Ironing gratifies the senses. The transformation of wrinkled, shapeless cloth into the smooth and gleaming folds of a familiar garment pleases the eye. The good scent of ironing is the most comfortable smell in the world. And the fingertips enjoy the changes in the fabrics from cold to warm, wet to dry, and rough to silky. There is nothing hke keeping the hands busy with some familiar work to free the mind. You can learn Italian while you iron, as a friend of mine did, or you can simply think.
What to Iron
Untreated cotton and linen woven fabrics almost always need ironing to look their best. Outer clothing made of such fabrics is a top ironing priority. Tablecloths, napkins, curtains and draperies, doilies, dresser scarves, and similar decorative pieces often do not look good without ironing, and since they exist at least half for appearance’ sake, it is worthwhile to iron them.
Sheets, pillowcases, and flat-woven dish towels are a different matter. They need not be seen, and they do not function better if ironed. If you are short on time, you should eschew the luxury of ironed sheets and dish towels. But they are indeed luxuries to enjoy when you can. Crisp, smooth sheets dramatically change the aesthetic appeal of your bed and heighten your sense of repose. Pretty ironed dish towels make the kitchen look cared for when they are hung out, and, when you change them following a morning or evening cleanup, they provide a ready symbol of freshening and renewal. Such things enlarge the vocabulary of your housekeeping, give you more attractive things to say with it. On the practical side, a newcomer to the kitchen can be sure that an ironed towel is fresh.
You need not—and should not—iron terry-cloth towels and washcloths; small rugs and mats; diapers; mattress, crib, and bumper pads; comforters or other filled articles; sweatpants and sweatshirts; spandex stretch tights and other stretch athletic wear; seersucker; or pile fabrics such as velvet and chenille. Some people like to iron men’s cotton knit underwear, woven cotton boxer shorts, and women’s knit and synthetic-fiber bras and panties. This is fine for those who like both the work and the result, but unnecessary.
You may be satisfied with the way permanent-press and wrinkle-resistant clothes and linens look with no ironing at all, but these articles vary in just how wrinkle-resistant they are. Wrinkle-resistance may also decrease after many launderings. Permanent-press treatments are sometimes more accurately called “durable press” because they actually last through about fifty launderings. Many permanent-press clothes and linens look better after some touch-up ironing. You must consult your own priorities and tastes as well as the appearance of the garments to determine whether and how much you wish to iron them.
Sprinkling Clothes and Linens
Permanent-press and synthetic fabrics sometimes iron well when dry, and, if they do not, a steam iron will supply all the moisture necessary. These fabrics usually need little or no ironing anyway. When some smoothing is desirable, their thermoplasticity makes them responsive to the warmth of the iron alone.
Untreated cottons, rayons, and silks must be slightly damp to iron out properly. They should feel as though you had left them outside overnight in summer and they became damp with dew Linen should feel even more damp. The easiest way to get things this damp is to remove them from the dryer or line before they have gotten entirely dry. But this is not always convenient to do. When it is not, you can render them damp either by using a steam iron or by sprinkling them with water.
Sprinkling clothes is a little more trouble, but cottons and linens are far easier to iron and look far better after sprinkling than steam ironing alone. When fabrics are properly sprinkled, the moisture has a chance to penetrate the fibers and spread uniformly throughout the fabric. Steam from the iron does not penetrate so deeply or so uniformly.
The best procedure is to sprinkle clothes the night before they are to be ironed so that the moisture permeates the cloth. If you cannot do this, allow at least an hour before you will iron. Clothes that will sit overnight before ironing should be placed in a tightly closed plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator or someplace else cool; otherwise there is danger of mildew. If they will not be ironed within twenty-four hours, put them in the freezer. Chilled, sprinkled fabrics make for smooth and pleasant ironing.