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Like most people I tend to replace my appliances when they give up the ghost, invariably at the worst possible moment, however I bought this steam generator iron on a bit of a whim having been wondering for a while a steam generator would tackle the hated ironing duty any better than my traditional steam iron. Seeing this iron on offer at Robert Dyas for £70 (billed as "RRP £200!") and having a voucher that reduced its price further to under £60, I bought it and lugged it home in its rather huge box, hoping that I would not regret my impulse buy. I'm glad to say that, thus far, I'm very pleased with my purchase, though it's not without its issues. Having checked you can expect to pay between £70 to £150 for this iron, in any case for me it's been well worth what I paid as it does make ironing quicker, easier and quite simply, better.
What you get:
The steam generator iron consists of a large base (the footprint of which is 22cm by 39cm by my measurements)on which the actual iron sits. It's about 30cm high. There is a 1.1 litre removable tank, the blue bit you can see in the photo, and also a slot for the anti-scale cartridge, more of which later. In the box you also get, as you would expect, full instructions and also a water hardness testing strip, 2 cartridges and a form to send of for the year guarantee - you can also complete this online. The iron is quite bulky and as there are two different leads (one is the power lead and one is a lead between the base and iron) somewhat difficult to store, there's no way of wrapping the leads around the base. The whole thing is quite heavy; amazon reckon the boxed weight is 5kg which doesn't surprise me, but, as I hope to explain, storage issue or not this iron is well worth the investment in price and space.
Clearly, with most irons you just take them out of the packaging and switch them on, which is what I was expecting when I bought this iron but it's slightly more complicated here. The instruction book gives you 20 whole "important safeguards" to consider before you even take the iron out of the box which I won't bore you with here, but suffice to say the first time I used the iron I didn't find set up terribly simple. The manual advises you to test the hardness of your water with the supplied strip and then set the iron to the correct hardness, very hard, hard or soft (no rude jokes please) on the digital display. Before you can get going you also have to install the cartridge, which is straightforward enough, and fill the tank. The tank can be removed easily by a hidden lever on its base and filled directly from the tap - though you shouldn't use water from a softener apparently, the manual warned against this but didn't explain why. All these steps followed, the iron plugged in and the "on" button on the base pressed and you are good to go.
Using the iron:
Using the iron is, thankfully, blissfully easy once you have navigated the tricky set up. The iron can be used with, or without steam, it's 2200 watts - having previously been using a 1800 watt iron I really do appreciate having a more powerful iron as even when used without steam it just seems to get the whole job done better. The temperature of the iron itself is changed via a dial on the iron's body, (it has the normal range of temperatures you would expect), whilst steam is adjusted via the base itself, the digital display shows you which of 3 levels of steam you have chosen. I quite like the fact that there is an push "on" button, similar to the kind you would find on any other appliance, located on the base unit; it's a whole lot easier than switching on and off at the plug. When you first turn the iron on, after 2 minutes of warm up the base will beep in a friendly manner and you can start ironing and press the button on the top of the iron to generate steam, if you do so before the iron is warmed up the iron beeps menacingly at you.
As there is no water reserve in the iron itself - this being in the base, the iron itself is really light and easy to manoeuvre. With its stainless steel plate it glides over clothes with ease - the pointed end makes sure it can get into those spaces between buttons easily. What's important here though, given that you are paying more for it, is whether the steam function is any good. In my experience it's better than good, it's fantastic and makes the whole chore so much easier. There is a whole 90gms per minute of steam at your fingertips - in practice this means that you have as much steam as you can handle available at the press of the button on the front of the iron. In between uses the iron sits safely on the non slip ridges on the base unit. You can refill the tank mid use, but in general I find one full tank plenty for an average ironing session.
One thing to be aware of is that the pump which propels out this steam, literally - at full tilt it's VERY steamy, is quite loud, as in loud enough to interrupt your tv viewing if, like me, you find that the only way to iron. The slight noise is, however, worth it when you see the results. It pains me to rhapsodise about an iron of all things but I've found using this iron makes my clothes flatter, creases crisper and I've even been moved to iron things that had previously languished at the bottom of my ironing pile for far too long. There's no spray button but I find, with judicious use of the steam button even my husband's worst-to-iron shirt admits defeat. It's quite simple - having used a steam generator iron I can, I fear, never go back to using a steam iron of the traditional sort.
It's not, however, all good news. To start with, and an issue which costs this wonder machine a whole star, the length of the cord for the base unit is far too short. I can't find the official measurement but it's under 2 metres, which I find a little on the stingy side - yes easily remedied by using an extension, but a bit of a pity. Another niggle is the requirement to buy a cartridge for this iron - you can apparently use de-ionised water, whilst awaiting a replacement, but a cartridge will set you back £7-£12. I haven't had cause to buy another cartridge yet, over several months of use my original cartridge still seems fine (there's an indicator on the base unit to let you know you are running low), but once the spare one I got with the iron is used I am going to have to buy more cartridges, which is annoying to say the least.
Though not a downside as such, using this iron correctly is a bit of a learning curve - when you release the steam button it can carry on producing steam for quite a while, say up to 30 seconds. The manual says this is normal, but it is a matter of thinking of stopping pressing the steam button a little before you actually want to stop steaming. The volume of steam produced is also something to be aware of, I wouldn't be comfortable ironing near a young child, though it doesn't feel unsafe as such and actually even has an auto shut off which kicks in if you don't iron for 15 minutes. The wire between the iron and the base, and the base itself do get quite hot so again care must be taken. You need to make sure you have a wide, stable, ironing board with which to use this iron.
As I've already said this iron has done what I wanted it to - made ironing easier. I paid what I consider to be a good price for it and I think it's well made and designed. I did read a Good Housekeeping Test on this exact iron which said that they had issues with it leaking and not heating quickly, but I've not had any such issues and, though I can only compare with my previous, poorly specced iron, I don't think it's particularly slow at heating up. I could, I have to say, live without the digital display, there is what Russell Hobbs call an "animated show" of the iron when steaming, which I call a bit of pointless flashing of the display, but the off button is a good feature and the tank is very easy to fill. I live in a very hard water area and have found that the cartridge seems to work well, the iron hasn't suffered from too much limescale at all. It would be nice if there were a longer cord and the ability to store it on the base, but I don't miss having a spray as the steam feature is so good.
Ultimately, this iron enables me to iron, as I did before, but quicker and with better results that, bless her, even my daughter has commented on. I won't say this iron has made me love ironing by any means but it's made it less of a chore. You could pay a lot more for a steam generator iron but this one, I have to say, is pretty good. At the price I paid, it's been my best buy for a long time; I don't love this product (it's an iron!), but I wouldn't want to be without it and for that reason I can but strongly recommend it.
Short name: Russell Hobbs 14864