What Causes a Steam Iron to Spit Water All Over the Clothes?

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You're ironing your clothes and suddenly water starts to spit and leak from the steam vents. It's happened to everyone who irons regularly. If you're really "lucky," you'll even find that substance coming out in spurts is brown in color and has soiled your freshly laundered clothing. Unfortunately, fixing the problem isn't always easy, simply because there are so many reasons it can happen in the first place.

What Causes a Steam Iron to Spit Water All Over the Clothes?
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Why it Happens

Spitting can sometimes be caused by mineral deposits in the water you fill your iron with. These minerals cause buildup inside the iron, eventually partially clogging the steam vents. As you use the iron, heat causes pressure to build. When steam tries to go through the partially clogged vents, it causes water to be emitted in spurts.

Another reason that most irons spit is that the soleplate alone cannot consistently maintain temperatures high enough to convert water to steam. Water that has not been turned to steam will leak out of the vents as water. This is often the problem when the iron spurts while on low temperatures, but not high ones. For the same reason, your iron may also spit water if you leave the steam setting activated while you use the iron at low, or dry, settings. If the iron shuts off automatically before you finish pressing your clothes, resuming use before it has fully reheated can also lead to spitting.

Brown or White Emissions

The brown liquid that spurts out of an iron's steam vents may be caused by iron deposits or organic matter in the hard water used to fill it. Any white substance emitting from the vents may be a sign of calcium in the water. When you experience either of these problems, you will need to fully clean the iron and you might want to start using bottled water.

Water Recommendations

For most iron users, tap water is fine. If you notice residue in the steam vents or brown spurting coming from the vents, stick with bottled spring water or distilled water depending on the manufacturer's recommendations.

Maintenance and Use Tips

Emptying the water tank after each use can help prevent clogging. If your iron has a self-cleaning mechanism, use it regularly to clear mineral deposits. Or clean the iron the old-fashioned way by filling it with a mixture of one part vinegar to three parts water and then allowing it to reach its highest temperature. (You can even run the iron over an old towel to be sure the solution is forced through all the vents.) Let the iron cool, empty it and refill it with clear water to rinse. Dump the clear water and leave the iron empty until its next use.

If your ironing is often interrupted, triggering the auto-shutoff feature, and you don't have the patience to allow the device to reheat before you proceed, look for an iron that allows you to bypass the auto-shutoff feature. Remember to shut off the steam when using the iron at low temperatures.


D. Laverne O'Neal

D. Laverne O'Neal, an Ivy League graduate, published her first article in 1997. A former theater, dance and music critic for such publications as the "Oakland Tribune" and Gannett Newspapers, she started her Web-writing career during the dot-com heyday. O'Neal also translates and edits French and Spanish. Her strongest interests are the performing arts, design, food, health, personal finance and personal growth.