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Steam Iron terminology

jpatton21 | Posted in Equipment and Supplies on

What exactly is the difference between a steam generator, a gravity feed iron and a professional steamer? The terminology is confusing.



  1. carolfresia | | #1

    Joyce, to be honest I am not all that familiar with this terminology, either, since I use a regular old steam iron (with the very irksome 10-minute shut-off feature) at home, or whatever happens to be where I'm working--and I don't usually ask that many questions, as long as it all functions! However, I did ask our resident equipment expert, who told me the following:

    In a gravity feed iron the water is contained in a  bottle suspended above the iron. Gravity feeds the water to the iron from this bottle, and the iron itself converts the water to steam and delivers it.

    A steam generator contains the water in a reservoir separate from the iron, but also converts it into steam before sending it to the iron.

    In both of the machines above, the steam is released through the holes in a heated plate (surface of the iron), which is heavy and smooth. The ironing process involves several elements working in concert: steam, heat, pressure, and smoothing surface.

    A professional steamer holds the water in a reservoir, and delivers constant steam, usually through a hose and nozzle, and usually to a hanging garment or drapery (as opposed to a garment laid out flat on a pressing surface and pressed with the combination listed in the previous paragraph.

    I hope this helps! Meanwhile, we're planning some informational articles on pressing and steaming equipment in upcoming issues of Threads, so keep looking.


    1. jpatton21 | | #2

      Thanks for the info Carol. I'm looking forward to the article. Here are some questions to address in it.

      If the moisture is delivered to the gravity feed iron as water, wouldn't it have all the shortcomings of a regular iron? Cooling of the heating plate as the water dripped onto it causing spitting and dribbling rather than steam if you try to press the steam button constantly? That's one of the problems I'd like to overcome. And if so, what is the point in getting a gravity feed rather than a regular iron? Just a larger reservoir so less frequent refilling? And will it get all the way up to the temperature needed to press linen?

      Also, is an overheating handle (as on the one I had to send back) a chronic problem in all steam generators? Has any company been able to fix this successfully? And is it also a problem in gravity feed irons?

      Is there any type of iron that would allow you to iron on a very low temperature such as for synthetics, yet still get steam when you wanted it?

      Needless to say, my ideal iron would have constant steam available, no dribbles, a huge reservoir requiring infrequent refilling, the ability to heat the soleplate to a truly linen temperature and the option to maintain steam function on demand at a very low temperature setting. And of course, a handle that didn't scald my hand. Does this exist?

      1. carolfresia | | #3

        Joyce, thanks for all your questions! I can't answer them but will forward them to the person who's working on the article. Sounds like you've been thinking about this for a while--wouldn't it be great if you could just make a list of what you want, go to the store, and get the thing that has all those features?!


        1. cottonbets | | #4

          In anticipation of the upcoming article about steam generating and/or gravity fed steam irons, I'd like to suggest another area to cover. The steam generating "----PRO" unit I've been using stresses that this is a domestic (not professional) model, and should not be used more than a limited number of hours at a stretch. Their limit is fifteen hours a week, at three hour intervals. That is far from adequate for my needs, and I wonder if all brands are the same.  Another area related to this is the recommended practice of allowing the iron to cool completely before opening the water tank to add more water. Is this necessary? What happens if you don't wait for the unit to cool? I understand that this may not be your area of expertise, but I'd be thrilled to see this type of information included in the article. From the "heated discussion" going on about this topic, I think that there is wide spread interest. Thanks!

          1. carolfresia | | #5

            Betsy, the time limitations are something that we've discussed in the office already, and I'll pass the word along that there's interest in having that issue covered in the article. We all agree that 15 hours a week is not adequate for someone who sews a lot (though personally I'd LOVE to find 5 hours a week to sew!). Thanks for your questions and your interest.


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