The best ways to descale an iron – and the hacks to avoid

Because a scale-filled iron can ruin your clothes.

If ironing isn’t your favourite chore, chances are that descaling an iron won’t be top of your to-do list either. However, just as a crinkled shirt will not do, nor will one that is adorned with blotches of limescale from a clogged-up iron. We’ve all been there, seeing those chalky calcium deposits kindly splutter out onto a fresh pair of black linen trousers, leaving a less than discreet mark to have to deal with…

Although pesky limescale is simply part of an iron’s existence, it mustn’t be ignored. Getting rid of it doesn’t only keep your clothes in good nick, it also ensures the longevity of the iron itself. Descaling an iron doesn’t have to be a cleaning ordeal either – it can be done in as little as 15 minutes.

Women wearing white shirt ironing clothes on ironing board in laundry room at homeCredit: Shutterstock/Zivica Kerkez

So, what’s the best way to tackle the limescale in your iron? From classic shop-bought products to more natural methods – and ways to prevent limescale build-up in the first place – here’s what the professionals recommend.

Advertisement

How do you know when it’s time to descale your iron?

Read the scale signs

According to Henry Paterson, cleaning expert at cleaner-finding website Housekeep, these are the sure-fire signs that it’s time to descale your iron:

  • Visible scale inside the water reservoir 
  • Uneven steam 
  • A dragging iron 
  • Water leaking from beneath the soleplate 

We spoke to Declan Doyle, product manager at Tefal, who explains why it’s so important to regularly descale your iron. “It is key to descale your iron for three reasons,” he says. “Maintaining the level of performance over time, avoiding dirty stains on your clean linen, and making sure your iron will last for a long time. The frequency will depend on the product and on the anti-scale system it comes with.”  

How to clean your iron with descaling solution

Take the easy, off-the-shelf route

“Both Oust (£3.35 for three sachets, Amazon) and Scale Away (£2, Ocado) are good products and easy to get hold of,” says Paterson. “But any off-the-shelf product should work if you follow the instructions provided.”

“It’s best practice to refer to the instruction booklet of your product to know what to do and how frequently,” adds Doyle. A descaling product from a reputable supplier will often note whether it is compatible or not with particular brands of iron. Oust, for example, is recommended by Russell Hobbs, but Scale Away is not suitable for use on Tefal Steam Irons.

Both Oust and Scale Away should work in as little as 10 minutes. There’s also Ecozone, which comes with good eco credentials, as it’s made with biodegradable ingredients and doesn’t test on animals. It is approved by Allergy UK.

Featured product

Ecozone Kettle & Iron Descaler, Ocado

RRP: £3.75

Ecozone Kettle & Iron Descaler, Ocado

Oust contains lactic acid, while Scale Away and Ecozone products contain citric acid. Always read the safety notice with cleaning products and follow the instructions step-by-step. We would advise wearing gloves.

To use your typical off-the-shelf iron descaler:

  1. Heat your iron and then unplug it.
  2. Make up the descaling solution as per the instructions and pour it into the iron’s water chamber.
  3. Set your iron into a steaming position and steam out the contents, without turning the iron on. This should still work, even without power.
  4. Do this until the solution has drained through and the steam holes are unblocked, refilling the water tank with fresh water if needed to remove any residue.
  5. Test your iron out on an old rag to see whether it’s good to go again.

Don’t void the warranty – always check your iron’s instructions 

The general consensus from experts is to stick to what the manufacturer recommends for your exact iron. This is even more important if you are descaling and cleaning a brand-new iron, as you won’t want to use any products or chemicals that might damage it and void your product warranty.

Should you be treating an iron that is well out of its warranty period, you might be able to be more lenient with trying household ingredients and cupboard staples like vinegar and lemon juice.

How to descale an iron using vinegar

You could also use lemon juice or citric acid

Paterson notes how you can use vinegar, lemon juice or citric acid (the latter a common ingredient in off-the-shelf solutions) to descale an iron. But be sure to stick to one of the three and don’t use a combination, as this can be damaging.

“When using vinegar or lemon juice or citric acid for descaling, a 1:1 ratio – equal parts the ingredient and water – is a good place to start,” says Patterson, who recommends the following method:

Pour your solution into the water reservoir in your iron.

  1. Turn your iron on, on a setting hot enough for steam, and leave it to heat up and soak (for around 15 minutes).
  2. Using the steam function, iron a clean cloth until the reservoir has emptied.
  3. Unplug the iron and allow it to cool down.
  4. Eempty the reservoir and rinse out with clean water.
  5. Turn the iron on again and steam using the clean water.
  6. Turn the iron off and rinse the reservoir one final time once it’s cooled down.

Where limescale build-up is particularly bad, Patterson shares that you might need to descale the soleplate directly, too. To do so:

  1. When the iron is cool, spray your descaling solution directly onto the plate.
  2. Leave for a few minutes and rinse with a damp cloth before buffing dry.
Advertisement

Are there any iron descaling hacks to avoid?

It’s best not to turn your laundry room into a science lab

Turning to cupboard staples is often done in the cleaning world, but appliance manufacturers are unlikely to condone using anything not specifically made for the purpose of descaling the product at hand. When it comes to keeping irons clean, for example, we’ve heard of people using paracetamol to scrub up a grubby or burnt iron plate.

We asked Tefal whether they were familiar with this as a way to remove limescale: “Whilst the paracetamol hack isn’t something we’re aware of, we would advise avoiding any chemicals that could damage other parts of your iron and damage the full product,” shares Doyle. So approach “hacks” with caution, especially if your iron is still under warranty.

There are lots of anti-scale irons available now to help slow down limescale build-up. They’re a savvy choice, particularly in a hard- water area. “Tefal’s built-in anti-scale collector is very easy to use. It doesn’t require any chemical or special water; you only have to empty it every so often to make sure your boiler stays clean over time,” says Doyle.

How often should you descale an iron?

It depends how much you use your iron

Oust recommends descaling appliances like irons every three months if you live in a hard-water area, and every six months in a soft- water area, but Patterson notes that it might also depend on how frequently you use your iron.

“There’s no hard and fast rule,” he says. “It depends how much use it gets and how hard the water is where you live,” says Patterson. “Monthly is a good idea, though, if you regularly iron. Like any descaling job – little and often prevents stubborn scale build-ups which are trickier to remove.”

When is it too late to recover an iron?

“When you don’t have any more steam coming out of the soleplate or whenever all the holes are blocked by limescale, it’s time to replace your iron!” says Doyle at Tefal. 

Advertisement
Camille Dubuis-Welch

Written by Camille Dubuis-Welch she/her

Published:

Camille is a freelance writer based in north London with her cat and two friends. She has been writing on lots of interesting subjects over the past few years, starting out with a travel blog and online fashion column when she was studying English Language and Italian at the University of Manchester. Cam has been in love with everything interior design and garden-related since before she can remember. She previously worked for Yankee Candle, as well as Groupon, and is the former deputy editor of realhomes.com where she got to collaborate with some very inspiring DIYers and focus on small-space improvements.