There are two basic types of electric iron — dry and steam. Some repairs are simply a matter of maintenance involving no special tools, while others are complicated and best left to a qualified person. Bear in mind if you embark on a complicated repair and find you cannot put the pieces back together properly, the cost of a replacement or repair by a professional will be much greater than if you took it to an expert originally. Before you attempt any work on this type of appliance, check carefully to ensure you will not invalidate any guarantee.
If your iron is not working properly, check first whether the plug fuse has blown or if there is a faulty connection at the plug. Check also the socket outlet is working, using another appliance. Before starting work on your iron always remove the plug from the socket outlet.
A common problem with dry irons is wear on the flex — due to age and usage. This occurs as the flex is wound round the iron and as it rubs against the ironing board. As soon as any wear on the outer covering is apparent the flex should be replaced. If the flex covering is allowed to wear through, it will expose the plastic or rubber-covered inner wires. This is a dangerous state; once the insulating cover breaks, the bare live and neutral wires will be exposed. Should these wires touch, a dead short will blow the fuse or give a shock to the person using the iron — and electric shocks can cause death. Even getting the flex kinked or knotted can cause the internal wires or conductors to break.
Replacing the flex
When buying replacement flex, take the old length with you to make sure you get a replacement of the correct type and rating. It must be of the cloth-covered, braided sort; don’t use PVC flex (should this flex touch the hot iron it will melt). Check the flex is long enough; too short a flex can cause stress on the flex clamp in the handle and on the plug and socket outlet.
To remove the flex, undo the screw securing the back plate to the handle and lift off the back plate to expose the terminal connections. The terminals may be of the clamp or ring type. For clamp terminals slacken off the terminal screw to release the cores; for ring terminals, remove the securing nuts and washers to release the cores.
Slide off the three heatproof sleeves which protect the rubber-covered wires from the internal heat of the iron. If these sleeves are in good condition, they can be used again; if they are cracked or worn, you should fit new ones. The old flex can now be pulled through the rubber grommet. You will find a clamp securing the flex to the handle; this is for safety so the flex cannot pull loose from the terminals and short the power supply. Note the position of this clamp in relation to the flex and its tightness and remove it to free the flex.
Remove the braided covering from one end of the new flex to a distance equal to the length of the heatproof sleeves plus 13mm (½ in). Thread this end through the rubber grommet and secure the flex clamp, leaving about 100mm (4in) of flex free — enough to reach the terminal connections. For clamp terminals bare 10mm at the end of each core and twist the strands tightly to ensure a clean, tight connection.
For ring terminals bare 6mm (¼ in) at the end of each core and crimp on new rings before connecting. Replace the heatproof sleeves and make the connections to the terminals. The brown core should be connected to the live (L) terminal, the blue core to the neutral (N) terminal and the green/yellow core to the earth (E) terminal. Finally replace the back plate and screw it down firmly. Connect the plug to the other end of the flex and protect it with a 13amp fuse, if it is of the fused type.
To replace the handle (if it is cracked, broken or burnt), first remove the flex. Remember to set out all screws and other parts in order of removal to make reassembly easier. Take out the earth bracket and, if present, slacken the small screw securing the temperature control knob. Prise or pull off this knob and loosen the large nut or hexagonal bolt beneath it; use either a small socket spanner or long-nosed pliers. You should now be able to lift the handle and metal skirt (or cowl) clear of the base plate assembly.
Turn over the handle assembly and remove the fixing screws and their accompanying washers. The handle and cowl can now be separated; you may find a loose metal spacer called a scroll, which you should keep carefully. Replace any asbestos washers not in good condition (or the heat may damage the handle). Refit your new handle carefully in the reverse order, making sure you replace all screws and washers in the correct position.
If the thermostat assembly needs replacing because of temperature irregularity or worn contacts, strip the iron down to the base plate assembly (as for handle replacement); then remove the screws securing the thermostat to the base plate and disconnect the wires from the thermostat to the element terminals. On some irons you will have to remove the adjusting nut from the pin at the front of the thermostat assembly; note very carefully the position of this nut before removing it and make sure you replace it in the same position, otherwise the thermostat setting will be affected. Always replace the asbestos washers used beneath the thermostat.
Completely reassemble the iron and test it on pieces of scrap material at the different heat ranges. If the results are not satisfactory, take the iron to an electrician to test on a pyrometer.
To replace the element, strip the iron down to the sole plate and remove the clamp plate, the asbestos pad and the element. As before, lay out all screws, nuts and washers in the correct order to make reassembly easier. Fit the new element in place by reversing the procedure you used to remove the old one. When refitting, ensure all surfaces are clean and tightly clamped.
If in any doubt about the right procedure for any work on your iron, seek advice from your local spares or service agent.
All types of steam iron need certain routine checks for internal cleanliness. The most important of these concerns the type of water you use. Lime and fur from tap water or other impure sources build up a deposit in the steam channels; this causes poor performance and corrosion. Even water saved from a defrosted fridge can be slightly contaminated and present problems. The best water to use is distilled, usually available from a chemist or good hardware shop. Don’t use battery topping-up water since it may contain ingredients other than distilled water. It is possible to buy a demineralizing agent — crystals which, when dissolved in water, purify it and last for up to 200 fillings of an iron. If you do not have distilled water or a demineralizer, use cooled boiled water rather than tap water.
If a routine cleaning of steam vents, channels or holes does not clear the blockages, you can use a steam iron cleaner. This is a mild acid type of cleaning mixture specially prepared for such a job. No other form of fluid should be tried; it may damage seals or jointing compounds used inside the iron.
Stains on the base plate need not mean impure water but simply the iron has been stored away after use, with a slight amount of water still in it, not standing up on its heel rest but on its base plate. Since the base plate is made of aluminium, dampness caused by water seepage will discolour it and, over a prolonged period, cause corrosion. Therefore, always empty your iron thoroughly after use while it is still hot and make sure the steam button or knob is in the closed position before putting the iron away — on its heel rest. To remove any stains or rough patches from the base, polish it lightly with fine wet and dry emery paper and wipe it clean with a soft cloth.
Sometimes white spots appear on coloured articles being ironed. This usually happens when the iron has been used for long periods as a dry iron and particles of lint or soap powder have become wedged inside the steam channels or holes. A thorough steam cleaning with clean water may be all that is needed to clear away these particles.
Remove the screw covering the back plate and lift the plate off to expose the internal flex connections. Renew the flex in the same way as for a dry iron and replace the back plate firmly.
Remove the back cover and loosen the wires. Prise off the temperature control knob and remove the cover fixing bolt. Lift the handle and top cover clear of the rest of the iron and remove the handle fixing screws. Reverse this operation to refit the new handle. As before, lay out all the components in the right order to ensure easy refitting.
The base plate assembly, water tank and thermostat will be visible when the handle is removed; but alteration or removal of some of these parts is best left to a qualified service agent since some screws rust or deteriorate with age and inexperienced handling can cause more harm than good.