Just before my last holiday my iron made a strange noise, started to smell of burning and stopped working. With all of my holiday attire waiting to be ironed before I could pack I had to rush out to purchase a new one without taking much time to check out the market. I was amazed by the huge range of prices for irons, from about £12 to £250!
I had always been happy with my iron (before the fateful day of its sudden demise!) and it had been well used over a number of years. With this is mind I opted for the same brand, a Tefal. What had impressed me most with my previous iron was the excellent soleplate so I opted for one that appeared to have the same type so I ended up with the Tefal Ultraglide FV4381 at a cost of £44.99.
The iron does not look anything special. It is white with blue plastic for the water tank and valves. The only more unusual feature is the odd white hoop effect piece at the back and a strange plastic attachment at the base of the cord which I will come to in a minute.
This is a steam iron and it states that it is designed to run on tap water but that if you live in a hard water area you can use a mixture of tap and demineralised water to fill the tank. I live in the Chilterns and our water is very hard with lots of chalky deposits, however I am also very unlikely to remember to buy water specifically for my iron so I just opt for tap water and hope for the best! I was surprised that the iron did not come with a little jug, all of previous irons have had a handy jug with a small spout to fill the tanks, luckily I still had one of my old ones but I felt for the price a jug should have been included. To fill the tank the iron needs to be set to zero steam and then has to be placed on its soleplate as the tank has a little flip-up lid so cannot be filled whilst sitting on its heel. I do find this a little inconvenient when I am ironing as I am not keen on resting the iron on its soleplate when it is hot. I must say though that this does make it very easy to fill as the hole is large and the water goes straight in without the air bubbles I could sometimes get in my old iron which resulted in me pouring water all over the place. The tank is quite large and there is an indicator on the transparent tank for the maximum level, the indicator and the word "maximum" are moulded into the plastic and so would be difficult for some people to see, it would be clearer if they were overprinted in white.
This iron incorporates something that Tefal call the Easycord system which is the strange plastic attachment I mentioned earlier. The literature states that it is designed to stop the cord trailing across your laundry causing creasing. I have been ironing for years and never really noticed a problem but the cord was located quite high on my previous iron. On this iron there is a clear tube with a click-button that spring releases some cord surrounded by a rigid white tube. This produces about 4 or 5 inches of cord that is rigid so is held above the material being ironed. I have not noticed any huge benefit from this but as I said I didn't seem to have a problem before.
Like the majority of irons this one has several heat settings to accommodate different types of fabric. These are easily adjusted by using the dial on top of the water tank. There is a thermostat light behind the dial that tells you that the soleplate is heating. Due to the location of this light behind the dial I find I can't actually see it when I am ironing without purposely moving my hand and twisting the iron slightly. If the light was ahead of the dial I would be able to see it whilst ironing which is useful if I have turned the heat down a little and I am waiting to iron something a little more delicate but I keep ploughing through less important items whilst I am waiting. The iron does heat up very quickly and the Maximum setting is certainly very hot and does a good job of some linen trouser that I have which are usually a nightmare to iron (why did I buy them?). The cool setting also seems to be the right temperature for synthetic fabrics and I have had none of those awful melting moments.
This iron has three steam settings as well as a non-steam setting, these are selected via a dial on the top of the iron, and this is very easy to adjust. The different temperature settings have different recommended steam setting with 3 being the most powerful to be used with the maximum heat down to no steam with the synthetic setting. Using 2 and 3 certainly produces a plentiful amount of steam and this makes ironing very quick and efficient. I am always careful to adjust the steam settings when I adjust the heat and I have not suffered from any of the annoying drips that you can get when the water isn't hot enough, the iron also says it is fitted with Anti-Drip technology as well. There is also a Boost Steam button which is easily activate by a quick thumb press whilst ironing as it is very conveniently positioned. This is very handy when tackling jeans and things and it releases enough steam to give you a quick facial at the same time! The only thing that worries me about the steam selection dial is that it doesn't feel very robust, there is a thin piece of blue plastic that you press across the dial to select the setting and it just feels a bit flimsy and I am a bit worried that it might break before the iron is very old. It has not cracked or anything yet but I just have my doubts about the strength of it.
The Spray button is located to the left of the Steam Boost button and this easily provides a light misting of water which is particularly helpful when doing dry ironing.
The ultraglide soleplate is what really attracted me to this iron. This ceramic plate has lots of raised lines along its length and this does make for a really easy ironing experience. The iron simply glides effortlessly across all manner of fabrics with no sticking and very little effort. Like most people ironing is just a job that needs doing so anything that makes it require less effort is a winner with me. My previous iron had the same soleplate and even after several years it still looked like new. The steam holes are all around the edge and then there is also a cluster in the middle so there is good steam distribution.
This iron has a feature I hadn't come across before which is an auto-shutoff. If the iron is left on its soleplate or its side for more than 30 seconds or on its heel for more than 8 minutes it will turn itself off and a red light illuminates on the top. To restart the iron you just shake it gently. With a teenage daughter in the house this is a great safety feature because when she is having a pre-school clothing crisis she has been known to quickly iron something (usually something that I have already lovingly ironed but she never hung up!) and then run out of the house and leave the iron on. I have usually noticed before I have gone to work but it does just give me a little peace of mind to know that it should shut down without causing a fire.
Overall the ironing experience with this Ultraglide iron is very good. At 1.3kg it is probably about the right weight. Any lighter and I think it makes ironing require more effort and any heavier and I am sure my arm would ache. The cord is a generous 3 metres long so finding a convenient place to iron and still reach a socket shouldn't be difficult for most people. The heat control is very sensitive, the steam function works really and the soleplate is excellent. The large heel makes the iron very stable in-between items so there is no danger of it falling off the board. The handle is a nice thickness and gives a comfortable grip.
As I said earlier I do live in a very hard-water area so the iron does require a little maintenance to stop the steam function being clogged up with unsightly brown scale. The manufacturers recommend cleaning the iron about once a month to maintain its performance. This is quite easy to do. You simply fill the water tank and then set the iron to Maximum, once the thermostat light goes out you unplug it and place it place over a sink, press the self clean button which is just behind the steam dial and then pull out the anti-calc valve which is actually the steam dial as well, you give it a quick shake to make sure that the water is running out and then leave it to drain. Whilst doing this you should pop the valve in some lemon juice for a couple of hours before rinsing and putting back in the iron. Although I know I should do this regularly I must admit it only happens every couple of months in this household and the iron still seems to be performing well.
The only real problem I have with this iron is the storage. The wide hoop at the heel of the iron is designed to help cord storage. To put the iron away once it has cooled you have to use the clip on the Easycord system to slide the white tube inside the clear tube and then the cord wraps around the heel neatly and there is a little catch on the cord to hold the plug in place. This is all very easy and tidy but the heel is very large so it does not fit into the iron storage shelf in the cupboard which also houses the ironing board. Obviously this is probably only a problem to me but I feel it does make the storage a bit cumbersome.
Taking everything into consideration I am very happy with my purchase. I will never be a fan of ironing but this iron certainly makes the job as quick and as effortless as possible. I feel this iron represents good value for money and I am hoping it will give many years of good service.
Short name: Tefal FV438X