Best steam generator irons 2018: The best irons from Philips, Rowenta, Tefal, Bosch and John Lewis

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Ironing can be a tiresome task. Most irons are heavy in the hand, and rarely produce enough steam pressure to flatten creases efficiently. Worse, their small water tanks require constant topping up to keep the steam going. If only there were an easier method.

There is, and it’s called a steam generator. It may sound like a piece of industrial machinery, but this appliance can transform your home life. A steam generator makes ironing almost effortless (with the emphasis on almost) and even a bit more enjoyable. It also speeds up the job considerably – useful for those who do a lot of ironing every week.

Choosing the right steam generator iron can be confusing, as there are many brands and models out there. Fear not: we’ve scoured the interwebs for the very best models, at prices from £100 up to £230, and put each one to the test against a weighty pile of creased linen, denim jeans and some delicate silks. Now we’re ready to give you the results.

So read on, in the knowledge that these five mighty steam-spawning models will make your ironing feel as effortless as a tornado tossing a feather. Or something like that.

How to choose the best steam generator iron for you

What is a steam generator iron?

The standard steam iron has an internal water reservoir – usually around 300ml in capacity – which is boiled by a heating element to produce a modest head of steam. This steam gently moistens the fabric, helping to flatten creases. However, a typical domestic iron may offer only low steam pressure, and the reservoir will need regular refilling.

A steam generator is a type of iron that works on the same principle – except the water tank and heating element are stored in a separate base unit that’s connected to the iron by a length of rubber hose. The average water tank is around 1.8 litres in capacity, so you can do six times as much ironing before needing to visit the tap for a refill.

And that’s not the end of it: a steam generator iron is also capable of punching out a much greater volume of steam than a traditional iron. Many generators can produce a constant steam volume of 120g/min, whereas even a decent traditional iron will struggle to produce more than 55g/min.

Steam boost figures are even more impressive: you might get 230g/min from an iron, while the best steam generators approach 500g/min. They’re also capable of pumping out steam at much higher pressures – on average a whopping 6.5 bars. That’s enough to very quickly defeat even the deepest creases.

While there’s little downside to using a steam generator, even the best models can very occasionally spurt a little dollop of limescale onto your clothes. That’s just one of the foibles of ironing, sadly. It’s far from a frequent occurrence, however: almost all models come with some form of anti-calc system to minimise the buildup of limescale.

If you have a large family and engage in lots of ironing, a steam generator will make your life a lot easier and you’ll get the job done much more quickly.

Pros and cons of a steam generator iron

Pros

  • The hand unit is lighter and easier to use, since it doesn’t need to contain a water reservoir
  • Ironing time can be cut by up to a third
  • Large volumes of high-pressure steam
  • The steam boost function makes light work of even the heaviest creases
  • No need for constant water refills
  • With some fabrics you can get away with ironing on just one side

Cons

  • Takes longer to warm up – sometimes up to three minutes
  • More expensive than a traditional iron
  • The base unit is comparatively bulky
  • You may need a larger ironing board or one designed for a steam generator (Brabantia makes some excellent models)
  • The hose from base unit to iron can be annoying
  • Noise of water being heated and circulated is louder than from a traditional iron

The best steam generator irons you can buy in 2018

1. Philips PerfectCare Elite Plus GC9682/86: The most powerful steam generator iron – and the easiest to use

Price: £520

For anyone faced with a large volume of laundry on a regular basis, this stylish albeit extraordinarily pricey steam generator is unequivocally the best on the market. However, there are other, cheaper models in the PerfectCare range that perform almost as well.

The Philips’ futuristic hand unit is as light as a feather and beautifully fits the contours of the hand. Its T-ionicGlide soleplate, meanwhile, floats over even the most obstreperous fabric like a curling stone on an ice rink.

It’s hugely powerful, too. This model produces a constant 165g of steam per minute while its boost function (activated by double tapping the finger trigger) ups that to a mind-boggling 600g/min – ideal for dealing with heavily creased fabrics such as starched linen. The removable water tank has a substantial 1.8-litre capacity and an easy-to-use anti-calc system means you can fill it with regular tap water: to clear out the limescale, you simply unscrew the rear cap and pour away the cloudy contents.

The PerfectCare Elite Plus has another trick – and, if you’ve ever experienced the horror of burning a hole in your favourite Hermés chiffon top, this next part will make you jump for joy. The iron has no adjustable temperature settings at all. Philips’ “OptimalTEMP technology” lets you iron any fabric – from jeans to silk – without having to adjust any temperature settings. You can even leave the iron face-down on your favourite shirt and it won’t burn, or simply leave it on the ironing board while you turn the clothing. It’s a truly groundbreaking innovation that other manufacturers are only now starting to adopt themselves.

The Philips’ DynamiQ smart sensor, meanwhile, monitors the iron’s movement and adjusts the steam delivery accordingly. And when you stop ironing, the steam stops too.

While there’s very little to quibble about with this model, warm-up time is pretty long at over two minutes, and the base unit is made from brittle plastic that easily cracks if dropped when full of water. Also, the whole thing shuts down if not used for a period of time – this is a sensible safety feature but also an annoyance if your ironing session is interrupted for any reason.

In all, these small negatives are easily outweighed by the PerfectCare Elite Plus’s efficiency, ease of use and smart, futuristic technology. If Carlsberg did irons...

Key specs – Tank capacity: 1.8L; Steam output: 165g/min; Steam boost: 600g/min

2. Rowenta Silence Steam DG8960: A professional-grade appliance that eats up big ironing jobs

Price: £180

The Silence Steam DG8960 has been on the market for nearly three years – but why change a good thing? Rowenta’s “steam station” is a true workhorse that just keeps on giving. Indeed, this writer handed one over to a London-based fabric shop for a long-term test over two years ago, and to this day it hasn’t skipped a beat. It’s sailed through daily use on all types of fabric, including delicate Indian cottons and thick Swedish linen. It’s been dropped a few times, too, yet its tough plastic base unit remains unscathed.

In short, if you’re after a professional-grade steam generator iron that isn’t sold at professional prices then this one’s a very worthy contender. Granted, it’s not the prettiest steamer in the pack, and its 1.4-litre water tank is quite small. You’ll also need to know your fabrics if using this iron, since you’ll want to dial in the right steam selection setting on the rear of the base unit, and set the right fabric type on the iron itself. But, as the moniker suggests, it’s very quiet.

The Rowenta has a standard steam output of 120g/min, with a precision steam boost button on top of the iron that increases the output to 420g/min – ample for dealing with heavy linen and denim creases. Periodic descaling is performed by unscrewing a tab and pouring the limescale contents into a sink.

From a user experience of view, the Rowenta excels. The hand unit is quite small and it doesn’t feel too heavy, while the stainless steel soleplate and contoured tip make light work of anything you throw at it.

If you know your cottons from your synthetics, then the Rowenta is a strong choice: it’s compact, light, efficient and very quiet.

Key specs – Tank capacity: 1.4L; Steam output: 120g/min; Steam boost: 420g/min

3. Tefal Pro Express X-Pert Plus GV8976: A heavyweight steam generator iron that’s cheaper than the Philips

Price: £230

The iron unit from this chunky steam generator feels big in the hand – and surprisingly heavy, considering that the electronics and water tank are in the separate base unit.

Still, its specs are impressive. Steam output is rated at 120g/min, with a steam boost raising this to 450g/min. For tough creases there’s also an AquaBoost vapouriser upfront that squirts a fine spray when required. The removable water reservoir holds an adequate, if not enormous, 1.6 litres and the whole thing heats up in just two minutes. Storage is neat and tidy too, thanks to a spring-loaded retractable cord and hand-unit locking mechanism.

Temperature and steam settings are similar to what you’ll find on a traditional iron. At the rear of the base unit you’ll see a row of buttons marked “synthetics”, “silk”, “wool”, “cotton” and “linen”. Tap your fabric of choice to set the appropriate temperature and steam strength. While this isn’t exactly rocket science, it’s not as easy as the Philips, especially if you don’t know your cottons from your linens.

Despite its size, the hand unit glides effortlessly, and its pointed tip is narrow enough to flatten tight areas like blouse pleats and trouser pockets. The steam activation trigger under the handle is easy to use but it can get in the way at times; a common niggle with all the steam generators on this page. The anti-calc system is identical to the Rowenta’s, and there’s an Eco button, too – though it’s hardly likely to save a significant sum.

If you can’t stretch your budget to a Philips PerfectSteam model then this larger but cheaper option is well worth a whirl.

Key specs – Tank capacity: 1.6L; Steam output: 120g/min; Steam boost: 450g/min

4. Braun CareStyle 3 (3041): A great budget-priced model with unique soleplate design

Price: £120

The keenly-priced Braun CareStyle 3 comes in three variants, each with a different steam output. This particular 3041 model produces a continuous output of 120g/min and a perfectly adequate steam boost of 310g/min. It’s an ideal model for medium-sized piles of laundry though its ironing unit is pretty chunky and nothing like as sleek as those in the albeit much more expensive Philips PerfectCare range.

It does, however, come with iCareTec, which, rather like the Philips model, utilises a smart textile protection system to set the correct temperature for every fabric. And that means no more scorched delicates.

But maybe the most useful innovation here is the slippery Eloxal-coated 3D BackGlide soleplate, which is comprised of a smooth, rounded rear section that allows the iron to hover over fabrics whether its moving forwards or backwards. That means no more reverse snagging and bunching, especially when ironing lighter fabrics.

This steam generator heats up in a respectable two minutes and comes with a two-litre reservoir – one of the largest on the market – and a great cord storage and locking facility. Great value.

Buy now from Currys

Key specs – Tank capacity: 2L; Steam output: 120g/min; Steam boost: 310g/min

5. Bosch Serie 8 VarioComfort TDS8030GB: A keenly priced Philips alternative

Price: £290

Like the Philips PerfectCare system, this new steam generator also features a single temperature setting for all fabrics. Bosch calls it “iTemp” and it works extremely well, whether you’re ironing a pair of heavy denims or a silk shirt. However, you don’t have to stick to this do-it-all mode because Bosch’s designers have also included a rear temperature selection panel for those who feel happier choosing their own fabric settings (wool, silk, cotton, synthetics, jeans, linen and AntiShine).

The Serie 8’s hand unit isn’t as svelte or as light as the Philips PerfectCare but it’s a lot less clunky than the Tefal Pro Express X-Pert. Its CeraniumGlisséePro soleplate, meanwhile, is remarkably smooth on all fabrics.

Like the Philips, the Serie 8’s removable 1.8-litre tank should provide enough steam for several hours of constant ironing. And speaking of steam, this one produces a not insubstantial 120g/min of constant steam and an ample steam boost of 480g; more than enough to deal with any amount of creasing. At a shade under two minutes, it’s also quicker to reach operating temperature than the Philips.

Given the option, this writer would still choose one of Philips’ PerfectCare models (perhaps the Performer model, £290) simply because of the better-designed hand unit. But one can’t ignore this model’s extremely keen price, more-than-acceptable specs and general all-round efficiency.

Key specs – Tank capacity: 1.8L; Steam output: 120g/min; Steam boost: 480g/min

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