Most of us started out in business using a home iron just as we started out with a home sewing machine. It didn't take long to realize the distinct advantages of industrial sewing machines, but because of cost or a lack of knowledge, industrial irons too often are not given a second thought.
That attitude is changing, largely due to advancements in home iron designs. Today, it is almost impossible to find a new home iron without an automatic shut off if it's left standing for a short period of time. For a business, that's not only nerve-racking, but downright inefficient. But there are other very good reasons besides this one to examine workroom irons and make an educated decision about them.
The purpose of using an iron is to take out the wrinkles in fabric, whether it's just touch-up or major pressing and shaping. "Pressing is using steam to make the fibers lose their memory and then using heat and preferably vacuum to establish a new memory," says Roger Burkhart, president of Reimers Electra Steam, Inc., one of the few companies still manufacturing industrial irons in the United States.
The better the steam iron, the more "memory" it will put into the fabric and the more permanent will be the press job. If you use a good iron to press your draperies before they leave the shop, they will need less steaming when they are hung on the job.
One of the best advantages of the industrial iron is its continuous water supply. Stopping to fill the home iron throughout the day adds up to a lot of unproductive time over the course of a year. Also, home irons usually require distilled water whereas most industrial irons can use tap water.
The ability to produce steam in industrial irons is much greater than with the home iron. Not only is the steam pressure more powerful for penetrating fabric, but the use of a non-stick shoe to cover the sole plate of the iron helps to reduce fabric shrinkage. I used to shrink fabric periodically because in order to steam and do so without spitting, I had to set the heat too high for some fabrics. The non-stick shoe lowers the surface heat without changing the steam heat.
Continuous steam is another desirable feature of commercial irons. It is more efficient, but it's also necessary to properly adhere the iron-on tapes that are on the market. Industrial irons usually have a button built into the handle that the operator pushes for steam.
Weight is a consideration a workroom owner might not think about normally. Industrial irons can weigh anywhere from three pounds to more than seven pounds. Generally, three to four pounds would be the most desirable.
Reparability is another point of contrast between home and industrial irons. Home irons generally can't be repaired, and they are not covered by a commercial warranty. That means if you are using a home iron for a business, the manufacturer will not guarantee it. Industrial irons will have a commercial warranty and can be repaired. Usually the company that sells them will do any necessary repairs.
One of the perceived disadvantages of industrial irons is that most likely they will need a repair or an overhaul every two to four years. The iron is just like a car that needs a regular tune up. When you consider how much heat and steam an iron must maintain on a daily basis and how much sediment there is in tap water, it's very understandable that the iron will need to be maintained on a regular basis.
Theoretically, the industrial iron could last forever because parts can be continually replaced. However, it usually reaches a point of diminishing return when it makes better sense financially to invest in a new iron. The life span of the average industrial iron is considered to be seven to 10 years.
Investing in a track system for your iron is one of the most efficient additions you can make to your workroom. The track system should be installed over your pressing table and run across its whole length. The track should hold the iron cord and allow it to move up and down the track so you can reach the whole table with the iron. It also should keep the cord off the table and out of your way. Dofix No*Sew and Kwik-affix Products also have track systems designed to cover the width of the table.
Some ready-made track systems can only accommodate the irons with which they are sold. If you are a handy person, you can create your own track system using easily available drapery rodding, glides and ceiling brackets.
Some track systems available on the market include a balancer. The balancer lifts the iron off the table when not in use. Not only does this keep the iron out of the way while you are working on the table, but it is less stressful on your arm and back because you don't have to lift the iron while using it. Larry Lieberman, of B & G Lieberman, points out that with a balancer system, the weight of an iron is not a necessary consideration when deciding on a purchase.
There is a good intermediate model between a home iron and an elaborate commercial iron available from R.H. Rowley Co. This iron sits on its heel, not flat on a heat resistant surface like commercial irons. It heats rapidly, has no automatic shut off and many of the parts are removable and replaceable, which means it can be easily repaired. Its 7.7-ounce water tank is large, but still must be refilled during the day.
Industrial irons are constructed to sit flat on a heat resistant pad if there's no track system to keep it off the table. These irons fall into three categories: pump iron with a box, gravity feed iron with a hanging water bottle, and boiler irons with a separate boiler.
The pump iron is the most inefficient for use in a drapery workroom. It has a box that is attached to the side of the table with a hose that connects the box to a bottle of distilled water. The water hose and the electrical cord connecting the box to the iron is short, which drastically restricts the ironing radius. It also will not work with a track system.
There are many gravity feed irons on the market, but among the most popular are the Sussman PM4, which weighs four pounds, and the Naomoto (HI-Steam) HYS-5 and the MTI-510, which weigh five pounds each. The water bottles for these irons hold between 2/3 and one gallon of tap water depending on the model chosen.
A special demineralizing filter is available to purify the water used in these gravity feed irons. The filter is blue when new and must be changed when it turns brown. The filters usually last quite a long time - up to several months. Refilling the bottles during a typical workday is not necessary. However, because keeping the bottle full and hanging it high above the worktable will facilitate better steam, the operator will have to climb a step ladder to fill it.
The gravity feed irons must reach a very high temperature in order to create the steam right there in the iron. This results in a lot of wear and tear on the iron. It also means calcium from tap water builds up there, and since you cannot get into these irons to clean them, it's no wonder they need maintenance every two to five years.
These irons do produce continuous steam as long as the operator presses on the button. However, the button must be released periodically or the iron may spit. Experience will tell you how long to hold the button down.
The Naomoto iron is manufactured with solid state control. The company says this means the steam will be dryer, hotter and more constant because the temperature can be controlled within two degrees. Spitting and scorching also will be reduced.
Kitty Stein is a 19-year veteran of the drapery workroom field, having owned and operated her own business for 16 years and having taught classes on window treatment construction. Until 1990, Stein and a partner owned a workroom with nine employees. She since has opened her own smaller workroom, Workroom Concepts, that has just one employee. She also does workroom consulting, seminar speaking and is the author of Order in the Workroom available through Draperies & Window Coverings.