table, and I either spray water directly onto my fabric or onto a press cloth.  This method works great and it's what I'm going to use until my iron completely dies, or I do.

Lately I've become aware of another option: garment steamers.  It seems that they can remove wrinkles from clothes easily and without the wear and tear that irons can cause to your garments over time.  And they work fast.

Like most home appliances, you can find cheap versions and costly versions, but the basic concept is the same: a tank of water is heated to boiling, the steam comes out of a tube, and you apply the steam to your garment (generally on a hanger).  There are also hand-held portable steamers but I don't know if those are as powerful.



As much as I hate the idea of bringing another plasticky Made in China appliance into my home, I do wonder if this is something that would enhance my sewing life.

There are two things I'm wondering: are steamers better at removing wrinkles from synthetics and synthetic blends (neither of which I tend to wear and/or sew with) than natural fibers, and, would I use a steamer on a regular basis: is the set-up easy and fast? (Actually that's three questions.)

I hang my pants on shirt hangers (folded over the top) and a lot of times this produces wrinkles that, if I had a steamer, would be a cinch to remove (I'm thinking).  I use my iron nearly every day, either to press my own clothes, Michael's, or my mother's, not to mention whatever sewing project I happen to be working on.  Would a steamer speed things up?

In closing, I ask you:

Do you own a garment steamer?

Do you iron less as a result of having one?

Is a garment steamer something you'd recommend to others (i.e., to me)?

Jump in!



51 comments:

  1. I own a garment steamer, and I like it. Hand-held, quick and easy and cheap. NOT as crisp as an iron, but damned convenient. . . For taking out fabric wrinkles before sewing, or freshening up a shirt, just fine, indeed excellent . . . Fabric MUST be vertical because the steamer must be vertical. . . . Used a friend's floor steamer before sewing. Decent, easier than ironing, but by no means perfect. . . . Looked at several floor steamers with idea of buying, and ALL had horse hockey reviews until the price got high ($200? I don't remember, but do remember it was higher than I wanted to spend), A steamer takes out the wrinkles without flattening the fabric. Crisp and flat it is not.

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    1. I have owned one for years. It is in the closet.

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  2. I hate irons since they usually run out of water too soon and have an auto off feature. I have a Rowenta steam station. The new one has a removable tank so I can bring it to the fridge to fill it with filtered water.

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    1. Strange, I've never encountered an iron with an auto-off feature when the water ran out. Different standards in Central Europe than wherever you are? Buying a different grade of irons (I've never encountered an electronic one as such, either)? Not having bought a new iron in years? I don't know.

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  3. Yes,I have a steamer, and yes,I iron less because of it.

    Would I recommend one? That's a little harder to answer. Mine (a Rowenta) creates an unpleasant rubbery chemical smell when turned on. It isn't much of a problem as my house is large and the smell doesn't travel throughout the house, but it likely would in an apartment. Also, the steam it generates is copious and I have burned myself quite badly more than once. You can't be distracted when using it.

    I love it especially for wool clothing, it comes out perfect. I don't like it for silk or a well ironed linen garment. Everything else comes out nicely unwrinkled.

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  4. I own both and find that an iron works best for fusible interfacing especially if I want a nice crisp fuse. The weight of the iron works well for points, cuffs, collars, etc. during garment construction. That is, unless you are looking into one of those steam irons they have on Project Runway and, if so, then never mind, go for the steam iron cause it's the best!

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  5. I had the exact steamer that you have a photo of... it was bought used and would probably last forever. I used it when I was machine knitting to block my garments. It would not work as an iron except for getting wrinkles out of clothing. You would still need to use your iron for pressing during construction. It had a gallon bottle that you filled and turned upside down onto the reservoir. I don't think those things are too sanitary.... think of all the unwanted effluvia that could be in the reservoir. Other models of steamers might be fab, no experience with that. Oh, and you have to be careful not to knock the steamer over. Kathy

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  6. I have a hand-held Rowenta steamer (not the floor model you have pictured in your post). Great for delicates that would be difficult to press (satin, some silks, etc.) such as those whose finish might be ruined from repeated pressing. I found mine for $5.00 at a local thrift store and would recommend you might try it prior to laying down the $200 - 300 model Martin refers above, though I would love to have one of those!

    I also recommend you invest in a commercial iron. Modern household irons are poorly made and built to last about 2 - 3 years, then tossed. They don't do a very good job compared to a gravity feed or boiler iron. My goal is a Reliable boiler but right now I have a Sussman gravity feed that steams cloth better than anything I've ever used. I also purchased a Pfaff vacuum board with heat.

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    1. You're waxing on about steam, gravity feed (he wipes his brow quickly and stuffs the dampened kerchief in his pocket hastily), and such, but then you leave us with only the merest mention of your vacuum board (audible inhale), with heat.

      Could you (audible exhale), for pedagogical reasons, expand and expound on the vacuum board?

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    2. Teste, here's a vid you might find informative:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3LsGbBP9ac

      Mine is the generation prior to this one but it operates very much the same. The board sucks the steam from the iron downward. This softens the material fibers through several layers, so it's a lot faster. The board produces heat and dry steam as well. Make sure you keep the heat of the board on for about 20 minutes after you're finished ironing, as that will dry all the moisture in the table and lengthen the board's life.

      I also have an Elnapress and a Singer Magic Press. These presses are great for pant legs, shirt sleeves, sheets, drapes, and fabric preparation for sewing. I don't sew much and I don't imagine these presses are that useful during construction but they achieve a uniform flatness better than anything else (except a commercial press, of course). If anyone reading this is considering buying a press, I don't recommend a steam press: more expensive and the moisture in the unit creates rust and rot. They don't last long. A dry press is much better -- just use a spray bottle. Dry presses last for many years and do a great job.

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    3. I have a steam press and love it. I can set the amount of steam or set it for none. I really like it for fusing interfacing. Much faster than using an iron, especially on larger pieces.

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    4. Must.get.one... After I get an actual room to sew in...

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  7. I had a used floor steamer and tried to use it for steaming my husband's shirts and pants. I did not like it at all. For many years (decades), I used regular home steam irons but got tired of spitting and the need to keep replacing them. I've had a Reliable I300 steam generator iron for about 8 years and absolutely love it. The generator produces copious steam, the heat is consistent, and the weight reassuring. About 2 years ago, I had to send it to Ontario to have the boiler serviced/replaced? but the charge for that service was less than I anticipated. While my iron was away, I purchased a Rowenta from JoAnns and reluctantly used until the I300 returned home. The Rowenta was promptly packed up and sent to charity. With the Reliable, pressing my husband's slacks and shirts, and my clothing goes quite smoothly, and clothing construction benefits from the weight and constant steam. I have a vacuum board too and love it.

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  8. Garment steamers are for what the name says - steaming garments. When you sew or tailor you need an iron. It does not have to be a steam iron. But it does have to have some weight. Moisture, heat and pressure are what make a seam allowance stay flat. On most fabrics at least. On some stretch fabrics and fancy suiting s it is better only to use heat and pressure, since moisture may make the fabric bubble up.

    I seriously doubt one can shape a tailored woolen coat with just a flimsy steamer.

    For everyday use, I do think steamer is the best option. It does get those wrinkles out super fast. Heck I've used it on curtains at moms. You just hang 6m of washed curtains and steam them. No battling with slippery fabric on an ironing board.

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  9. Sorry, but fussing with a steamer to get the fold wrinkles out of slacks is too much trouble for me. I have a packed closet, and would have to steam every item I take out of it daily. NOPE. I use Downy wrinkle relaxer spray on any garments that need help. I choose my outfit before retiring, spray and re-position on the hanger as necessary, and voila, in the am, I have neat slacks, and blouses , even some sweaters ready to wear. I don't use this with silk or anything that couldn't take being dampened by a spray, but those items I just press on very infrequent occasions. Better than a steamer.

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  10. Different strokes for different folks. We all have our habits. When I'm sewing I usually use an inexpensive but decently operating regular steam iron. But I broke down and bought a steam generating iron system for my ... husband (can't get used to saying that) who will and does iron anything he can get his hands on. Ouch. Unless one has lots of suits / dresses / coats & drapery that benefit from a stand, vertical steam system, I personally think the steam generating iron system is more useful. Huge amounts of steam, even at low synthetic temperatures, and you can even hold it vertically to seam a suit. Ours is a Rowenta, but next time I would probably go for a more commercial brand. This one was say, 5 times the cost of a medium price regular steam iron. But definitely worth it for anyone who irons EVERYTHING. But like I said, during the sewing process, I find that a little hand held steamer is just easier for those of us that only have a smaller corner of sewing space and can't leave a more cumbersome system set up all the time. Ben

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  11. After my last iron died I decided to go all out and bought a Laurastar - a heavy duty steam iron which can be used as a steamer. I think it's similar to the Rowenta some of your readers have already mentioned. It was expensive but (after 4 years of solid use) I've decided it was worth the outlay.

    It cuts down ironing time:
    - you only need to iron one side of e.g. sleeves, trouser legs etc
    - it easily handles wrinkly fabrics like thick cotton and linen - one pass does the job
    - there's no need to adjust heat settings for different fabrics i.e. you can move between linen, silk, synthetics etc without having to wait for the thing to heat up/cool down (and no risk of scorching delicates).

    It definitely does a superior job to a 'conventional' iron.

    I, too, was reluctant to buy another cheap and nasty Made in China appliance. Laurastar are made in the EU and are solid, sturdy (the iron is weighty) and made to last - they have local repair centres.

    I'd definiely buy one of these again, though I hope I won't need to for a very long time.

    Spud.

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    1. I forgot to mention a couple of things:

      With the Laurastar you only shoot the steam when you want/need to (it has a button).

      A friend purchased a cheap hand-held steamer in the hope it would reduce ironing time. It's so piss-weak she might as well use a kettle. Needless to say it was swiftly relegated to the back of cupboard.

      Spud.

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  12. Oh, I forgot to mention one great thing about the steam system iron. I don't know if they all are the same, but the Rowenta we have has a trigger, so the steam doesn't ... steam... except when you pull the trigger, like a pistol. That means you can steam a seam and then dry iron it with one hand. The start and stopping action of the steam is instant, unlike the little regular steam iron that you have to use your other hand to turn a button and stop the steam. A little difference but when you are holding things with one hand to steam precisely, it makes a difference. So, I sorta lied. Although I usually use the regular old iron when I'm sewing, I do bring out the big guns of the tank system for precision work. Ben

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  13. I own an iron and a garment steamer. I don't find that the steamer reduces my ironing all that much. What it does do is make difficult-to-press fabrics simple to de-wrinkle (rayon knits, velvet, silks & crepes). If you iron curtains or table linens a lot, a steamer could significantly reduce time spent ironing. I, however put up curtains once every 4 years & leave them. The steamer is also good for a first-pass at heavily wrinkled cottons & linens, but you will still need to iron that sh*t after you steam it - it just gets out the big problems. However - for prepping wool, or freshening a winter coat - you NEED it!

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  14. I own a steam iron, a stem generating iron and a floor model steamer. The floor steamer is excellent for wools, curtains, jackets, kilts, coats..... just about anything you can hang and need to blast out some wrinkles (useless on pants). But if you need to crease something, like wool, a steam generator iron is the bomb, with a clapper.

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    1. Forgot to mention, I also use the floor steamer to preshrink some fabrics, and with the brush attachment, bring velvets and tweed back to life.

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  15. Hi, I've been following your blog for about six months. I love how much you love to sew. Have you read the Gorgeous Fabrics blog? Ann, aka The Pressanatrix, may have some answers for you about irons and steam. Perhaps you might check out her blog. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

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  16. I bought a floor model garment steamer after seeing one used at Nordstrom's while I was having alterations done. The girl was pulling clothes out of boxes, wrinkled, and running the steamer over them, and putting them on the racks, looking perfect and crisp.

    I don't ever use it for sewing, but I use it all the time for taking "closet" wrinkles out of clothes that I'm going to wear. It's a lot faster than ironing.

    I also own a steam press, but I only use it to adhere fusible interfacing to cloth.

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  17. I have the model above the one you pictured. I use it because I do finishing for knitters (aka sewing it together) and you really need a heavy duty steamer to do that. I love mine; it has a big reservoir, does NOT tip over, gets very hot (I occasionally burn myself) and generates a lot of steam. I mostly steam things that are laying flat rather than hanging. Does it replace my iron, or even decrease it's use--No. It doesn't crease anything and doesn't give the finish you want on sewing. I certainly wouldn't recommend the steamer I have for the occasional user or for someone who just sews, but I wouldn't give mine up for anything.

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  18. I have a Jiffy steamer and love it. It doesn't replace my iron for sewing but it's brilliant for quickly freshening something, removing storage wrinkl

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    1. Jiffy steamers are the only ones worth investing in, and they are made in the US of superior (read: less plastic more metal) parts.

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  19. I don't have a steamer due to space constraints but it's a great tool to have. Many moons ago when I worked in retail, I frequently helped steam out the wrinkles from the garments we unpacked from the polybags they were shipped in. We were able to get rid of wrinkles out of both synthetic and silks with no problem. However, we used a heavy duty industrial (expensive) steamer.

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  20. I attended the Pacific Fashion Institute in San Francisco and our teacher and Dean, Mrs K had a steamer and a gravity iron and they worked miracles. It is my goal to get one ever since I worked with one there. However, if it is just an iron that you need. The best one I ever owned is an old fashioned basic iron with no auto shut off. I most certainly would get one if I were you.

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  21. Wait until you're older and wrinkly as a tortoise. Extravagant ironing will be unnecessary because your clothes will appear smooth in contrast.

    toques

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  22. If you can afford it, or someone can give it to you for a Christmas present, splurge on a Jiffy Personal Clothing Steamer. You can use it to de-wrinkle fusible interfacings without any worries, and it's the best for knits, good woolens and other fabrics. It is Worth. Every. Penny.

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  23. BTW - a steamer is not meant to be a replacement for an iron, but as an adjunct

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  24. I've worked in costume shops and taught colleges sewing courses, and the most efficient irons I've used were the Sussman's which come in several types. Having that powerful steam and the huge 5 gallon water bottle feeding the steam made for great pressing. However, I don't own anything fancy at home. I get by just fine with a domestic steam iron. a spray bottle of water and a linen towel for extra tough spots. My experience with the floor steamers are that they tend to splatter. As for pressing synthetics, I will say that when polyester hit the home sewing scene, we used a spray bottle with white vinegar and water mix. Something in the vinegar 'relaxes' those fibers. For more accuracy just dip a wash rag in a bowl of vinegar and water and run it down the line you need to press, it works, and the vinegar odor doesn't last long.

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  25. I worked in retail clothing stores for many years. I have steamed a lot of garments. Commercial steamers work great for synthetic and knit fabrics, but not very well for cotton or linen, especially if there are creases in the fabric. I have a DeLonghi Pro 300 boiler iron that I have been using for 10 years in my alteration business I run out of my house, so I also use it for my own personal use. It generates a lot of steam. It has a trigger for steam when you want it and a button for constant steam. I have used it as a steamer for wedding dresses on a dress form, which works really well, aside from the iron getting heavy for me after awhile. My only complaint about it, is the hose could be a little longer.

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  26. I bought a garment steamer ($100-150), and I didn't find it useful at all. It generated steam, sure, but it didn't flatten out creases well at all. And trying to find a way to hold the fabric vertical was annoying. My advice: you may find it a nice addition to a regular iron, but it's no replacement. I have a DeLonghi iron that cost $200-300 from an online sewing/vacuum supply. I love it, but I wish I had purchased a gravity-fed iron, if only because my DeLonghi cord is always getting caught on the edge of my table, and knocking over items on my sewing table.

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  27. When I wore wovens more, I used a home-made spray of alcohol and water (50-50) to spray on clothes before I wore them (literally just before I put them on). It reduced wrinkles enough to make me happy, although I'll admit I'm not very picky.

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  28. I'll just reinforce what is being said a lot here... steamers are great for getting closet and packing wrinkles out of garments, especially garments that are difficult to iron flat (such as ruffled or highly gathered), but they don't do the job of an iron. You can't press a crease, you can't press a seam... you can't press period.
    It is, no doubt, kinder to many fabrics than pressing (such as lofty wools and other crushably textured fabrics), and so much easier when dealing with large pieces such as draperies. I have had no difference to speak of in synthetic versus natural fibers... they both respond well.
    Also, the garments need to be hanging straight so, if your pants are getting knee wrinkles from the way they're hung, in order to steam that out you'd have to hang them from the cuffs or waist to steam them... but then, if you hung them that way they wouldn't wrinkle...

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    1. forgot, I was going to add that my opinions come from 35 years or so of working professionally in costume shops.

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    2. Excellent point about the pants, Kathleen. I think I need to invest in some better hangers -- much cheaper than a steamer!

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  29. I have a good quality Rowenta iron that does not have an auto-off feature, and it does a pretty good steam. I also have a small steamer that holds about one pint of water and is recommended for general (serious) cleaning of many things, in addition to clothing smoothing. With steam ironing and steaming, it is often important to let the garment hang until it is dry, which may take longer that you want to wait if you are ironing just before dancing out the door. As others have pointed out, the steamer is no help with interfacings or construction. My sewing room is small, so I am sticking with the steam iron.
    Kris

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  30. As several folks have said, a steamer (I have a Jiffy model similar the one in your post) doesn't replace an iron, but works nicely as an adjunct to an iron.

    On the subject of irons, I've found that the mid-century heavy irons are a reasonable compromise between a professional iron, and the plastic cruft that you can get anywhere.

    There's no auto-shutoff, but they produce volumes of heat/steam (if the iron is a steam iron, that is), and the weight makes ironing quicker and easier than using a modern plastic iron (adjusting your ironing board or surface height is essential though -- otherwise you're wasting a lot of extra energy/setting yourself up for misery by lifting the iron in an awkward way).

    They're less commonly found at your local thrift store these days, but still show up often enough -- and very straightforward to repair, if needed, and you're inclined to do that sort of thing.

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  31. Me and my brother used a steamer when we were volunteering at a charity shop and it was really good in that situation. The only problems I can see with using it at home is how long it takes to warm up (not such a problem when you plan to steam a whole rail of donated garments) and the fact that you have to be tall enough to keep the feeder vertical. If you're too short or you're bending down to steam a longer garment you can get hot water dribbling out of the nozzle. Probably not a problem for you, but my brother was the only one at the charity shop more than 5 and change.

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    1. My Jiffy takes at most 90 seconds to produce lots of steam. I usually steam only one garment at a time, on an as-needed basis.

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  32. Thank you, Peter. I was summoning the courage to ask you to talk irons and, VOILA!, I find so many wonderful answers here. My Rowenta took a fatal swan dive last week from my wobbly ironing board, and I've been making do with a back-up cheap one. I must be officially on the NSA watch list as an iron buyer because I can't go to any website without iron ads popping. So now I have so much more information and apparatus envy (just in time for the holidays). Mwah!

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  33. I own a large Jiffy steamer that resembles the one in the photo. For at least 15 years, I used it exclusively to remove wrinkles from purchased clothing. It was only when I started to sew that I bought an iron and ironing board. I should add that I usually wear dresses and shirts that don't require precision ironing or starching.

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  34. I puffy heart my Jiffy steamer. It was my birthday/anniversary present from my better half and I love it almost as the gift giver. Just sayin'. We do pageants and by "do" I mean we have gowns up the wazoo that eventually need the wrinkles teased out of them. My steamer is a CHAMP at accomplishing that task. I also use it to give my finished sewn garments a nice finish. I don't iron *garments*, I iron seams. I steam garments. For some reason they just turn out much nicer and it's faster and easier on my back.

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  35. I've owned a Jiffy steamer for years. The only reason I bought an iron again was because I was learning to sew.

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  36. I love my handheld steamer and it is something that I need to bring with me when I travel. It is easy-to-use and I never need an additional equipment (board) to use it!

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  37. You should definitely get a steamer but the comments here do add some vital info - for me steamers are a billion times better than ironing but there are drawbacks. I think you have to spend a bit more to get a Jiffy or an IS6300 - with those ones you get the pros of steamers but the cons are minimised.

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  38. Yes,I have a steamer, and yes,I press less as a result of it.

    Would I prescribe one? That is somewhat harder to reply. Mine (a Rowenta) makes an unpalatable rubbery compound smell when turned on. It isn't quite a bit of an issue as my home is extensive and the odor doesn't go all through the house, however it likely would in a condo. Likewise, the steam it creates is abundant and I have smoldered myself seriously more than once. You can't be occupied when utilizing it.

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