Introduction: What Is the Point of Ironing Your Clothes?

Picture of What Is the Point of Ironing Your Clothes?

I spent my life being told to wear ironed clothes. Be neat. Be tidy.

My mother irons everything; towels, sheets, underwear, even flannels.

But, why?

I wanted to know whether ironing did any good, and this is how I tried to find out.

Step 1: Hypothesis

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Despite my mother's obsessive application of the iron, I suspect that ironing shortens the life of a garment, with the heat, moisture and friction of ironing damaging the fibres.

This should result in changes in the fibres, visible at high magnification.

Image source

Step 2: Secondary Evidence & Preliminary Research

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I contacted a number of steam iron manufacturers via their websites, and asked whether ironing has any material benefit beyond improving the appearance.

Unfortunately, typing weeks after designing this experiment, no replies were forthcoming*. This leads me to suspect that my hypothesis is correct...

I did find other people who questioned the need for ironing,  but nobody seems to have actively examined it.

As far as I can tell, ironing was invented as, and continues to be, a purely social contrivance. 

*If I ever receive any communications from steam-iron manufacturers, I will edit them into this step.

Step 3: Starting Point

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To do this experiment, I needed to find out what ironing does to clothing, and what happens when clothes are not ironed.

I started with a brand new, plain, white t-shirt, and examined it under a microscope, taking record shots through the eye-piece. 

I also found that the "super macro" setting on my camera, set at the finest resolution, provided useful images.

Step 4: Fairness

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One of the most important concepts in basic science investigations is "all else being equal".

In other words, the test must be fair. To be fair, you should change the value of only one variable.

So, the ironed and un-ironed fabric needs to be subjected as closely as possible to the same conditions; same number of washes, same wear and tear, same level of sweatiness and grubiness.

The easiest way to do this is to test a single garment, consistently ironing one half, but not the other.

I marked the shirt on the sleeves, "IRON" and "DO NOT IRON".

To eliminate the factor of handedness, I bought a pack of two shirts, marking them up on opposite sides.

I wore the t-shirts on a day-to-day basis, changing into one or the other when I got home, occasionally wearing them under other clothes. To make sure it saw plenty of mileage, I broke the house laundry rules, washed the t-shirt in with the normal "dark and coloureds" loads of laundry, instead of the less frequent "light and white" loads.  This was not a problem for the fairness of my final results, because both sides of the t-shirt were subjected to identical treatment. 

One slightly artificial factor; each shirt was subjected to at least one extra go with the iron between washes - this experiment was only carried out over a few weeks, when most items of clothing are subjected to years of [potentially-harmful] ironing.

Step 5: Results & Conclusion

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After wearing and washing the t-shirts for as long as possible, within the time-constraints of the Scientific Method Contest, I again examined the fabric using super-macro photography, hoping for a visible difference between the ironed and non-ironed sides of the garment.

As you can see from the photographs, there turned out to be no obvious visible difference between the ironed and non-ironed fibres. It would seem, therefore, that the only positive effect of ironing is to smooth out creases on the gross scale.

Therefore, beyond pandering to unquantifiable ideas of "smartness", there is no actual point to ironing clothes.

Step 6: Further Work

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Obviously, a single t-shirt is not a significant sample, so I would like to see this experiment extended to improve the reliability of the data;

• More shirts, on more people, to give a more significant data-set.
• A wider range of lifestyles: the relatively sedate life of a teacher may simply not subject a garment to enough stresses to reveal a difference. Maybe involve a sporting team for a season?
• Handedness may be significant, subjecting one side of the garment to more wear than the other, so involve both right- and left-handed participants, and give each two shirts (each with the "iron" side on opposite sides).
• Some fabrics may be more or less susceptible to damage by ironing than others, so a range of fabrics should be tested, with a variety of natural and man-made fibres.

It would also be interesting to research the negative effects of ironing - how much money is spent on them, the environmental damage caused by the extraction of the raw materials, the energy and money spent on running them, the cost of recycling the multi-material devices...


Kiteman (author)2016-06-01

Since I have your attention for a moment, you might also be interested in some of the things I make but haven't posted as instructables. Look here.

They're a lot cooler than a crumpled shirt...

jfuredy (author)Kiteman2016-06-01

Your link does not appear to link to anything. It LOOKS like a link, but it doesn't do anything when you click on it. And right-clicking the link does not give me the normal selection of "link" options.

wilgubeast (author)2014-05-19

I love this experiment and the contextual ads that Google serves alongside it.

ccmrry (author)wilgubeast2016-05-31

What ads? I don't see any ads.

Kiteman (author)wilgubeast2014-05-20

Hehe, I had to log out and switch off adblock, but that *is* funny!

GAURAVK133 (author)2017-09-08

wash your inners or regular clothes n dry them away from sun light, you will start noticing a kind of smell from your clothes after doing so for a month. The smell is due to the bacteria that start feeding on your clothes.

To get rid of bacteria, you either has to put ur clothes under uv rays ( thats why people use sun to dry their clothes) or heat them so the bacteria get killed.
There are places where you do not get proper sun throughout the year hence ironing the clothes is the ultimate option.
Even when you dry ur clothes under sun there are chances that bacteria survives under the layers of clothes which is been taken care by ironing.

Hope you get ypur answer now.
Feel free to try it. And be ready that someone tells u to put extra deo on your clothes.

BarnatL (author)2016-05-31

You should stop washin' either ... what's the point of that :D ? Just hang it outside and after a few days you ca re-wear it 3:)

GiedriusD (author)BarnatL2016-06-03

Yeah, thats why I never wash my socks. I throw them into the wall and if they stick to it - its time for new pair. Sometimes I can simply lean them against a wall and if they stay firmly without falling down I know I have a new pair o log for my fireplace :) Talking about underwear, I also do not wash them. My favourite colour is yellow and brown and it looks so awesome if you can have both of them :D I'm not talking about free the perfume you get. I then feel like I'm a star when walking with m socks and modern underwear - everyone stare at me, I bet they think "what a star, he is so lucky, I'm jealous..." :DDD

Yonatan24 (author)GiedriusD2016-06-15

Do you, by any chance, use pasta as socks?

CynthiaH9 (author)2016-05-31

My main objection to your methodology is the use of a cotton jersey T-shirt, which is not commonly ironed. A better sample would be a cotton dress shirt. However, it's interesting to note that you disproved your theorem that ironing caused undue wear to the fabric.

Kiteman (author)CynthiaH92016-06-01

Did you notice my comments about my mother ironing everything?

sandrak320 (author)Kiteman2016-06-14

When they were first married, my dad was quite surprised that my mom would not iron sheets, pillow cases, or underwear. Grandma had him spoiled. Guess he learned to live with it because they were married almost 55 years.

Kiteman (author)sandrak3202016-06-15

LOL, good for them!

hammer9876 (author)CynthiaH92016-06-02

I used to work with a guy who only wore monogrammed white dress shirts and his wife took them to the dry cleaners. They were bleached, ironed, and starched to a crisp. i can't imagine it was comfortable. I also can't believe that those fibers weren't damaged from that kind of treatment.

bruceasia (author)2016-06-01

The damage that ironing might have on a fabric is where there is a crease - I would suspect that items that are ironed with ironed creases might have crushed and broken fibers.

sandrak320 (author)bruceasia2016-06-14

We had to starch and iron (with creases) our cotton uniforms in the WAC. Our summer cords didn't last as long as other pieces and would end up ripping where the creases were ironed, mainly across the sleeves. I think it was more due to the starch, but the starch and ironing combined shortened the lives of the cord tops.

poza (author)bruceasia2016-06-02

Good point!

JaniceA8 (author)2016-06-11

I'm glad to hear that ironing didn't damage the fibers. I wouldn't bother ironing a T-shirt, I don't think, but a dress shirt is another story. Also, when you sew, there is a real reason for ironing: If fabric is crumpled when you sew a seam on it, the seam may come out pretty wonky.

independent58 (author)2016-06-05

The iron is one of the most important tools used when sewing. That is my main usage as most items can be hung right out of the dryer and look just fine to wear.

KoalaElf (author)2016-06-02

It kills the larvae of cothes moths too. Extremely important to understand this if you have a problem with holes appearing in your clothes or have seen clothes/carpet moths around your house. They are fantastic at hiding themselves in the seams, wrapped up in the same colour as the garment so you can barely spot them.

andrej (author)2016-06-02

Iironing is good for smooth look and feel but do not forget the disinfection part of the process.

The high temperature effectively kills all bacreria, microbes and funghi that survive the modern "power saving" wash cycles (40°C). That's why it's good idea to iron at least baby clothes and underwear too.

Dwargh (author)2016-06-02

Aw great! Hope to see more of your research!

anitakasas (author)2016-06-01

I must tell you I love the idea of this experiment! Unfortunately you didn't find difference :((( I feel it would be so great if everybody could quit ironing!!! But I can't do it should make a study how harmful is the unnecessary heating of the iron. I would love to be a part of an organization AGAINIST IRONING :))) Save the nature,be green,don't iron :)

MagnusT5 (author)2016-06-01

Of course irons damage cloths just as bleach, the sun,washing and drying and even wearing it but the best way to reduce the damage is to buy a High efficiency washer which not only save water but are less harsh on clothing

conservative (author)2016-05-31

I am a male who has been ironing for about 55 years, my mother made me iron my own clothes.

I believe sweat wears out clothes more than anything else. I am not a sweater and my clothes seem to last forever. I wash all my clothes at least 45 minutes and most often in cold water except whites. I will wash for 10 to 15 minutes, turn my washer off and let them set sometimes for hours (I often forget) then repeat this a few times. I steam iron on the cotton setting and iron everything but boxers. I have shirts that I have washed and ironed over 50 times and I am still wearing them.

When I wash my white T-shirts and socks, I use hot water and a lot of bleach. Bleach has a short shelf life, so you might as well use it. I have been wearing these for years. I also air dry 90% of the time.

nanaverm (author)conservative2016-05-31

You may not be a sweater, but are you a jumper?

SirCooksalot (author)nanaverm2016-06-01

I used to be a sweater, now I'm a pair of socks. I just hope I can keep it together, last week I almost lost one in the dryer.

deswiger (author)2016-06-01

You want to know why your mother irons everything? Because her mother did. Why did your grandmother do it? Because her mother did. etc., etc., etc. Oddly enough, the baby boomer generation is not so likely to follow suite. Thanks for the info. Semper Fi

CaroE1 (author)2016-05-31

I would only iron linen stuff and posh frocks, anything else will have to do as it is!

Wouldn't think bleach would be good for clothes, got a towel that somehow got some spilled on and it has rotted where it made contact...

(Quite often dry stuff indoors, never had a problem with fly infestations).

I think heating fibres, especially wool would eventually damage clothes - and why do they go shiney if you iron with a seam underneath?

NightMist (author)CaroE12016-05-31

Bleach is actually awful for clothes. It never all rinses out and it never stops working, so it will slowly destroy the fabric. There is some stuff often used by textile artists and some garment professionals called Bleach Stop that will help immensely. There are also several home made alternatives that a quick search should turn up.

Wool goes shiney when you iron over a seam because of the added pressure. Wool is hair. The surface of hair is structured in overlapping scales. Normally wool has very open scales, that is why it felts so easily. When you apply heat and pressure you flatten the scales, closing them up and creating a smooth surface. Shiney. Sort of like boiled wool on a much smaller scale. Use a well padded surface and a press cloth to help avoid this. Press instead of iron, just hold the iron on the cloth without pressing down for a few moments, then pick it up and hold it down on the next bit. Steam is your friend in this process, I prefer sprinkling as I use my iron a lot. YMMV

You see the same effect ironing other fibers as well, different reasons, same remedy. Just pressing the seams instead of ironing them will save money in the long run as the damage from heat plus compression will eventually cause excessive wear along the seams.

CaroE1 (author)NightMist2016-06-01

Yep you right about bleach continuing to affect things!

Not heard of bleach stop, thanks for that - though it is hard to take action rapidly enough to prevent damage..I had a lovely bag made from recycled curtains (green velvet with a pink daisy, Uttam I think) and managed to spatter it with bleach..luckily it hasn't rotted but I could have kicked myself!

Yes I can understand how wool would flatten and go shiney if it compresses the scales but as it does it with, say, cotton I wonder about the mechanics there..though maybe loose fibres flatten and reflect the light differently, making it look shiny.

One method we learned at school was to iron around seams, pushing the point of the iron under the seam but it's a bit of a faff. I'm not sure if my ancient iron does steam (don't use it very often!):)

calyad (author)2016-05-31

I have belonged to the "no iron" state of mind since I was a child. My father's cotton poplin shirts were rolled up damp and the procession of them had to be ironed until crisp. My aversion to this process led me to the "fold" process. Only things that look wrinkled despite folding or hanging need to be ironed. I have never ironed T Shirts, (roll them) pillowcases, (fold and pile them and they look ironed) or sheets (who cares?). Most of mine and my husbands clothes are 'drip-dry' (I try not to buy poplin or rayon).

One other aspect to your research could be the monitoring of obsessive_compulsive disorders as applicable to the process.

darblar (author)2016-05-31

Am I the only one to see the IRONy in this?

CynthiaH9 (author)2016-05-31

Of course applying a piece of heated metal to a piece of cloth causes wear. So does the act of immersing a piece of cloth in a chemical bath, agitating the bath, and then putting the cloth in a rotating metal cylinder. However, try going without washing or drying your clothes for very long . . .

Riscyg (author)2016-05-31

Great 'ible, but when in Africa make sure you get at least your underwear ironed. I used to have all my under clothes dried indoors to prevent this.

"The Putzi Fly (Tumbu Fly), Cordylobia anthrophaga, is common in East
and Central Africa. It lays eggs in clothes hanging out to dry. Upon
contact with human skin the eggs hatch. The larvae burrow into the skin
and develop into fully grown maggots if left to their own devices. The
unfortunate human host develops multiple boil-like sores, usually on the
backs of arms, around the waist, back or bottom. The medical name for
this condition is Myiasis."

"The best way is to make sure you iron all your clothes as
the heat of the iron kills the eggs and stops them from hatching in your

If there is no way to iron your clothes, hang them inside to dry instead."

dpcoffin (author)2016-05-31

All very interesting, but the fact that your test garment is a knit t-shirt that doesn't require ironing to look the way it's expected to look, rather than any sort of garment for which ironing—or some much more modern, chemical-based alternative such as polyester or no-wrinkle pre-treatment—is the only way to achieve the intended look, rather proves you really don't get ironing, either now or before your experiment and thus haven't actually discovered anything. If all you wear are knits and jeans, then, sure, there's no point in ironing. Does a fish need sunglasses? If, however, you ever wear any clothes woven from natural fibers like cotton, wool, linen or silk, and need to look like you didn't sleep in them or just fall into a swimming pool fully dressed, you'll get it. If you do persevere with the generally more interesting question of what causes clothes to wear out, I believe you'll find that machine washing and especially machine drying are far more damaging that ironing…and the tests are already done:
clothes worn out by washing drying

RonS105 (author)dpcoffin2016-05-31


KathyK58 (author)2016-05-31

I did find that spraying the wear areas of pants legs with Silicone" based spray dows keep those areas from wearing as fast. Learned it while sewing draperies . We sprayed the thread on the spools to keep the thread moving smoothly through the needles at the high speeds. We sprayed it on pleather to keep it moving under the feet. The aerosols evaporate and leave miniscule drops of lubricant on the threads and hampers wear.

Sarah86 (author)2016-05-31

Actually, ironing was basically a part of the dress making process which find it way to the general population. Before, only dressmaker and tailor ironed the clothe for them to be easy to sew together.

Mrsdeapsleap (author)2016-05-31

"Therefore, beyond pandering to unquantifiable ideas of "smartness", there is no actual point to ironing clothes."

Sorry if I don't get this, but what other benefit would there be to ironing other than making clothes look better than when they came out of the dryer/off the line?! The point of ironing is that you don't wear creased clothes. This guy has far too much time on his hands LOL!!!

bajablue (author)2014-06-15

Iron is a four letter word! ;-)

nanaverm (author)bajablue2016-05-31

iRon is much hipper.

Kiteman (author)bajablue2014-06-15


MarkN94 (author)2016-05-31

Yes there is a lint to itoning, so you don't look like a mess...Thats not what the shirts or pants was design to look like.

Deekyevans (author)2016-05-31

So you proved in an interesting way that ironing makes no difference other than the look, which is the point of ironing so that clothes that need it, actually look better

.Less arbitrary than you think

entertaining read though

ag1812 (author)2016-05-31


In places without infestation and for items that don't look awful without ironing, would quick exposure to a UV lamp provide sufficient health benefits to save time ans skip the energy-awful use of a 2000 watt iron?

deluges (author)2016-05-31

Science done right. Thoroughness at it's peak, thanks for sharing. It was delightful to read from a chemists point of view

SanchaL (author)2016-05-31

I note that you tested a knitted textile. In knitting, the thread is continuously coiled around each itself, thus acting as a sort of internally-supported spring. In fact, you may have noted that knitted fabrics generally show less wrinkling than woven fabrics of similar fiber content, because they are, in fact, somewhat 'springy'. Even ferocious ironing will never be able to double a thread as tightly over on itself as it might in a woven textile.

While the wrinkles in knitted cloth are almost always fugitive, and often vanish with mere wearing or at most the next wash, traces of wrinkles in woven cloth can often survive even through laundering and tumble-drying.

I suggest repeating the test with a woven textile of similar thickness and fiber content - perhaps a pillowcase, either cotton or cotton/poly blend depending on the content of the tested T-shirt, for closest comparison.

Kiteman (author)2016-05-31

A number of comments have referred to ironing as a prevention of disease or parasite transmission.

I've done some [google] research, and found that some pathogens can occasionally be transmitted by clothing or bedding left wet and contaminated (eg by urine or fecal matter), but that kind of thing is not ironed...

Ironing ("the smoothing of fabric or clothing") as a practice pre-dates the concept of pathogens by millennia, and frequently involved no heat at all, just pressing, clamping, rolling or even stretching whilst damp. In every case I have found, the stated purpose of was social display - shaping or smoothing fabrics to present them at their visual best, preferably to highlight the skill, wealth or worth of the owner/wearer.

Anyhoo, if you find some actual references to ironing being of medical benefit, I'd love it if you could add a comment and a link.

About This Instructable




Bio: The answer is "lasers", now, what was the question? If you need help, feel free to contact me. Project previews on Tumblr & Twitter: @KitemanX
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