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What is a Fabric Steamer?

Updated May 21, 2024
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Commercial fabric steamers have been available since the early 1900s, but compact models are a fairly modern invention. It is said the idea for a small machine came about because of the popularity of men's hats during the 1940s. At that time, many people used a teakettle to steam wrinkles out of their favorite fedoras. But the invention of the fabric steamer changed all that. No longer did people have to slave over a hot iron or teakettle to remove creases.

Today's fabric steamer comes in three basic sizes: the commercial floor models used at dry cleaners and manufacturing plants; the mid-sized models for home or small businesses such as tailors or seamstresses; and the most recent evolution of the fabric streamer — the mini steamers used for quick touch ups and travel.

This device uses steam rather than heat to remove wrinkles. The steam, and slight pressure of the steamer's surface, relaxes the fibers rather than flattening them. Because of this process, it is gentler on clothing, faster than using an iron, and eliminates scorching.

The fabric steamer is ideal for use on napped fabric, such as velvets and velveteen. A traditional iron will crush the nap, unless used with a needle board, but the steamer doesn't exert pressure, preserving the luxurious look and feel of any material. Even very delicate materials, such as satins and silks, benefit from the gentle care of this tool.

The newer portable-sized fabric steamer is a must for the savvy traveler. It eliminates the hassle of requesting an ironing board, or sending clothes to the valet to be pressed. The device is lightweight and fits easily into the luggage. Having it handy will ensure a traveler looks sharp at any business meeting he or she attends.

Most steamers are easy to use. The user simply hangs up his or her garment, fills the steamer's water reservoir, plugs it in, waits for a few minutes, and proceeds to go over the article with a sweeping motion, allowing the steam to straighten any wrinkles.

In addition to clothing, a fabric steamer can be extremely handy for other chores around the house. It can be used to freshen drapes, upholstered furniture, cloth shower curtains, car upholstery, and even wigs. Once people recognize the ease and value of using this tool, they will no doubt find countless uses for it.

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Discussion Comments
By anon70150 — On Mar 12, 2010

If treated in the right way you will not have to take garments to a dry cleaners. on average a suit is about £8.50 to clean and they will generally use a substance they like to call "perc." this can be an irritant to many people. to save time and money i would personally suggest a clothes steamer and if you have marks you wish to remove just research whatever the stain is. works every time. Hope this helps.

By Dayton — On Jul 26, 2007

that's right! steamers use steam to remove wrinkles, rather than direct heat and pressure like an iron. Can't wait for the day where we can get one of those that removes stains as well!

By anon2808 — On Jul 26, 2007

I get the impression that unlike a dry cleaner a cheap fabric steamer won't actually clean an item just remove the wrinkles right?

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