How to Steam Clothes

Who needs an ironing board?

Steaming clothes can be a practical, swift substitute for using a traditional iron. It will appeal to people who postpone washing favorite garments due to a dread of ironing them.

But it’s not all roses and sunshine. Using a fabric steamer can be uncomfortable at first if you aren’t prepared. It’s essential to know what fabrics can and can’t be exposed to steam.

Saving yourself time is wonderful, but not at the cost of ruining your best-loved outfit. Our step-by-step guide will equip you with all the facts on how to steam clothes.

Can You Steam Any Fabric?

Not every type of fabric is able to withstand steam. Water transforms from a liquid into a vapor (steam) at 212 degrees Fahrenheit.

Certain materials can be damaged by heat, moisture or both. These include:

  • Plastic-based synthetics: If your garment feels slick and waterproof, it’s likely made from a synthetic fabric (e.g., raincoats). Note that faux leather is typically made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a type of plastic. PVC can melt at temperatures as low as 167 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Leather: Excessive heat can cause your stylish leather jacket to shrink. These items are best left to the experts (e.g., dry cleaners who work with leather).
  • Suede: Suede is a type of leather product that’s been processed and feels super-soft. As with leather in general, they require care and should be professionally dry cleaned.
  • Stained items: Don’t reach for your fabric steamer if you stain your clothes. The substance could end up permanently set in the material.

As a rule, you can proceed full steam ahead with the following fabrics. However, always make sure to check the label of the individual garment first:

  • Cottons.
  • Wools (including cashmere, although it’s wrinkle-resistant).
  • Silks (steaming is recommended for this wrinkle-prone material).
  • Polyesters.
  • Mixes of the above-mentioned fabrics, such as chiffon.

How to Steam Clothes

Steaming clothes is a straightforward chore to accomplish. Some of you may even find it enjoyable compared to the drudgery of ironing.

How to Steam Your Clothing

1. Choose the Best Fabric Steamer for Clothes

You can buy a portable fabric steamer that’s exclusively for clothing. If you have space, you can get a larger one with a built-in hanger.

Alternatively, you can purchase an all-purpose steam cleaner with an attachment for steaming clothes.

If you already own one of these gadgets, check if the manufacturer sells a compatible accessory. Slim nozzles can draw the steaming process out. You may also end up missing spots as you work. So it’s preferable to use an attachment intended for garments.

2. Clear the Surrounding Area

Ensure that any children or pets are out of the room to avoid accidents. Use common sense when you choose a work area. Don’t start steaming next to your expensive make-up collection or in front of peeling wallpaper.

3. Hang Up Your Garment

Place the item you want to steam on a hanger. Don’t use cloth-covered hangers; choose plain hard plastic or metal.

Some clothes require a hanger with clips, such as slacks or skirts. If the clips are plastic, make sure you don’t focus the steam on them for too long.

Always Remove Clothing

Never work on any type of garment — even heavy jackets — while wearing it. You risk scalding yourself with the steam (1).

4. Prepare Your Clothes Steamer

Fill your steamer’s water tank up to capacity and let it heat up. Attach the accessory for clothes (if you have one).

5. Start Steaming

It’s time to steam your clothes. We’ve provided guidelines for different types of garments.


It’s best to keep a distance and move consistently when you’re steaming delicate fabrics like silk, velvet or chiffon so as not to overwhelm them.

Dress Slacks

  1. Clip up pants: Fold your pants length-wise and clip them to the hanger, bottom-side up.
  2. Steam top to bottom: Starting at the top (the bottoms of your slacks) steam downwards in slow, smooth motions. You can use your hand to steady the slacks from behind, but be careful not to burn yourself.
  3. Don’t neglect pockets: Ensure all of the pockets are neat and unwrinkled.
  4. Switch sides: Repeat the process on the other side of the pants.
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Suit Jacket

  1. Start at the top: Steam the jacket from top to bottom. Don’t neglect to go under the lapels to straighten them out.
  2. Steam the back: Turn the suit jacket around or go behind it and do the back. Repeat the same procedure as with the front.
  3. Steam the arms: One by one, hold the arms of the jacket out by the cuffs and steam them. You can do the arms before or after the body, whichever is convenient for you.

Dress Shirts

  1. Work your way down: Working from the shoulders down, run the steamer as close to the shirt as you can. You may want to grab onto the bottom of the shirt and pull it towards you to flatten it out. Wrinkles in dress shirts can be notoriously stubborn, so take your time.
  2. Do the back: Steam the back as you did with the front, working downwards.
  3. Steam the arms: Hold each arm out by the cuff and steam it. Move the steamer slowly to get a clean crease.
  4. Stiff collar and cuffs: Run the fabric steamer over the collar and cuffs of your shirt to straighten them out.

Steaming Dress Shirts

You may not get the clean, starchy lines with a steamer that you do with ironing. However, it takes less time to steam a shirt than to iron it.

Blouses, Tank Tops, T-Shirts, Jackets and Sweaters

  1. Straighten: Pull the bottom of the shirt or sweater out to hold it straight.
  2. Steam front and back: Run the steamer from top to bottom on both sides.
  3. Steam sleeves: Hold the cuffs of long-sleeves out and steam them. For shorter sleeves, you shouldn’t need to handle them out to steam them.

Dresses and Skirts

  1. Steam down: Working from the top of the garment, move the steamer downwards in smooth motions.
  2. Work underneath for pleats: Passing over the front of the fabric may not suffice for pleated skirts (on dresses or alone). Hold the skirt or dress up and go underneath it to steam the interior, top to bottom.

6. Let the Fabric Dry and Cool Completely

Don’t jump into your freshly steamed clothing straight away. Give the fabric time to cool (at least 15 minutes) and dry off before you wear it or put it away.

Happy Steaming

You no longer have to choose between an ironing session, wrinkles or a dry cleaning bill. Steam enables you to freshen up your beloved outfits from the comfort of home.

Apply similar principles to steaming as you would with ironing. Don’t focus the steam on any one area for too long so that you don’t damage the fabric.

Lastly, always check the label of the item you’re steaming. If your exorbitantly-priced crushed velour jacket says “dry clean only,” don’t go against that advice.

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About the Author

Amy Anthony

Amy is a stay-at-home-mom, seasoned writer, and a home cleaning and organization aficionado. Amy enjoys having an absolutely spotless home and has worked hard to develop strategies to keep it that way, despite having 2 kids and 3 dogs!