How to Get Stubborn Wrinkles Out of Clothes and Fabric
Do you find that after you iron or press wrinkles and creases out of clothing or fabric it looks pretty much the same as when you started?
If so, you aren’t alone.
For most of my life after I ironed a shirt or pants, the garment would look exactly like it did before any heat was applied to it.
The same thing would happen when I ironed or pressed prewashed fabric for a sewing project.
Regardless, I would still go through the motions of ironing my clothes or pressing the fabric before cutting because that’s what you’re supposed to do.
Ironing and Pressing
The terms ironing and pressing mean different things.
Ironing is the back and forth movement of the iron over a piece of clothing or fabric.
It is typically done on completed garments, linens (i.e. tablecloths, sheets, curtains, cloth napkins), and large pieces of fabric for sewing projects.
Pressing is the lifting and lowering of the iron on a garment or piece of fabric.
It’s a technique that is typically used to set stitches and flatten an area in the construction of garments, quilts, or other sewing projects.
Pressing prevents the grain from becoming distorted or seams from stretching.
Regardless if you are ironing or pressing, there are certain things you can do to successfully get rid of wrinkles and creases in your clothes and other fabrics.
The fabric shown in the photos below is a medium-weight, woven fabric.
It had been stored in a bin for years in my mother’s fabric stash and she didn’t remember what it was made of. She guessed it was cotton or a cotton/poly blend.
There were creases in the fabric so I washed and dried it in an effort to remove them.
This didn’t work. After pulling it out of the dryer, there were also wrinkles in addition to the creases.
The picture below is a BEFORE picture of the fabric with one corner separated by a dotted line.
The area enclosed with the dotted line is where I apply heat from the iron to test different ironing and pressing techniques.
This way it’s easy to see how the fabric looked BEFORE the iron was used as well as after. Making it easy to determine what works and what doesn’t when ironing/pressing.
Symbols in Each Photo
The circles, arrows, and dots in the BEFORE picture (above) and the other pictures (below) are there for a reason.
- Circles – The circles anchor the photo. Each circle is around a white dot that is a minor flaw in the fabric.
- Arrows – The arrows identify the stubborn creases that did not come out of the fabric after it was washed and dried.
- Dotted lines – The dotted lines enclose the area where I use different techniques to remove the wrinkles and creases. I only use the iron in this area so you can compare it to the original appearance of the fabric and see how well each method works.
How to Get Stubborn Wrinkles Out of Clothes and Fabric
Know What You’re Ironing
When ironing or pressing, you always want to check garment labels for fabric composition and ironing instructions.
When purchasing fabric for a sewing project, read the end of the bolt or details on the website to identify fabric composition and ironing instructions.
Record this information by writing it down or taking a picture.
Use the Correct Temperature
The correct temperature is another factor in getting rid of wrinkles and creases.
If you’re unsure of the fabric composition, set the temperature for what you think the fabric is. Start with a lower temperature and dry iron.
Do a test by pressing the iron on a small inconspicuous area on the wrong side of the fabric for a few seconds to see results.
The fabric may discolor where heat was applied. This isn’t uncommon and the fabric should return to the original color as it cools off. If it doesn’t, the temperature is too high.
Adjust the temperature if necessary.
Not knowing the exact composition of the blue fabric in the photos, I started with a medium temperature because that is the suggestion for polyester on my iron’s dial.
The fabric didn’t scorch, burn, or leave a mark but the wrinkles remained, so I increased the temperature.
Knowing the fabric could possibly be 100% cotton, I wanted to keep increasing the heat and testing the results until I could get the temperature as high as possible without damaging the fabric.
After a few minutes, I discovered I could set the iron to the highest temperature.
When your ironing or pressing, let the heat of the iron do the work. Brute force isn’t necessary.
As you iron (back and forth), the plate of the iron should be in direct contact with the fabric. You don’t need to push down hard.
Make sure to move the iron back and forth with the grain so you don’t distort the fabric.
Same thing goes with pressing. You don’t need to press down hard. The weight of the iron is enough pressure.
With the iron set to the correct temperature, I first tried to iron out the wrinkles and creases with a dry iron.
Use Water on Natural Fibers
Clothing and fabric made from natural fibers, like cotton and linen, are easier to iron if they are slightly damp.
Having no success with a dry iron, the next thing I tried was ironing with steam.
With steam, the wrinkles were much improved but the creases were still slightly visible.
The fabric needed to be damper than the steam was getting it. Especially where the creases were.
I used the spray function on the iron to mist the fabric, applying a little more water to the creases, and started to iron still going back and forth with the grain of the fabric. (A spray bottle works well for this, too.)
I realized I was constantly moving the iron over the fabric. It really didn’t stay in one place for too long. The iron really needed to be on the fabric for a longer period of time.
Time and Steam
After applying the spray to the fabric and creases a second time, I tried letting the iron do the work.
This time I pressed instead of ironed.
I placed and held the iron in one spot, then lifted it up and repeated letting the heat remove the wrinkles and creases.
For the deeper creases, I applied some steam, too.
Curious, I experimented with different amounts of pressure on the iron. I discovered the iron could remove the creases and wrinkles even when I didn’t push down on it at all. All I really needed to do was hold the iron in place long enough and let the heat and steam do the work.
Maybe that’s why I’ve been unsuccessful ironing most of my life … I wasn’t giving the iron time to do its work.
Fiber Content Matters
Important: Pressing and holding the iron in place isn’t the right technique for all fabrics.
There are many different types of fabrics and blends available in ready-to-wear clothes and in fabric shops.
It’s critical to know the fiber content of the fabric you’re ironing so you can use the correct temperature setting.
For more information and ironing tips for over 20 types of fabrics in an easy-to-read chart, see Select the Right Setting for Ironing Any Fabric.
There are 5 things you need to remember in order to be successful ironing and pressing out wrinkles and creases.
- Know the fabric composition of what you’re ironing.
- Use the correct temperature setting. (If you’re unsure what temperature to use, start with a lower setting, test it, and increase the temperature if necessary.)
- Physical pressure isn’t necessary. Let the heat of the iron do the work.
- Use water (steam and spray) on fabrics made from natural fibers.
- Allow enough time and let the iron press out wrinkles and creases.
Steam and mist work best on natural fibers as does the time and pressing technique.
It’s important to remember that natural fibers are only a small portion of available fabrics and not all fibers take the same temperature and time to remove wrinkles and creases.
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A large portion of my life after I pressed garments the piece of clothing looked precisely as it did before any warmth was applied to it. Something very similar happened when I pressed or squeezed a bit of texture before a sewing venture.
I know exactly what you mean, Elizabeth. Sometimes, that still happens to me especially when I’m in a hurry. I have to remind myself to slow down so the iron can do its work! 😊
I have been following your blog for quite some time and I must say, that each time I read it, I get to learn something very useful. I , as a single parent, have always struggled with ironing the creases of my clothes finely. This article has helped a lot and ways suggested in this blog seem to be working; however, I do have a question. How do you iron places that are too narrow to be reached by a steam iron? Please do suggest some innovate ways to cover that aspect at your earliest convenience.
What a great question. No situation comes to mind where I personally had to press an area that was too narrow for the iron to reach. What comes to mind as a possible solution would be to use a seam roll or a rolled-up towel or washcloth to better access the area.