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tips for using old irons

Discussion in 'Skills and Smarts' started by Joe50's, Jul 26, 2016.

  1. Joe50's

    Joe50's Familiar Face

    image.jpg i have a 20's-30's westinghouse electric iron thats metal with a wooden handel its missing the original cord with the power switch on the side so i have been using a ge applience cord
    so far ive been putting my iron board and cosco stool near the stove and setting it to rest on one of the burners when im done. the entire unit gets warm so i tend to iron a shirt and trousers and unplug it to let it cool down before i use it again . i was just wondering how to properly use one of these irons as ive always just used it till it got warm than unplugged it and set it to rest
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2016
  2. That's the way it's done with a non-thermostatic iron. The traditional way to tell if it was hot enough to iron cotton was to wet your finger with a big blob of saliva and touch the saliva it quickly to the sole plate -- don't touch with your fingertip itself, just dab the moisture on -- if the saliva sizzles, it's ready to go. Unplug the heat at that point and it should be hot enough to iron what you need ironed without additional heating.

    Never leave a non-thermostatic iron plugged in unsupervised. There's nothing to stop it from heating, and it will either burn itself out when it gets too hot, or set something on fire. If you have to answer the door, take a phone call, or whatever, be absolutely certain the iron is unplugged before you go.

    You should also have an ironing bottle. This is made by taking a special shaker-top stopper and sticking into the top of any old soda bottle you have around. Refillable Coke bottles were the most common ironing bottles because their weight made them stable, but I use a 12 ounce Hires Root Beer bottle. The water in the bottle is shaken onto the item you're ironing, and the iron steams it out of the fabric, taking deep wrinkles with it. This is very useful in ironing line-dried cotton clothing, pillowcases, tablecloths, and such.
  3. Bamaboots

    Bamaboots I'll Lock Up

    Remember those well, Lizzie. With a natural cork seal around the stopper and a "Coke" or RC bottle being the reservoir of choice.
  4. Stanley Doble

    Stanley Doble Call Me a Cab

    Dime stores used to sell the sprinkler with cork that fitted into a pop bottle. Haven't seen one since the sixties. A spray bottle from the dollar store should do as well. Or if you want to be real old fashioned take a mouthful of water and spray it through your teeth.

    Here's what the sprinkler looks like. Amazingly you can still buy them on Amazon. But now they are made of plastic.

    Joe50's and Bamaboots like this.
  5. Joe50's

    Joe50's Familiar Face

    good to know, it keeps its heat pretty well once its been heated up and unplugged
    i am currently using a frosty root beer bottle with pin holes in a new bottle cap for now
    i plan on getting a proper sprinkler soon
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2016
  6. St. Louis

    St. Louis Practically Family

    I have a bunch of those sprinkler tops. It's easy to find 30s and 40s pop bottles in flea markets. The only problem I have with these sprinkler tops is that once the cork has dried out, it crumbles, and it's almost impossible to replace now. I wrap rubber bands around the metal tube, which works fairly well, but I wish I could find a way to recork them.
  7. Dirk Wainscotting

    Dirk Wainscotting A-List Customer

    It's better to use wrung-out cloths and a brush (like the largest round art brush) from a pot of water, than sprinkling water directly. It's easier to control it that way and it gets properly distributed. It also helps stop staining.

    This is my iron. A massive tailor's iron from the middle of last century:
    But I also have one like the OP posted, complete with power cord. You can actually still get the cords, they turn up on eBay and they are still made in China and India.
    The old way for testing for heat is as Lizzie described, but you can just as easily dip your finger in the water pot and flick the water at the sole-plate. It's not that easy at first to see how hot the iron is because even a heat for wool makes spit sizzle. So I pop it into the socket with a micro-switch adaptor, switch it on and let it heat right up, then knock the switch off.

    Wring out one of your press cloths and iron until it dries (it won't take long) then you can use the iron. You'll have to hit the switch again after about 15-20 minutes.

    Two other tips:
    • These irons don't run over cloth like a modern iron with a Teflon sole-plate. They need to be pressed and lifted for the most part.
    • They have non-chromed sole-plates and if you create steam with water or a press cloth and you don't dry it off properly, rust spots can form. Rest the iron on a wood block of some sort, which protects against scorching other surfaces and dries off the plate too.
    Joe50's likes this.
  8. I use "Tommy Tape," which is a self-adhesive rubber tape used by plumbers and electricians. When stretched and wound around an object the wraps fuse together and it becomes solid rubber. Makes a much better seal than cork.
    St. Louis likes this.
  9. greatestescaper

    greatestescaper One of the Regulars

    I myself am a novice when it comes to ironing, and find myself in a bit of a pickle. My wife and I moved a few months ago, and I forgot to pack the iron. There is no chance of recovering it. The worst part is that we had discovered an older model iron that out preformed our newfangled one in every way. I've been reading a bit on irons and ironing and have been considering tracking down a vintage iron to replace the one I lost. I am hoping that someone here could provide some guidance on things I might look for, or even a specific model to be on watch, in purchasing a vintage iron? So far the suggestions for using vintage irons seems great, especially those about revitalizing the sprinkler tops and pop bottles. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.
  10. Dirk Wainscotting

    Dirk Wainscotting A-List Customer

    Personally I think you should get one with a thermostatic control. It's not only easier to control the heat and eliminate most of the guesswork, it also saves on energy.
    How 'vintage' is vintage? Those from the 50s onward are probably the safest electrically - a lot of the older ones have cracked ceramic in the back terminal, with wobbly points. Not to mention dodgy flexes. Those from the 50s also have excellent design. Like these:
    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    AEG are great irons, though they may be mostly in Europe. In the US General Electric models are easy to find. There are those lighter-weight travel-type irons, which turn up frequently. They are all shiny and nice, but with no weight to them they're next to useless and require too much effort.
  11. greatestescaper

    greatestescaper One of the Regulars

    Thank you for the response. The older model we had was probably from the late 70s or early 80s, I can not recall the make. However, I was thinking something vintage or older for the weight, and also the simplicity of the machine. I've really no use for an appliance that has a digital display or any of that. In fact, for as little ironing as I do we were thinking of trying out a sad iron, the benefit there is that my wife could also use it for her work as a seasonal park ranger doing historic interpretation...though I think that we'll wait on that and just get an electric one for now, and for the bulk or our ironing. Though honestly, on a cold day when we have the wood stove fired up, it seems to make sense that I use the heat for tea, coffee, and perhaps some ironing.
  12. Mine's from about 1937, and has a fully-functional thermostat, good solid contact plugs, and a wooden handle that won't split from heat the way bakelite sometimes will. The most important thing about it, though, is that it's a good brand. When shopping for vintage appliances, avoid "no brand" because there's no way to know if they were quality or thrown-together dime-store junk. With a name brand, you can check reviews from older issues of "Consumer's Union Reports" and get a realistic review of how well made the unit is. Mine's a Sunbeam, which was a top-rated brand for safety and reliability that year. Hotpoint, General Electric, and Manning-Bowman are also good, safe choices.
  13. Dirk Wainscotting

    Dirk Wainscotting A-List Customer

    Lizzie, I think your iron is likely a rare good example, because not many irons from the 30s are around in good condition. In the 50s there were still loads of irons made with wooden handles (Grossag still made theirs with wooden handles until the 60s), but those handles are also not indestructible or less prone to deterioration. One of their problems is shifting position as the holes from the screw fixings deteriorate.
    The handles or housings on 1950s irons are not all bakelite, in fact few of them are. They are mostly some version of a styrene polymer which have high impact resistance. Bakelite was virtually outmoded after the war anyway. The rubbishy cracked radios and phones that turn up (especially in white) are made of Catalin, not Bakelite.
  14. I tend to avoid most old plastic stuff unless I positively know what it is -- I've had too many bad experiences with Tenite and similar materials to want to bother with it any more. Not really a fan of 1950s style, either, so I tend to stick with the prewar stuff, or early postwar that was designed prewar.

    My iron was very well cared for -- it wasn't NOS, but had been stored in the original box when not in use, and the cord is supple and unfrayed. How its original owner treated any item is as much a factor in its continued usability as the integrity of its original design.

    Another thing to look for with an old iron is the smoothness of its plate. Avoid an iron with visible corrosion or scratches on the plate -- such damage can damage your clothes.
  15. sweetdreams102

    sweetdreams102 New in Town

    I just tried this and it works perfectly -- thank you!
    LizzieMaine likes this.
  16. vitanola

    vitanola My Mail is Forwarded Here


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