Garment Steamer 101

I've been asked to write about garment steamers a few times, and I'm finally getting to it.

Let me start off by saying - I hate ironing. No, I detest it. It's the single most excruciating chore in the world. I don't mind washing dishes, I love mopping floors but ironing? I hate it. I hate having to bend over an ironing board trying to get creases out of a piece of clothing - and worse - what if you damage that said-piece of clothing. The horror.

For those who haven't got someone from the third world living at home to carry your bags or iron your clothes - I recommend a garment steamer. While I won't recommend it for pressing shirts [you still need a damned iron to get that crispy shirt look], for all of us who don't need to wear shirts - steamers rock.

I've been through quite a few steamers in the years I've worked as a stylist, and while it was very difficult to buy a non-industrial steamer several years ago, they're popping up everywhere these days.

First, you need to figure out where you'll be using the steamer - will you be using it most in your home, or will you be travelling with it? Because of the nature of my job, I've had to bring steamers on set a lot of the time, so portable steamers come in handy. Alisa loaned me a handheld portable steamer once and it was brilliant - if you were only steaming one piece of garment, because it ran out of water very quickly.

I currently use the Quick Touch Garment Steamer by Philips. I love it. It's extremely light and portable - I dump it into a reusable grocery bag from Cold Storage and I'm ready to hit set. It takes about three minutes to warm up, more than some industrial steamers I've used, and the water container is not detachable [meaning you'd have to carry the whole steamer to the sink to refill it, or use a bottle to pour water in] so it can be quite an inconvenience occasionally. But, my favourite part is how petite it is. If it's not on set with me, it's sitting pretty next to my wardrobe just in case I need a quick fix-up before I run out of the house. And it's cheap - I bought it for less than $130 at Harvey Norman early this year and I've used it heaps since. Still works like a dream!

If you're planning to use the steamer solely at home, then get one with a metal stand. You can hang your clothes on it when steaming which is extremely useful.

What's awesome about a steamer is that it lets you get into the hard-to-reach places - like the underside of clothes. Some dresses, which have a double lining are really hard to iron. Iron the inside and the outside gets wrinkled; iron the outside and the inside gets screwed. Steaming solves this! And ruffles! How the hell do you iron ruffles?! Steamers work best in that case too!

Can you solely depend on a garment steamer to remove wrinkles from your clothes? Yes, and no. I wear clothes that require very light ironing - tshirts, soft dresses, silks and the likes, so yes, it gets out the wrinkles pretty easily. If you're a suit-wearing office type with heaps of shirts and whatnots who need their shirts pressed to perfection, I don't recommend it. I do steam shirts and pencil skirts from time to time and it works fine for me.

How to use a steamer? Not rocket science, don't worry:

  1. Fill 'er up, switch 'em on, and hang your item of clothing up. If it's something with buttons, do the first few buttons up so there's a structure.
  2. Once the steam starts coming out of the nozzle, steam the garment from bottom up.
  3. When steaming delicate fabrics such as silk or velvet, do not let the nozzle touch the fabric directly. Steam embellished or screen-printed clothing on the underside.
  4. Move the nozzle away and smooth the garment with your hands from time to time. Garments with heavier fabric may need repeated steaming.
  5. A freshly steamed garment may be a little damp. Let the garments air out for a few moments before placing them back in the closet.

When not to use a steamer? Certain buttons, trims and embellishments can be damaged by steam. Sequins can curl, buttons can peel and elastic can lose its stretch if steam is misused. Do not apply steam to these areas, or keep the garment steamer head at a safe distance. Always refer to the care label!

Go full steam ahead, kids! ;o)